An Implied Call Of Duty Sexual Assault Scene Was Modified [UPDATE]

Earlier this week, people noticed something odd about the classification rating for Call of Duty: WW2 in Australia. It was first rated R18+ in August, and rated R18+ again on Monday.

So why did Activision ask the Classification Board to re-rate the game in the first place?

Update [October 25]: Activision has provided a statement to Kotaku Australia, saying that the version of Call of Duty: WWII released in Australia will be the same one released worldwide:

The Australian version of Call of Duty: WWII is the same version scheduled for release worldwide on November 3.

The rest of the story appears as it was originally published below.


If you filter the recent decisions on the Classification Board's website, you can see one small difference in the rating for COD: WW2. Namely, the inclusion of "threat of sexual violence":

Image: Classification Board

Obviously, this was referring to something in the campaign. But what changed? I emailed the Classification Board, and they replied that Activision had submitted a modified version of COD: WW2.

"On 13 October 2017, Activision Publishing applied to the Australian Classification Board to classify a modified version of the game Call of Duty: WWII," the board said via email. "On 17 October 2017, the Australian Classification Board classified the modified game R 18+ with consumer advice of 'High impact violence, online interactivity'."

So, what changed?

According to the Classification Board, the original version of Call of Duty: WW2 contained "a reference to sexual violence that is justified by context", but not visually displayed or incentivised.

In one section of the game, the player controls Rosseau, a female spy, as she infiltrates a German building. While inside, she witnesses a woman as she is dragged by a Nazi soldier into a closet, against her will, screaming, "You're all pigs!"

Rosseau opes the closet door, as the soldier says, "Leave. This is none of your business." The player is then given the option to kill the soldier or leave.

If the player chooses to leave, the player closes the door, as the soldier is heard unziping his fly and viewed advancing towards the woman. She screams, "Ah! Get away from me!" as Rosseau leaves.

It is implied that the soldier is going to sexually assault the woman, but at no time is the assault depicted.

Pretty straightforward, as far as the Classification Board's justification for a warning of "threat of sexual violence" goes.

According to the board, Activision's modified version of the game altered the woman's clothing. It also removed the audio track of the NPC soldier unzipping his fly:

In the Board's opinion, the modifications to this game - which include the change of dress for the female prisoner (was in a skirt and top, now in a pants and top) and the removal of audio that implies a soldier is unzipping his pants - do not contain any classifiable elements that alter this classification or exceed a R18+ impact level.

In the Board's opinion, the removal of the audio track means that consumer advice of threat of sexual violence is not required. Therefore, this modified computer game warrants an R18+ classification with consumer advice of high impact violence [and] online interactivity.

The report from this week also added a note - more of a reminder to publishers, really - that the Classification Board "must revoke the classification" if any classified game contains contentious material that wasn't brought to their attention during the application process.

Basically, don't go adding stuff later on through DLC or codes that's more contentious than the stuff they've already seen.

That's not likely to happen though, since no publisher wants their game pulled from sale. And not having "threat of sexual violence" on your packaging is obviously a big deal, otherwise Activision wouldn't have gone to the trouble to adjust the scene in question, and have the game rated a second time.

I've asked Activision's local PR whether the new COD: WW2 scene will be rolled out to all territories, or just gamers in Australia. They didn't have an answer at the time of publication, but when I hear back from them I'll let you know what their response is.

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Comments

    As a Yank living in Australia now for 6 (almost 7) years, I find it really confusing that so much of your visual entertainment is censored the way it is.

    I had no idea what to expect when first arriving here culture wise, but I very quickly learned that you guys are sarcastic as fuck, hang shit on everything and have a general care-free attitude towards most everyone and everything (For the record, I love this about Australia. It's largely why I decided to stay here rather than take one of your women back to the states with me). This doesn't apply to every last Australian individual, but it certainly courses strongly through the veins of Aussie culture.

