While Australia has a long history of video game development, as a nation we're probably more famous for the games we have banned.
This story has been updated since its original publication.
The most recent ban by the Classification Board is DayZ, the ArmA mod that became a juggernaut and a standalone survival game of its own. The game has been available digitally in Australia for years — literally several years — but the national censors slapped an RC rating on the game's physical release.
What's bizarre in this instance is that DayZ has already been rated before, with the game's digital release having received multiple MA15+ ratings through the automated IARC process. So you can still buy DayZ in Australia, you just can't buy the physical copy — because for whatever reason, the Classification Board decided the content in that warranted an RC rating, stopping it from appearing on store shelves.
It's all a bit weird. The Classification Board has yet to respond to queries about the specific reasoning for the ban, but when we get more info we'll let everyone know.
Like Mother Russia Bleeds, the neo-noir action-adventure Katana Zero was initially banned through the automated IARC process before it was ever reviewed by humans. The game was already available in Australia digitally, but before it could be sold on the Nintendo eShop, publishers Devolver Digital had to submit it for classification.
The IARC process handed Katana Zero an RC rating, meaning Australians could download the game on Steam, but not on the Switch. Devolver appealed the ruling, however, and the Classification Review Board found in their favour, giving Katana Zero an R18+ rating in May.
Life was looking grim for Katana Zero's Australian release, after the game received a Refused Classification rating upon its initial release. But there's some good news: after the game was reviewed by actual humans, the cyberpunk ninja game will be released in Australia.
Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude
While you can buy Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude on Steam now, the game was officially banned from sale back in 2004, well before digital distribution was a factor.
The reason given at the time was Games 1(d), which is defined as "computer games that 'are unsuitable for a minor to see or play'". That clause is no longer a part of the National Classification Code, but reports at the time showed that the OFLC took exception with the sexual FMV sequences and the "obscured and/or implied sexual activity".
"Sucking sounds are heard," the board's report noted.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
With the rise of downloadable content and online-only releases, the Classification Board has increasingly noted in its reports that publishers can have their classification revoked if content is released that goes beyond the scope of what was submitted in their original applications. And a primary factor in that can be traced back to San Andreas, which was rated MA15+ only to have its classification revoked over the Hot Coffee scandal.
The Hot Coffee scene did not feature in the game's release, but modders discovered the cut mini-game in GTA's source code and released tools to make it playable on PC and consoles. The mod itself was fairly simple - the only change was a single bit in GTA's main script file - and its widespread release resulted in an immense mainstream backlash against GTA, Rockstar and the games industry as a whole.
Even though Rockstar argued that the mod violated the game's EULA, it didn't stop the game's classification rating from being pulled in 2005, which forced retailers to pull copies off store shelves. A mandatory recall was issued in 2005, and Take-Two ended up agreeing to a $US20 million settlement in 2009, $US4.915 million of which Take-Two paid themselves.
Rockstar later resubmitted an edited version of the game worldwide in September 2015, which was rated MA15+.
The ban of Fallout 3 helped put a major spotlight under Australian's ratings system. Not only because it was a strike against one of the most anticipated games of its generation, but also because of the inconsistent application of rules.
At the time, the Board said that Fallout 3 contained "a variety of 'chems' that players could take' offering both positive and negative effects. "Corresponding with the list of various "chems" are small visual representation of the drugs, these include syringes, tablets, pill bottles, a crack-type pipe and blister packs," the board noted.
In a follow-up interview, the Board outlined its reasoning to Kotaku Australia:
In regard to the computer game Fallout 3, the Board is of the opinion that the use of morphine in the game has the positive effect of enabling the character to ignore limb pain. This ability to progress through the game more easily is the incentive to take the drug while the reward is in the character's abilities.
The problem with this, as Logan noted, was that Call of Cthulu had a similar mechanic where the player could take morphine to reduce or ignore damage. So why was Fallout 3 so problematic? Half-Life also got an MA15+ rating, despite multiple morphine references. And Velvet Assassin would be rated MA15+ in 2009, despite also featuring morphine.
