How Would You Change Australia's Video Game Classification Ratings Rules?

Joining the likes of Fallout 3, Crimecraft and Risen, We Happy Few is the latest victim of the Australian video game classification rating system's "drug clause".

As revealed by Kotaku, it was the use of "Joy" as essentially an unavoidable game mechanic that promoted the banhammer. That's not an R18+ rating, which we fought for years to have - a straight up ban.

I don't know about you, but it seems weird that I can go to the movies and watch someone get dismembered in Deadpool 2 (it's not a spoiler, it's a Deadpool film, don't yell at me) but this is called out as being something a grown adult shouldn't be allowed to play:

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.

Hmm, sure. Super dangerous. I totally see why you're protecting me from this, classification rules.

To clarify, this is the clause: "Computer games will be refused classification if they include or contain 'drug use related to incentives and rewards."

So to be fair, this ruling is technically a direct result of the board simply following the rules, which prompts the question - do the rules need changing? Should adults be told they can't play a game where they have to take drugs to play as intended?

What would you change about Australia's video game ratings system?


    I'm thinking three layers of change.

    First, the parliamentary process be updated so a select few cannot stall nor inhibit updates to the classification code (which decides our ratings).

    Effectively, changes should only require a majority vote, not a unanimous vote.

    Second, the guidelines basically updated.

    Somethings I think should still be banned (i.e.: anything like Rapelay), but said guidelines updated to be more realistic.

    For example, if the drug use is fictional in nature (such as Joy in We Happy Few), it will be allowed with no question but if it has a real world match (such as morphine in the original version of Fallout 3), the creator of the game must demonstrate context.

    If the game is meant for adults it should be straight forward. But if aimed at a less mature audience, there had better be a damn good reason.

    Third and finally, the process of how the ACB conducts and assigns ratings be reviewed and (obviously) updated.

    This final step was actually where most of the headaches before the introduction of the R18+ rating came from. It was consistently inconsistent if one gets my drift.

    Overall, it's not just the ACB or just parliament. The process itself is flawed, a mess, and is long over due for an overhaul.

    Even if we fix things at the parliamentary level (a monumental feat in itself), there are still the other two elements above.

      You've pretty much summed up what I think for me. But I'd like to add that the ratings board should accurately reflect Australian society. ie: It can't just be all old white dudes, or for that matter all women. It should be a reasonable cross section of society, young and old, male and female or varying race.

      I don't want some 70 year old who was born before electricity was a thing (never mind gaming!) deciding what is and isn't appropriate to play. Just the same as I don't want an 18 year old who has grown up entirely on internet memes deciding. Get some balance and if enough of them agree then ok ban something.

        Oh, and if we're going to let "morals" groups (like Family First or the Church) influence decision making then we also need equal representation from opposing groups like gaming companies or similar. To be honest I'd prefer the decision making to be secular and evidence based entirely and not allow any interest groups (moral or otherwise) to influence decisions, but I think that's impossible.

    I personally think it should be basically just the same as films, for example:
    - Drugs? Sure, there's no need to ban that.
    - Child porn? No, ban that shit.
    - (Adult) Rape? Yes, assuming it fits the context of the story rather than just being there to glorify it or something similarly stupid - the same way tv/films view it already (basically an instant R rating)

      That actually could work.

      From memory, New Zealand did that at least once with Grand Theft Auto 4 (?) - they used the movie classification to make it clear it's not a game for kids.

      Speaks of a lot for Australia where even that simple approach is not adopted.

      The different standards between film and video games is what grinds my gears. For kids? Sure, whatever, maybe interactivity could be a factor - I'm sure you can cherry-pick a positive study to support the argument, out of the many that deny it. It's basically why we don't prosecute minors as adults, so that's consistent enough to pass with some side-eye.

      But R18+ is for adults. As opposed to children, we're defined by our ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, to understand that there are consequences to our actions.
      Trying to claim that interactivity is the key as to why adults are at greater risk of being mentally or emotionally harmed or whatever bullshit they think they're accomplishing here is difficult to accept on an academic level, or with consideration for legal consistency, not to mention that it's just generally downright insulting.

      Additionally, in this particular ruling, they've apparently utterly ignored context. Context should be a significantly more important consideration.