    So why the fuck is your government so god damn censor happy? I thought we were pretty bad stateside, given that nudity (Except for asses. We glorify the shit out of those. (Gross pun?)) and certain words are still considered very taboo over there..... but here? Certain games/movies/comic books don't even hit store shelves. Even though you have a classification system that accounts for gore/nudity/drug use/violence etc.

    Just surprises me, is all. A complete juxtaposition to the "feel" I get from the nations culture.

      I think it stems from the people who actually work for the classification board. Most of them are part of the pearl-clutching liberals brigade. Anything which might be offensive to anyone must be subdued!

        Ahuh. Remember over the past decade how decisions made regarding classification that were practically identical to now were attributed to conservatives and wowsers who didn't understand video games?

        During the glory days of Atkinson, KotakAU's threads were full of the sentiment.

        Perhaps though it's all more to do with the framework in which reviewers have to work. Rather than us slinging mud at whichever bogeyman is en vogue for our political stance, we could instead recognise that doing so is counterproductive to modifying that framework in any meaningful way in the future.

        We also should acknowledge that arguing we should be free to have as much sexual violence in our games as we please is also counterproductive to the same point.

          Framework!?

          This is the 'framework' for R18+ in video games (from the National Classification Guidelines):

          "Computer games (except RC computer games) that are unsuitable for viewing or playing by a minor"

          So yeah, it's ENTIRELY up to the board member as to what call they make.

          (the other categories aren't much better!)

            but movie a judged diffrently they let waaaay mor horrifc crap pass, but a game with bloodd OOOOOH NOOOOOOOOES R18+ or RC, that makes sences said the PG movie with blood, and yes there pg movies that show boobs and blood.

          These are games for adults. We're capable of consuming literature of all sorts and kinds that have contentious and grotesque inclinations and so long as they're not glorifying hate towards minorities then they should be available to be seen.
          No one wants rape in their material. Just be allowed to consume this media.

        There's also the fact that they are actually prevented from comparing a new classification to previous examples of the same thing, so you can get wild inconsistencies if one person is upset by some really random thing - the best example being Atelier Totori suddenly going from PG on PS3 to R18+ on Vita when the versions were identical except for some added costumes.

      I think for the most part, Australian's are laid back. More just the people you generally meet and strike up friendships with. But there's still a vocal minority social conservative faction, and if you have ever seen anything on the so called, "culture wars" there are still people who think in those terms. You might also note that in elections, it's mostly the Coalition that have been voted into power, at least for most of my adult life. The Coalition by far have the most social conservatives in their ranks.

      Also agree with the comment down below; we've never had a big games industry, and no one cares about video games. The parties are generally too busy trying to score political points, and social conservatives infiltrate the Ratings boards there too. For a long time, I remember a certain South Australian senator was holding the ratings back for a long time. Edit: That said, he was a socially conservative Labor party member, not a Libs member.

      The rules of the classification board are archaic, and review requires agreement from all of the states.

      Last edited 19/10/17 1:05 pm

      I agree, Australia is definitely odd at times, but to be clear the Australian boards didn't censor anything in this case. The game was approved and rated accordingly - it was the decision of the publisher to change the game and resubmit. The finished product even had the same base rating - R18+ - just the omission of the "implied sexual violence".

      My guess is the publisher just didn't want any potential backlash from certain groups down the line. If it wasn't on the rating it likely would have flown under the radar and they would have let it go.

      If you want to see how crazy backwards Australia has been in the past check out Queensland during the old Bjelke-Petersen era.

      Except in this case, the government was fine with them releasing the original version: it's Activision that didn't want a message about the sexual assault that the game contains on the front of the box.

      I suspect that publishers engage in the same kind of behaviour in the US when haggling over ESRB ratings. You could argue that this is different because it is a non-government ratings system, but an unfavourable ESRB rating can make a game unsellable (since many retailers won't ship AO games), and the system itself exists under threat of regulation from the US government.

        Absolutely right. Activision doesn't care about artistic integrity, just about getting 'sexual impact' off the label so all the parents will buy the game for their pre-teen children.