An edited version of the game was eventually re-released, with morphine being changed in-game to "Med-X". At the time, Bethesda VP Pete Hines noted that complaints had been raised in other countries, even though Australia went a step further in banning the game.
The Fallout 3 ruling has been the most influential and memorable for gamers ever since, with developers more aware about the board's views on drug use. More games have been banned as a result of violence or sexual content historically, but drug use has often been the reason cited for banning the biggest games, like Fallout, State of Decay and We Happy Few.
The Witcher 2
While Geralt's second iconic adventure wasn't banned in Australia, CD Projekt Red and Bandai Namco - called Namco Bandai back then - the game's Australian release was modified to fit within the MA15+ rating.
The fear was that being offered sex as a reward would violate the scope of the MA15+ rating. What's interesting is that The Witcher 2 still featured plenty of sex scenes, but the principle of getting offered sex as a reward was the major concern:
In the original version your character Geralt was given the choice of accepting sex ‘as a reward’ for successfully completing this particular side quest. The Australian Classification Board originally refused classification as they deemed the inclusion of ‘sex as a reward’ as not suitable for an MA15+ classification.
The change is only minor, in that the character choice is now made automatically for him. The character and the side quest are still in the game but presented in a slightly different context. No other changes have been made and this change has no impact on gameplay, storyline or character development. - Namco Bandai, May 3 2011
Digital Extremes are best known these days for their work on Warframe, but back in 2008 they were busy promoting the release of Dark Sector. A third-person action game featuring black ops soldier Hayden Tenno, the Office of Film and Literature Classification - the precursor to today's Classification Board - found the third-person action game featured too much violence to fit into Australia's MA15+ rating at the time.
According to the board's report, which IGN received at the time, the board noted that "decapitation, dismemberment of limbs accompanied by large blood spurts, neck breaking twists and exploding bodies" were "relatively easy to accomplish".
With everything else that's been banned in Australia, it's natural to think that a couch co-op game about dicks trying to penetrate other dicks might be a touch far for the Classification Board. But it was never initially banned: publishers Devolver Digital, still smarting from the board's response to Hotline Miami 2 and other games, telling Kotaku Australia that they were "proactively saving ourselves time from a likely ban in those territories based on previous games banned for similar content".
But in January 2018, the publisher had a change of heart and announced that Genital Jousting would be sold in Australia through Steam. It still hasn't been officially classified here, which is a violation of the Classification Enforcement Act. Nintendo and Microsoft won't allow the game to be sold on their platforms until its classified either, so chances are Steam will be the only place you'll ever be able to buy Genital Jousting.
Mortal Kombat 9
Mortal Kombat 9 wasn't the first game to earn a R18+ rating in Australia, but its ban helped propel the movement that ultimately saw the classification be introduced. Officially titled Mortal Kombat, the franchise had gone quiet for a while. MK vs DC Universe featured some of the iconic fighters, but it was a teen-rated title, lacking much of the gore and visceral combat that Mortal Kombat was famous for.
MK9 was brutal as all hell. So back in 2011, when Australia had an MA15+ rating at best, it's not hard to imagine why this was a bit of a problem. (Note the fatalities below are from the Komplete Edition of the game.)
Isn't Kratos's babality fatality the most adorable thing?
Erin Piepergerdes, the associate producer for Mortal Kombat at the time, told Kotaku Australia that they knew it would be difficult getting the game released here. "We knew it might happen, but the reality is that we can't really remove features from the game without giving people a game that we feel is not complete," Piepergerdes said at the time.
The R18+ rating was introduced in January 2013, and a month later Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition was reclassified and allowed to be sold in Australia. After the rating was announced, Gametraders cheekily got a jump start by importing the game and selling that version on store shelves.
Mother Russia Bleeds
Produced by French studio Le Cartel, Mother Russia Bleeds first launched in 2016 without much fanfare from censors. It wasn't until the game was submitted for a Switch release in 2018, however, that things became complicated.