        I don't know man. As a 29 year old adult who has never touched illicit drugs in his life I'm pretty sure if I play a game that lets me use drugs I'm going to go out and become a fully blown ice addict the next day.

          10 years later I'm still trying to kick my jet and stimpack habits...

        While I wish they'd change the classification rules about drugs, I disagree with you that interactivity doesn't matter.

        Let's take another aspect that affects classification: sexual violence. A game could include it in a number of ways:

        1. a rape occurs in a cut scene.
        2. a rape occurs in an interactive scene between two NPCs. Perhaps the player has the ability to stop it.
        3. a rape occurs in an interactive scene. This time, it is the player character being raped.
        4. a rape occurs in an interactive scene. This time, it is the player character raping an NPC.

        Even if it is the same act in each scenarios, I think it is clear that some of these will have higher impact than others. I'm not sure I'd even fight against censorship for the last one.

          I'd assume @sabrescene wasn't referring to a game where you actually rape characters, but rather that it's part of the story. I can't think of a redeeming scenario to justify the player being the rapist. So I'd have no problem with it being banned in your 4th scenario. In the other three I think again, the context matters. If it's titillating then nope, but if it's about motivation and furthering the story then ok.

        The actual guidelines expressly state:

        Context is crucial in determining whether a classifiable element is justified by the story-line or themes. In particular, the way in which important social issues are dealt with may require a mature or adult perspective. This means that material that falls into a particular classification category in one context may fall outside it in another.

      The biggest, most important aspect here is the word 'context', which our current system does not take into account. I get there's literally thousands of games a year, but that's why we employ people. That's why we should literally employ people to assess these games. It shouldn't just be 'has rape', it should be 'how and why does this occur' or 'how and why does the drug taking occur'. IF you're playing 'Drug Dealer 2018' when your objective is to visit a Kindergarten and shoot toddlers up with heroin til they bleed out their eyeballs? Shit noone needs to play that. However, if you're playing Fallout? Where you use a medical drug like Morpheine? And you show the dangers of becoming addicted to it with overuse? Why the hell should that be banned???

      So yes, I agree, context in this case, is king (or queen!).

        The guidelines does take "context" into account for a number of the guidelines. Just search for the word in this document:

        In particular, this is used in assessing the impact of violence in a game. The problem here is that there is no "context" based leeway for drug use linked to in-game incentives: if the game has that, then it is automatically refused classification.

          A good lawyer would say "incentive" and "reward" must themselves be considered in context. 'Joy' might make the game easier in certain respects, but is it not used as a kind of temporary camouflage to avoid detection by a player who is trying to break free of the societal enforcement of that drug-taking? An incentive in one context might be a necessary evil in another context. The ACB clearly ignored their duty to consider context. But what can you expect from a bunch of laypersons representing 'the average Australian'?

          Exactly. So it's a badly implemented rule. Context needs to be taken into account otherwise it's a blanket rule that when applied, can sure, catch some effectively, but will inevitably catch others that don't deserve that punishment.

            Frankly, it's made worse by the fact you can change the names and get away with it. "Its a medkit not drugs". Hell go back to Pacman and his power pills if you want to ban all drug use that is incentivized.

            Frankly, I don't think it matters anyway. As long as it's classified 18+ go nuts with drug use. Seeing someone in game shoot up anything is not going to make me want to go out and do it in the real world. No more than I want to go ramming cars off the road after playing Carmageddon or shooting people after playing GTA.

            If they want to limit drug use in younger classifications I have no problem with that.

              Kind of my point, pretty much. The toddler thing hedges more on the 'violence against children' aspect which would get a game banned anyhow :) But I do agree, drug use in movies only gets a movie an MA or R18+ rating anyhow, it should be NO different in a game.

      I 100% agree. If it's reasonable in a movie then it's reasonable in a game. Just make the classifications match.

      After all, their current logic is hugely flawed. Don't let a kid play a shooter because it'll encourage violence, but they can still play a driving game where they ram other players or shoot them with cartoony weapons? Can't have it both ways...

    I would make "Refused classification" games +18 (to some extent, i.e, no pedophile content...) and make sure parents enforce classification at home.