      The main reason is that Australia has never had freedom of speech / expression enshrined in the constitution. The USA does and has since 1791. On top of that, the country has been dominated for a very long time by conservative Christianity and the moral values associated with that. The US would be too, but the 1st Amendment means it's not truly enforcable without breaking people's constitutional rights.

      I think the problem is that most Australians actually like having those markers on their media so they know what sort of content they're getting. Classification actually serves a real purpose. The real problem is that it's used to censor stuff that falls outside the classification boundaries, so it's really just a censorship tool with a different name. I think attitudes are changing over time though.

        What's absurd is that the whole rationale for the classification system is child protection. When it gets to R18+ then it shouldn't matter what's in there as long as no-one was actually harmed in the production of the film. And even then, actual harm could be permitted if it it conforms with the law regarding informed consent and OH&S. I mean, if WWE wrestlers/actors are allowed to hurt each other, and Connor McGregor can get beaten up by Floyd Mayweather, who are we to tell actors they aren't allowed to consensually get beaten up on film?

          Actors getting beaten up happens all the time in martial arts movies. If you're doing a slow-motion close-up then odds are you're going to be punched in the face for real. As a society we seem to be more or less OK with non-sexualised violence, even if it's real, provided the basic intent of it wasn't to immediately and deliberately cause long-term injury.

          I don't really agree with "it shouldn't matter what's in there", though.

          We're at a point where, to pick an extreme example, we could make realistic computer animated child pornography. No one is harmed in production, but I think most people would say that it's over the line and shouldn't be made, distributed, or consumed.

          You can also argue that Japan isn't exactly collapsing under the weight of its animated kink, but I'd still prefer to live in a society that doesn't indulge that kind of fantasy.

            I guess I'm a bit more about freedom to do what you like as long as it doesn't harm anyone, but I do agree that stuff like child porn is extremely problematic for society. On one side you could argue that using animated porn as an outlet might reduce risk to real children, but you could also argue that exposure to animated porn drives up the probability of 'acting out'. I'll leave it to the scientists to figure out that one. I would be in favour of restricting material that did increase risk to real people, whether it be porn, depictions of violence or whatever, but I'm not sure where the evidence lies on this. You have studies come out saying that there is no link between violent video games and real-world violence. Could that be the case across the board? What about if violent films or games only increased violence in SOME people but not in most? Worth restricting? What level of risk is acceptable to society? Hard questions.

      Oh and it's quite possible that this change was actually made to avoid getting a higher rating from PEGI or ESRB.

    Classification Board are utter see you next Tuesdays.

    Example. I watched Degrassi Junior High, made in 1987, rated PG, which contained scenes where a crowd of teenagers are surrounding a girl and screaming 'take it all off' and to go 'all the way'. The scene then cuts but you can still hear the crowd baying for flesh. PG.

    I guess because it wasn't a computer game it wasn't rated higher and because it was the 80s when people were actually sensible it didn't contain 'trigger warnings'.

    Last edited 19/10/17 11:46 am

      Loved Degrassi High growing up, so many life lessons. And some pretty damn dark stuff at times, like when one of the characters committed suicide in the toilet cubicle. But done tastefully.

      I'm pretty freeform with swearing, but we do have minors and stuff that read the site and comments mate. Mind editing the above? (I don't want to go into people's comments unless I absolutely have to.)

        Were you referring to my post? Or @zambayoshi ...?

        I realize he dropped the Australian native c-bomb, but my post is far thicker with swearing. Happy to do so, if you like.

        Though I do find it ironic that you're asking for censorship in response to detest for the current state of that exact subject.

        Last edited 19/10/17 12:11 pm

          Nah, it was a reply to @zambayoshi. And I get where you're coming from, but we've had complaints come in before from schools and readers where c-bombs and the like (either in URL, headline, so forth) will result in the site being blocked or banned.

          Not my choice or preference, but also people don't walk down the street dropping c-bombs at everyone they meet. It's my job to keep the peace and all that.

            Maybe not everyone they meet, but my first given nickname after arriving on these shores was the oh-so-affectionate "Americu*t".