Rather than submitting an application to the Classification Board directly, Devlover Digital - Mother Russia Bleeds' publisher - filed an application through the automated International Automated Ratings Coalition (IARC) tool. Australia began trialling the IARC tool in 2014, before officially adopting the system a few years later to help reduce costs for publishers releasing digital only products.
The tool effectively allows a developer or publisher to obtain a classification rating for every country that has signed up to the IARC, rather than submitting and paying for multiple applications. Decisions through the IARC process have the same weight as a rating from the Classification Board, so when Devolver received a Refused Classification rating through the automated tool, it meant that Mother Russia Bleeds was officially banned from sale.
The IARC process doesn't produce a report like the Classification Board, so there's no specific scenes or reasoning quoted as for the ban. The game's content, however, makes it easy to guess where the problem lies. In Mother Russia Bleeds, players use syringes to inject drugs - and blood - from the corpses of NPC characters to power up.
As enemies are killed in Mother Russia Bleeds, their bodies begin to spasm. The player can then take a syringe to extract a drug called Nekro from the corpses of those bodies, which can be injected into the player character to either go berserk or regain health.
Omega Labyrinth Z
Banned in early 2018, the the Classification Board struck down the Japanese dungeon crawler after finding that it contained "gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions" of characters under the age of 18.
The depiction of one character in particular, Urara Rurikawa, was the key point of contention. In their report, the board wrote that Urara was "depicted as child-like in comparison" with other female characters, in personality, mannerisms and appearance. Labyrinth Z allowing the player to then remove Urara's clothing, as well as inducing implied orgasms of all the characters - including Urara - was a step too far.
In some gameplay modes, including the "awakening" mode, the player is able to touch the breasts, buttocks, mouths and genital regions of each character, including Urara Rurikawa, while they are in sexualised poses, receiving positive verbal feedback for interactions which are implied to be pleasurable for the characters and negative verbal feedback, including lines of dialogue such as "I-It doesn't feel good..." and "Hyah? Don't touch there!," for interactions which are implied to be unpleasurable, implying a potential lack of consent.
The aim of these sections is, implicity, to sexually arouse these characters to the point that a "shame break" is activated, in which some of the characters clothing is removed - with genital regions obscured by light and various objects - and the background changes colour as they implicitly orgasm.
In one "awakening" mode scenario, thee player interacts with Urara Rurikawa, who is depicted lying down, clutching a teddy bear, with lines of dialogue such as "I'm turning sleepy...", "I'm so sleepy now..." and "I might wake up..." implying that she is drifting in and out of sleep.
The player interacts with this child-like character in the same manner as they interact with adult characters, clicking her breasts, buttocks, mouth and genital regions until the "shame break" mode is activated. During this section of the game, with mis-clicks, dialogue can be triggered, in which Urara Rurikawa says, "Stop tickling...", "Stop poking..." and "Th-that feels strange...", implying a lack of consent.
We Happy Few
One of the easiest ways to get a refused classification rating in Australia is the use of drugs, particularly any drug that can be tied to an incentive or a mechanic necessary to complete a game. That's what We Happy Few fell afoul of the first time around, with the Classification Board taking a dim view of the use of Joy in-game - even though the developers would later successfully argue that the drug's existence formed part of a dystopian universe that the player was encouraged not to use.
A report from the board, which was made available to Kotaku Australia in May 2018, outlined two particular scenes that the Board took issue with:
In one sequence, an NPC is viewed on the ground, convulsing owing to a reaction from taking a Joy pill, which has subsequently turned bad. After several NPCs encourage her to take Joy and she refuses, fearing that it will have an adverse effect, they beat her with steel pots and a shovel, until she is implicitly killed.
In another sequence, the player is seen in first-person view, entering a telephone box that contains three large pill dispensers, each holding a different flavoured Joy pill. The player consumes a Joy pill and a swarm of brightly-coloured butterflies appear as well as rainbows and coloured pathways on the ground, improving speed and visibility for the player.