    Aside from using the film standards (One would assume that adults are mature enough to understand interactivity in a game is different to real life...) one thing I'd really like to see is a move to make it easier for smaller studios to get classifications. Other than unreasonable refusal of classification, one of the major reasons we don't get games is because it's too expensive to go through the ratings process.

      Yes this is my biggest hang up. We don't have the Goat Simulator expansions or Binding of Isaac on Xbox here because of the expense involved.

      Apart from that i hold out no hope of them changing their stance on the drugs. This is a country which now enforces prescriptions to buy codeine. Not a progressive move in my books

      Last edited 23/05/18 12:18 pm

      It's actually not that expensive for most games (about $2K when I last checked) but I can understand that preparing material for submission might take a lot of time and resources that smaller devs might not have available, and that even $2K might be a lot when you might only be going to sell your game for $10 and you are an indie dev.

    Both Fallout 3 and We Happy Few seem to follow the law, while also completely missing the point of it.

    "Computer games will be refused classification if they include or contain 'drug use related to incentives and rewards."

    It would make more sense for it to read "Computer games will be refused classification if they include or contain 'a depiction of use of realistic drugs solely related to incentives and rewards."

    This makes the implementation of the clause much less up to the discretion of classification board, as right now it seems like it's not being used very consistently (Grand Theft Auto V's pot induced alien mini-games comes to mind).

    Morphine in Fallout 3 had the threat of addiction, there was a system in place to stop you from every thinking "morphine is awesome, it just fixes any problems without consequences".

    I haven't played We happy Few, but I was under the impression that Joy is something that you try to avoid taking as much as possible, as it's a metaphor for government control.

    Neither game is glorifying drug use, which should be the real point of the clause.

      The Morpheine thing bugs me, you literally have a bad side effect to it. It doesn't have a positive payoff if you overuse it. It's well within the letter of the law after all. :\

      Except looking at these two games it seems that the board is entirely inconsistent with the application of this rule, Fallout 3 was banned, they changed the name to Med-x and got past, this game uses a made up drug (made up LEGAL drug) and gets the banhammer.

        and saints row 4 was event stupider, a made up virtual alien drug that give super powers only when you are within the game's own video game. and this was after the Board was ok with the anal probe being removed from the game to be sold as DLC (which would not be sold here)

        Bethesda didn't just change the name of the drug in Fallout 3: they also removed the animation of the player injecting themselves with the syringe.

        Saints Row 4 also had fictional "alien drugs" in one mission, but depicted the player smoking it out of a broken light bulb in a fashion that made it resemble crack cocaine.

        So the obvious question now is how does "We Happy Few" depict the player taking this fictional drug?

    It's not banned though. It's just been RCed. RC does not mean its banned. Stop spreading misinformation about FFS...

      Yeah it does mean banned, if you go and look at
      it says "...commonly referred to as being ‘banned’."

      It doesn't say it there but I was always under the impression that it was illegal to possess material that was refused classification.

    A Complete Review of the Refused Classification in light of the existence of R18+

    When they introduced the R18+ rating in January 2013 for video games it permitted drug and sexual content to be in video games, but the Refuse Classification immediately superseded is and still explicitly bans game elements of a sexual or drug use nature on the grounds a reasonable adult would find it unacceptable (while the R18+ classification says the rating applies is a subset of the adult community may find it offensive).

    Nearly all R18+ games are for Violence and Gore only. The few that exist are for light sexual themese/drug use... which if you rolled that into a movie would get you an M15+ rating if its a movie. The "Interactivity" is weighed too heavily and is woefully out of date with modern psychology.

    Well I would delete RC and make all games that are RC become R18+.
    That's a little bit of a joke, though it might be the easiest option.

    Do they really think we're all (young and old) so impressionable that if we see Duke Nukem get super speed from steroids (sorry, Vitamin X) that we're gonna immediately go rob the pharmacy?
    I'd change the drug rule, or just remove it.