            In all seriousness, though, I can respect that, Mr. Walker.

            Not my choice or preference, but also people don't walk down the street dropping c-bombs at everyone they meet

            Are you sure you live in Australia? :P

      I think what people aren't understanding about this is that the game was never going to be censored or refused classification. The content was just required to have a "threat of sexual violence" content description, in the same way that you would see "high impact violence", "horror themes" or "high impact drug use" etc.

      Activations obviously wanted to avoid this ratings description and so voluntarily edited the scene and re-submitted it. This allowed them to avoid the sexual violence rating warning, which was obviously a problem for them.

      This has nothing to do with our classification system being heavy handed. In fact I would say this was an example of the system being effective because potential sensitive information was flagged, described appropriately and then deemed fit for an R18+ rating.

      Activisions actions were probably driven by the larger conversation around sexual violence, fear of such content affecting sales, and the brand image they want to project. That is a societal pressure and a whole other complex conversation that doesn't really bear going into here.

        Yeah, I certainly agree.

        In this case the System seemed to actually "work".

    There seems to be some confusion in the comments here about who is responsible for Australia's attitude to videogame censorship.

    It is certainly no pearl-clutching small-L liberals who get "triggered" and need a "safe space."

    Censorship of objectionable material in this country is 100% the purview of the right wing, all the way.

    You can blame Labor and the Greens and the now-defunct Democrats for ruining the economy with their bizarre obsession with not wanting the entire planet to get trashed by the rich...

    ...but please don't suggest they have anything to do with videogame censorship.

    QUALIFICATION: When the ALP gets into power it does occasionally have to let various ultra-prudish elements have their way. After all, both our major parties are Centrist by global standards and barely distinguishable to anyone from a place not girt by sea.

    The real issue with videogames in Australia is that the government just doesn't give a shit about them, doesn't view them as an industry, doesn't think they should take up any time in parliament for any reason.

    But the important thing to remember - it is not "identity politics" or feminism that censors videogames here. It's conservatives.

    Last edited 19/10/17 11:57 am

      It ain't the conservatives dude. Have you seen who is in charge of the ACB? Or who the current board members are? The resumes overwhelmingly scream liberal touchy-feely brigade!

      By and large my theory about the whys and wherefores of recent video game censorship is that the board members, who wish to protect children, assume (probably rightly) that all videogames will be played by children (even the R18+ ones) so anything that requires grown-up brain cells to process will most likely be jettisoned as being 'high impact'.

      I think we need to encourage more gamers to apply for board membership, to be honest!

      Agree with you about political centrism though.

        I think you're both part right. I had a look at the classification board. You can't really judge their politics from it, but a lot of them do have liberal arts degrees. Some them were in the police too. But then, I think they just have to interpret the rules. The rules are archaic. Anything not effectively covered by the classifications is an automatic ban. It's not a fault of the people who judge the media based off certain guidelines, it's a fault of the rules themselves.

        Remember a while ago we all hated Attorney General Michael Atkinson because he was blocking reform of the classifications? He was a Labour man, but part of the Labor right. He was a social conservative.

        To change the rules, all the states have to agree. That isn't going to happen because no one is going to think it worth their time, as fermian stated. I can't see he current attorney general, George Brandis really going in to bat for something like that, but who knows what he stands for these days.

          Liberal arts degrees doesn't mean liberal political beliefs. The word has a different meaning in the context of university education.

            I know, but this was in response to Zamboyashi's claim that, "...who the current board members are? The resumes overwhelmingly scream liberal touchy-feely brigade!"

            I'm guessing the liberal arts degrees is what he meant by that, and the Australian alt-right frequently associate those sorts of degrees with "cultural marxist tendencies". Or really, sometimes any sort of university degree.

            Last edited 19/10/17 2:23 pm

        In general, it shouldn't matter who is on the board: whoever they are will be applying these guidelines:

        https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2012L01934

        If they don't apply the guidelines correctly, their decisions are open to challenge (from the publisher, from government, or the community) and review. If a particular reviewer's decisions get challenged too often, they could lose their job.