Compulsion Games, We Happy Few's developer, later admitted that the board made the best decision possible given the guidelines and the information that was submitted in the original application. They, with support from publisher Gearbox, then challenged the RC rating in one of the few reviews for a video game classification in the PS4/Xbox One era.
The Classification Review Panel found that the use of Joy was "not presented as an incentive" or a reward. With the support of 87 public submissions, representations from Microsoft and additional material from the developers, We Happy Few was re-rated R18+ and released for sale in Australia on August 10.
The Classification Review Board - which operates as a separate body to the Classification Board itself - has finally published the reasoning for its decision to overturn the RC rating for We Happy Few. In its report, the review panel noted that the game "quickly establishes" that the hallucinogenic state induced by the drug Joy was "undesirable" and that the game's overall quest was to "avoid the use of the Joy drug".
State of Decay
The second game to be banned in Australia since the introduction of the R18+ rating, State of Decay fell afoul of censors over the use of illicit drugs. The board's report, which Mark published back in 2013, found that State of Decay incentivised drug use.
It wasn't helped by the fact that the developers told the Classification Board "it would be very difficult to complete the game without some form of medication" - a reasonable approach for a video game to take, but not an argument held in high regard by the censors. The game was later resubmitted, with developers Undead Labs replacing stimulants with "supplements". "Who could possibly not like vitamins? They're good for you. Anyway, we're feeling pretty optimistic about our chances," the devs said on Facebook.
State of Decay received an R18+ rating, and began selling digitally to Australians a few weeks after its launch on June 5, 2013.
Manhunt wasn't originally banned in Australia, but it was brought before the Office of Film and Literature Classification a second time after Western Australia's opposition party (led by Colin Barnett, who served as WA's premier for almost a decade until the most recent election) appealed the ruling.
"When I watched this game, I was absolutely horrified. It is not a video game that I would want any children to be exposed to," Barnett told Fairfax Media at the time. With New Zealand having already banned Manhunt, and the game wrongly implicated in the murder of a 14-year-old in the United Kingdom, Australia's then Attorney General directed the OFLC to review the original MA15+ rating.
After being on sale for almost a year, the OFLC pulled Manhunt's rating and refused classification.
DreamWeb was first released in 1992, but the cyberpunk DOS adventure wouldn't make it into Australia for another four years. The reason being? The DOS cyberpunk was banned for sexualised violence. It was the player's first assassination target: they bust into a room, only to find their target having sex with an unknown woman.
Developers Creative Reality later put together a modified CD version where the couple are wearing clothes. That was enough for the OFLC (as they were known back in the day) to give DreamWeb an M rating. Creative Reality and Neil Dodwell later released the cyberpunk adventure as freeware through ScummVM, and you can pick it up if you're curious below.
When I first saw screenshots of Hotline Miami, my first thought was "Boy, that sure looks like DreamWeb." DreamWeb? If you haven't heard of it, I'm not surprised — it came out in 1994 and as such, is ancient in gaming terms. Its content didn't exactly have small children in mind and that's probably why, on February 9, 1995, DreamWeb was refused classification in Australia.
Not that it needed replaying, but if you missed out Phantasmagoria back in the day it's easy enough to pick up now. It's popped up on a couple of Sierra Humble Bundles and it's available on Steam as part of a classics package to boot.
But when the FMV adventure first launched in Australia, the OFLC wasn't having a bar of it. In a unanimous decision, the board found the Sierra game violated the then-guidelines for scenes of simulated sex and one scene of implied sexual violence in the fourth chapter. Here's the description from the OFLC at the time, as saved by the Refused Classification website:
WARNING: Scenes of implied sexual violence follows.
In chapter four, a bathroom scene shows the woman in a negligee at a mirror combing her hair. The husband walks up behind her, strokes her hair, and runs his hand over her clothed breast. Angry from a prior scene argument, she brushes his hand away. He continues his advances until they both willingly embrace and kiss. This is shown with soft background music.
