While Australia has a long history of video game development, as a nation we're probably more famous for the games we have banned rather than the games that we've produced. So with We Happy Few recently being refused classification, let's look back at some of the other titles that have fallen afoul of our censors.
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.
This story has been updated since its original publication.