        From the description of the scene it sounds like they did do their job. An off-screen rape is implied sexual violence, which means the game is ineligible for an MA15+ classification. The R18+ classification allows it provided it isn't "visually depicted, interactive, not justified by context or related to incentives or rewards". And it seems the reviewer agreed that it was justified by context so applied that classification.

        See, this is wrong.

        The problem isn't the members of the board. They simply are there to apply the guidelines they're given. Some of those guidelines are up to interpretation which is why the board sometimes seems to shift back and forward (because they are literally not allowed to refer to previous classification decisions!) but the real problem is that the people who set down those guidelines are conservatives. Changing the guidelines requires unanimous support of all state Attorney-Generals and there's almost always one ultra-conservative in that group, or even someone that is moderate but owes their position to an ultra-conservative group, or whatever.

        The guidelines are the problem, not the board.

      Seriously it’s the same bureaucrats no matter who is in power.... You’re terribly naive if you think a change in government effects the culture of a government department.

      It’s not like they sweep out everybody and rehire just because an election occurred.

        Iunno... that's worked out pretty well for a certain president elect =P

        Yeah i went there =P

    eh, I don't see why this is an example to get up in arms about. A company made a game with a moral choice dilemma where one result has implied sexual assault. Implied sexual assault in games carried the R+18 tag (and honestly, I think there's a pretty good argument for that decision, but YOMV), so the game was rated R+18. The company didn't want the appropriate rating, so they edited the scene and resubmitted the game (which subsequently received the same rating, regardless of the edit).

    There's no censorship here, the board didn't refuse classification on the game, they didn't force Activision to resubmit the game. It's a process films have gone through for decades.

      Right. And I don't think this cause for people to man the trenches or anything. But it's interesting that a) this is part of what Acti is going for with COD WW2, and b) the process resulted in these kinds of changes. It's something you don't see happen in other territories, really.

        Oh, for sure. Didn't mean to imply that the article itself wasn't warranted, it's actually really interesting. I'd love to know if Activision were really pushing to get the rating down to an MA rating or if they were worried about people being put off with the sexual assault label slapped on the cover of the game.

        I was more remarking on the difference between "hard C" censorship and negotiations between distributors and regulators that happen all over the world in almost all media.

      Thank you! I'm glad at least one person can read and comprehend what has happened here. Jesus.

        To put an overused phrase here...

        Self-Censorship is still Censorship =P

        True it was done with the cynical intent to sell more copies here in Australia. But at the same time my issue really is with the fact that we are all adults here and it's a tad condescending that a scene gets changed because of our supposed sensibilities

    Is this the first R18+ rated CoD?

      Black Ops III (multi) and Strike Team (mobile) were both R18+ as well.

    Slaughtering of millions of people in an event that actually happened being depicted? Ok.
    A subset of that major event's depiction being another thing that happened? No.

    I dunno, I personally find mustard gas, the idea of me burning from the inside out and dying horribly just because I took a breath to be horrid and yet it's fine in BF1. Rape? No-no-no, can't have this horrible moment in the game that's clearly meant to make you feel horrible anyway, it's meant to be bad, they're not glorifying it, jeez.

      Yeah, it's a bit of a strange place to draw the line honestly. I guess it comes down to 'a single death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic' philosophy. One event being focused on and not in 'the heat of the moment' makes people particularly uncomfortable.

      The short of it is that the persistent use of sexual violence to evoke an emotional response in video games is lazy, exploitative, and a disrespectful way to handle the subject.

      Yes, we should question and discuss the overreliance of violence as the mechanism through which players interact with game environments and sexual violence as a narrative beat. Both are shit. And that is a small part of why I don't think we should be leveraging the former as reason for inclusion of the latter.

        I dunno, rape does happen in war, it's inclusion to allow more people to understand the true depths of horror that the World Wars were I think is fine, and to suggest that a portion of that is more "appropriate" or needs to be censored is the issue.