The husband lifts her under her armpits, carries her to the bathroom wall, continues kissing her and the camera closes in on his hand lifting her clothes. At this point, the music changes tempo and tone, becoming darker and thumping. The man's face is shown with an evil expression, eyes glaring wide as he holds the woman's hands up above her head on the wall behind her. He is shown to begin a vigorous thrusting motion, simulating intercourse. The woman's face is seen in close up, crying and scared, shaking her head from side to side during what, at that point, begins to look like a sexual attack.
While the narrative structure has by this stage clearly indicated that evil forces are influencing the husband's actions and, that the game play is such that the player's role as the wife is to prevent this from happening to herself and her husband, the above guidelines do not contain anything that allows contextual justification considerations by the Board.
Possessed or not, implied rape - which is what it is, let's not kid ourselves - will never be OK with the censors. Even in 2017.
Haven't heard of Paranautical Activity before? There's a good reason for that. It's not only banned from sale in Australia, but banned from Steam entirely. Mike Maulbeck, the game's creator, flipped his lid when Steam incorrectly listed Paranautical Activity as being an early access game upon its release.
Maulbeck went on a tirade on Twitter, saying that "Steam is the most incompetence piece of fucking shit" and that he was "going to kill Gabe Newell". Valve acted as you'd expect - they removed the game from sale, immediately demonstrating the platform's uselessness - and Maulbeck was immediately forced to apologise. Not long after, he resigned from Code Avarice and sold his stake in the studio so they could continue on.
If you're a developer selling a game on Steam, it's probably not the best idea in the world to tweet a death threat to the guy who owns Steam.
Digerati Distribution later picked up the rights to Paranautical Activity, and the game was re-released in a Deluxe Atonement Edition a couple of years later. The Board slapped an RC on it, however, because of an in-game item that violated the Board's stance on incentivising drug use.
Mike Maulbeck courted a fair amount of controversy in late 2014 after going on a Twitter tirade that resulted in the unwise posting that he was going to "kill Gabe Newell" after the game his studio worked on, Paranautical Activity, was incorrectly listed as an Early Access title.
"The reason they gave was 'illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives and rewards' - the prescribed drug in game is Adderall and picking up the item gives you a 15% speed increase," Digerati's Nick Alferi told me last year. A version of the game was resubmitted without Adderall, however, and on January 16 the game received an M rating.
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
Every F.E.A.R game in Australia had received an MA15+ rating, but for whatever reason that didn't apply the day F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin was being rated. The game was refused classification the first time around, stunning everyone (considering the previous F.E.A.R games had been fine) and sparking an immediate appeal from publisher Warner Bros.
"The Australian Classification Review Board hearing allowed us to provide a written/verbal submission," Mark Aubrey, WB's Australian marketing manager at the time, told Kotaku Australia. "We also did gameplay demonstrations and provided much more comprehensive footage of the game. This allowed us to go into the context and storyline in a lot more detail ... they asked a lot of relevant questions and gave us every opportunity to present the game in as much detail as possible which was greatly appreciated."
After the review, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin went on sale with an MA15+ rating.
MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death
Another game banned after the introduction of the R18+ rating, MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death was banned quicksmart by the Classification Board for falling under the guidelines of "simulation of sexual stimulation of a child". The "child" in question is one of the game's five main characters, and coupled with the Vita's ability that let players use the touchscreen to "make any female character's breasts move in response" was way too far for their liking.
In the Board's opinion, the character of Connie depicts a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18. The game features use of the Playstation Vita's touchscreen feature, that allows the player to touch or run their finger across the touchscreen in order to make any female character's breasts move in response. The chest area of Connie is viewed moving slightly when this occurs, which is significantly different from the greater movement viewed when one of the four adult-like female characters is touched.
Within the character menu, the player can also touch the head, hips and legs of a character and a voice clip plays in reaction. When the player touches Connie in this mode it prompts verbal responses from her - either, "So flat. Super-flat.", "Smooth", "Just a little squishy" or two variations of a perturbed "Woah" sound. The application accompanying the game states there is a reaction to either the breasts, head, hips or legs of a character being touched. The touch response to each is indeterminate, as the gameplay footage does not indicate which area of the body is being touched when a response is heard.