    And the sexual violence thing needs work, too. I'm happy if it anything with sexual violence gets R18'd but context is the most important thing. Game lets you play as John Rape, P.I, the rapist detective? Yeah, maybe RC that one. A game like Hotline Miami 2, where sexual violence is shown to be just a movie like 2 seconds after it starts? That should not be RC'd.

      with the Sex side of things id bring Fiona Patterson of the Reason Party (formerly named The Sex Party) She knows exactly how stupid the Laws get over here when it comes to Sex and Violence. For Example, the high quality porn parody of Pirates of the Caribbean (simply called Pirates) over here had to be sold on 2 dvds, one DVD featured the story and the other feature the sex scenes because you cant have any violence at all in a porn movie, even if no one dies or is even injured

        Interesting that the awesome Michael Douglas/Jeanne Tripplehorn scene in Basic Instinct which was 'almost' rape (certainly violent) was allowed in the R18+ VHS version but was cut for TV, presumably to get the MA15+ rating. You'd think by today's ACB standards it would be refused classification for sexual violence.

          you'd think so, but you gotta remember the Board is and always has been full of Prudes who are fine when it comes to movies but absolutely loath Porn and Video Games and tolerate music though im pretty sure if they had their chance they'd ban Rap, Hip Hop, Metal and Rock

    The thing that shits me to tears is that mobile games seem to get a free ride (i don't know if they are put through the same classification process but my point stands to reason).

    We Happy Few gets RC'd over a fictional drug but i can go to my phone right now and jump on Wiz Khalifa's Weed Farm and cultivate (& sell) some sweet sweet virtual ganja. There is no government mind control subtext or grander plot, I'm just straight growing and selling Marijuana, that is all you do in that game. but the only advisory that has as a tiny little "M for Mature" on the Play Store page.

    I think we should join NZ and ACB together. It will save developers the cost of having to put themselves through 2 different classification systems. I think the cost for doing it should be on a sliding scale, with it being dependant on the game's budget. So a more high budget game would have a higher cost than an indie studio for their game. I think that the rules should be reviewed and updated as necessary every 2 years, and that they should come to majority vote. I think there should be a separate panel if your game is refused that you could petition to re-review your game, and this panel has no ties with the first panel and can override the original rating. I think that when games are being classified they need to show the context of the themes that come up for classification as much as the content. And the game needs to be judged for that. I think that fictional medicines/drugs are fiction and they are acceptable. I think Popeye has had multiple games where he is incentivised by eating food, I think many games provide options for potions, food and medicines that give buffs. And this is usually in fantasy games, with little basis in reality and should be perfectly acceptable for adult gamers.

    We need to abolish the ACB and implement the PEGI system. The government shouldn't be dictating our entertainment choices, it's authoritarian. People need to change their perception and consider why the government should have the right to ban fictional entertainment based the false notion that people need to be protected.

    There's no scientific evidence to prove interactivity has a greater impact on grown adults. It's an outdated assumption and needs to die. Nothing except child porn should be banned. At the very least we should be able to legally import what we like and the drug use thing needs to be removed. It's laughable. We are a joke around the world for this and many other reasons.

    No suggestions from me but I want to know how the hell reality TV shows like goggle box arent more harmful to youths.

      I watched a video on Facebook of a Japanese gameshow where machine were rubbing several females 'bits' (On top of clothes), and the first to climax won the game.

      Oh no it's fine, it didn't show nudity right? :P

        Holy smokes. Those darn kinky Japanesesies. I picture them bouncing around like Randy's and his ball cancer.
        Let it out folks!

    I’d change the absolute idiocy that considers any petite characters to be minor. (I’d also extend the idiocy to gamers that think women to be children if they’ve got A or B cups)

    I’d be tempted to tie them down and have them watch videos of Riley Reid and select JAV while going, “These women are all aged over 21! Judge Ye not by looks!”

      I sort of agree with you... But only if its absolutely clear that the person/character is actually an adult. Some of the content may technically have adults but suggests that they're younger and that's not on.

    So... If a game was to include real-world vaccinations with player incentives to use them, would that be banned also?

    I'd be interested to here a convincing argument for any form of video game censorship once you hit an adult rating.
    It seems most people aren't bothered by drug use in games, but think fucked up stuff like rape and child abuse need to be restricted or completely censored. We're talking about a CG incarnation of a person, not a real person. We're completely convinced of this as we machine gun down (fictional cg) innocent civilians in GTA or something alike, but all of a sudden we cross a line when it involves cg sexual violence or drug use.

    It's adults playing a game set in a completely virtual environment where harm can't be done, why does some government org get to decide what's best for them?

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