        I'm not debating it in any other circumstance or situation, just sort of trying to contain the logic within the idea that we're witnessing a recreation of a historic event.

      Nah... you missed the most heinous of all games that our OFLC board is trying to stamp out. Much worse filth than all these violence and rape!

      ...them filthy filthy otaku/jrpg games from Japan!

      Blue Reflection, Senran Kagura oh and lets not forget that Atelier game from a while back. All filthy filthy R18 games! =P

    In these comments: Plenty of outrage, little reading comprehension.

    Pretty good headline picture there, well chosen.

    removal of the zip noise should be done on all versions as they would have had a button fly.

    but changing her skirt into pants? why does it matter what she's wearing?

      Believe it or not the clothing that a person is wearing can be used as part of your legal defence against sexual assualt charges. There was outrage in Italy in the late '90s because of the use of the "denim defence", basically saying that if a woman was wearing jeans she probably wasn't raped beause it's impossible to get jeans off someone who's fighting back. It's been used as a defence here in Australia too, though I believe with less success.

        they also tried it again in Italy and it didn't work.
        The 1999 Italian legal system isn't the best case scenario for fair and unbiased sexual harassment rulings.

    So basically the game was given the correct rating of R18+ Activison didnt like that, so they changed what they though was the problem and resubmitted it, only for the game to still recieve an R18+ rating.

    And now peple are acting like its been banned?

      I think it's devolved into a general discussion about censorship and the fools on the ACB.

        instead of people talking about why sexual violence is still a thing lazy writers need to resort to, and real world men still commit daily.

          I don't think anyone's saying it isn't still committed daily. This might be why writers put it in artistic works, the same as they put in murder, racism, drugs etc. The laziness would be in the execution, not in the mere inclusion.

            but it is the way it is put in, to so many lazy writers it is the only way they know how to put woman into peril. 'a female hero is created because she was raped'. its one very overplayed trope at the moment. there is a lot of articles about this very thing, some I agree with others less so but there is a very clear move away and dislike of this overplayed scenario, its not unique or interesting

    This isn't about censorship, it's about Activision being cynical, knowing that many parents will happily buy R games for their young teens, but not as much if it says Threat of Sexual Violence.
    Leaving in it would have served the story, removing it serves their sales figures

    while sexual violence is a very real thing in war time, who really needs to see it or be reminded of it in a computer game. especially one like CoD, who no doubt is going to be very heavy handed in its storytelling.

    its very easy to take the temperature of public opinion and sexual violence is one of those things it is something we should always be fighting against, even depictions of it in all kinds of art. it is heavy handed and lazy story telling if you cant think of another way to put your characters in peril.

    some will say 'its would have happen so its real', while yes it really happened and still happens in war zones across the world, do we really need to see it in a computer game? do we really need another female character in art having to go through it just so the creator tries to make something 'edgy', no thanks. especially not for a COD game

      Let me be a devils advocate here for a second... by that line of thinking why then should film and literature get away with much more appalling depictions of said acts?

      I will preface that obviously I mean there is a fine line between an eroge from Japan where you *are* the perpetrator and depictions of said scene on a western game like CoD. But at the same time come on folks. We are all adults here.

      Again let me reiterate it depends on the context of the story (Press X to pay respects anyone?) if the game wants to take a much more "realistic" approach to whats happening during WWII for its story mode then why gloss over one of the many biggest human acts of atrocity during the time such as the use of rape and comfort women? We are all adults and we should be able to handle events like these in the context of a story. Otherwise all we are left with is just your usual shooty shooty bang bang games without any ounce of depth (yes I cannot believe I am arguing for 'depth' in a CoD game...) which doesn't help progress the medium in anyway at all.

      This is not about being "edgy". It's about being mature enough to say that as adults who play this game we are mature enough to see such things on an adult game and accept it as part of the story in context.

    Right. People played nicely for a while, then they stopped. It's the weekend. Have a coffee or a baklava or something sweet. Then go back to being chill. Thank you.

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