The interactivity of the game was also cited by the board, with the classification guidelines specifically noting that interactive movements should have higher impact on viewers than "similarly themed depictions of the classifiable elements in film".
Remember when people were excited for a FPS remake of the Bullfrog classic? I remember those days. What you might not remember was that fact that Starbreeze's reboot of Syndicate was refused classification, and remains banned in Australia to this day.
According to the Classification Board, Syndicate's problem was how visceral and intense some of the violence was. "A player moves through a building rapidly firing at enemy combatants," the report read. "Combatants take locational damage and can be explicitly dismembered, decapitated or bisected by the force of the gunfire."
Given that locational damage had been a thing since Kingpin, the banning of Syndicate was yet another reason why Australia needed an R18+ rating for games - even though it should have been rated MA15+ off the bat, given it was no more visceral, and certainly no more affecting, other shooters at the time.
EA never resubmitted Syndicate for release again. The Board's stance would have resulted in too many scenes and too many pieces of the game to be amended. Syndicate is available digitally, although you'll need a VPN to purchase it through Origin.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
Anus flamethrowers are OK, but anal probes with grey dildos are definitely not. That was the view censors took of The Stick of Truth, with the game only permitted for sale after the developers submitted an altered version that removed five anal probing scenes.
Australians also didn't get two scenes where the player undergoes an abortion, and in turn performs an abortion on Randy Marsh. The scenes are more light-hearted than they are gratuitous or offensive, although you can imagine someone on the Classification Board taking a dim view of a cartoon character squeezing their sphincter to avoid getting rammed by an alien dildo.
Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure
An illustration of everything that was wrong with the system was Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. The game was given an MA15+ rating in 2005, but federal attorney-general Philip Ruddock and the Local Government Association of Queensland appealed the decision to the board on the grounds that it glorified graffiti.
According to a report at the time from the Sydney Morning Herald, Contents Under Pressure was ultimately banned after Classification Board convenor Maureen Shelley used her vote to break a deadlock between the reviewing members.
It was the first time the board had refused classification for a game "because it promotes crime", which is absurd when you consider the amount of crime depicted in games, film, TV, books, and every entertainment medium that has ever existed.
Typical of much of the FMV garbage that was pushed out in early years of the CD-ROM era, Voyeur was an "interactive movie" originally launched for the Phillips CD-i and DOS and Mac systems later. It basically leveraged the idea Night Trap started with surveillance, with the player viewing the game through a series of cameras.
The idea is to gather enough evidence to destroy a potential presidential candidate's career. The game was originally rated MA15+ in Australia, but upon review the game was banned over a scene where the protagonist's daughter accuses him of molesting her as a child.
The Board hadn't developed much of a track record in banning games at the time, but once this was pointed out to them there was no way Voyeur was getting sold in Australia. Classification was refused in early 1995, and not much of the game has been seen ever since.
Hotline Miami 2
Much like Outlast 2, Hotline Miami 2's depiction of a rape scene during on a film set was a step too far for the Classification Board. The move was a little less surprising in that HM2's controversial scene was shown off in previews for the game, which led to the developers cutting the scene from the game's demo.
Here's the justification the board used for refusing HM2 classification:
After stomping on the head of a fifth male character, he strikes a female character wearing red underwear. She is knocked to the floor and is viewed lying face down in a pool of copious blood. The male character is viewed with his pants halfway down, partially exposing his buttocks. He is viewed pinning the female down by the arms and lying on top of her thrusting, implicitly raping her (either rear entry or anally) while her legs are viewed kicking as she struggles beneath him. This visual depiction of implied sexual violence is emphasised by it being mid-screen, with a red backdrop pulsating and the remainder of the screen being surrounded by black.
The developers and publisher responded by saying the board had misrepresented the scene, which was optional, and told players just to "pirate it after release". "No need to send us any money, just enjoy the game," HM2 co-creator Jonatan Söderströmm told a gamer in an email that was shared online.
Hotline Miami 2 was submitted for classification twice in 2015; the board refused to classify it both times.