Why We Happy Few Was Refused Classification

Why We Happy Few Was Refused Classification

The latest game to be banned in Australia: We Happy Few. The announcement was a shock, but a reading of the board’s report reveals that the decision is one gamers have become accustomed to from the country’s censors.

According to the decision report from the Classification Board, which was provided to Kotaku Australia, the use of the drug Joy in We Happy Few was a chief reason for the refused rating. “Computer games will be refused classification if they include or contain ‘drug use related to incentives and rewards’,” the report reads.

Joy is a central mechanic in We Happy Few, which revolves around the town of Wellington Wells where citizens are required to take Joy on a regular basis. Not taking Joy makes the game substantially more difficult, with NPCs detecting the player’s presence more easily without the drug, and certain NPC characters can immediately spot whether the player has skipped their pill regime.

“A player that takes Joy can reduce gameplay difficulty, therefore receiving an incentiv by progressing though the game quickly. Although there are alternative methods to complete the game, gameplay requires the player to take Joy to progress,” the report reads.

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.

The clause around incentivised drug use was cited in the banning of Fallout 3, Crimecraft, and Risen. The Board also pointed to drug use as a reason for banning Saints Row IV, along with “interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence”, although a censored version of the game was later approved for sale locally.


  • Is it really a shock, given that the rules in place are very anti-drug? The record speaks for itself, and anyone surprised by this has not been paying any attention to the current trend at all.

    • It is actually a bit of a shock given that the game itself is very anti-drug.

      The board’s claims of incentives or reward for drug use are true only in the most narrow and short-term interpretation possible, and wilfully ignores literally the first principle upon which they claim to base their decisions:
      There are three essential principles that inform the board’s classification decisions:
      1. the importance of the context
      2. assessing the impact
      3. the six classifiable elements of drug use, language, nudity, themes, sex and violence.

      (Thanks @beatsbynelly)

      What’s most surprising about this is that whoever signed off on this decision either doesn’t care about the context, or – less charitably – perhaps doesn’t know what it means.

      • I’m still giving them the benefit of the doubt that the devs poorly argued/didn’t provide enough context.. as naive as that may be.

      • Maybe the Dev didn’t provide the right context but everyone who saw this game on the horizon knows it’s about social commentary on “how drug use via peer pressure can be easier…..but is it right?” This is a very important issue that ironically won’t be addressed here on a medium that could reach the right audience because of a narrow view.

    • We have an R18+ so that games can properly be classified but it’s not a free for all. There are only a few things which the R18+ doesn’t allow. Things the parliament (not the censors btw) have decided should not be considered acceptable in Australia. One of those things is ‘drug use for rewards”.

      In the 9 years since the R18+ has been released, the number of games where classification has been refused has been very limited.

      • Yet very few countries ban more games than we do, so what makes Aussie Government think that our citizens needs protection and more than others?

        • Plenty of other countries ban games. Germany has a hard time with anything with violence in it or any form of nazi paraphernalia. Hell, China will ban a game if it has skeletons in it. I’m sure there’s plenty more, but I just don’t go looking for specifics in other countries.

        • Many modern western countries have a classification system. All classification systems have basically a ‘yeah nah we’re not going to touch that one’ type classification. In the US, if a game gets an ‘AO’ classification, it’s pretty much the kiss of death. No retailer will sell it . Mind you the ESRB is worse as it’s self-regulation meaning that a bunch of do-gooders have put themselves forward of the protectors of their morality.

          For Australia’s system, if you think it needs up dating you’re welcome to start a campaign to change the laws to allow drug use for reward to no longer be a classifiable element.

  • The fact that refusing classification has no impact on the ability to get any of these games is the best argument for letting the industry self rate titles.

  • Wtf? The drug is even fictional! Fallout 3/NV ran afoul by originally including ‘morphine’ but the released games still include a cornucopia of fictional drugs that, yes, all provide buffs for the sake of making the game easier!

    • That’s exactly what I thought. It’s not even a thinly-veiled attempt at a real world drug … it’s purely fictional.

      Did somebody leave the political keys of power out where Corey Bernadi could get them?

      • Saints Row 4 was the same, fictional alien drugs that gave you super powers, in a virtual reality world no less, but still, banhammer

  • I hope nobody tells the classification board about all the Human Effigies Ive been popping lately, cant live without ’em…

  • so what does this mean for people who made the mistake of buying the early access version on XBone?

    • The Matrix movie was never refused classification despite drug use, Take the red pill or blue? Take both! And jump out of the car i say.

      • Why haven’t they banned Requiem for a Dream, then? Or Brave New World? Or Dredd? Or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? They all have drugs in them, surely they’re evil and amoral and will corrupt the children and we can’t even allow people to make their own informed choices about whether they should watch or read them?

        Oh wait, they’re not VIDEO GAMES. And everyone knows video games are exclusively toys for children (and manchildren who can’t make their own decisions). Fuckers.

        • Yes, Should they though? Is interaction within a medium more likely to warp your mind than simply watching, Then again, I don’t know the ratings process & whats involved.

          • Oddly rating a game is about the same as rating a movie. The developer sends them scenes of the things likely to impact on the ratings and they classify it accordingly. They don’t actually play the game.

            But yes the theory is because a game is more interactive, then it needed a few tweaks to movies. I’ve always been on the fence about this and would love to see some research done about it.

  • This is such bull! Not once have I seen them get all uptight about ‘strength potions’ in fantasy games, but buffs from science FICTION drugs that are FAKE and even give you a negative effect (addiction in Fallout) is too far? Get your act together Australia!

  • There is this awesome drug that is available everywhere in Australia called alcohol. Drink it and you feel great, it makes it easier to deal with your family, friends, work and relationships. If you called it something else and put it in a virtual fantasy setting, the game would get banned. Nope, no nanny state (that also happens to be happy to serve the large alchol and pharmaceutical companies) happening here.

    • It’s not drug use that’s banned. It’s drug use FOR REWARD.

      So a game in which you can get drunk and it affects you like the normal alcohol does – get dizzy, can’t see straight, vomit – this is perfectly fine.

      If the exact same game though rewards you for it – extra money, extra health etc, then it must be refused classification.

      • Do you mean like potions in The Witcher 3 that improve your performance and regeneration? Does that mean TW3 should be banned?

        • No, the Classification Board would probably see magic potions as different to ‘drugs’. It all comes down to context and what it is.

          The CB aren’t stupid but their hands are tied by legislation. So if they can say something is a magic potion, it’s not a drug and it would be ok. But sometimes, something is clearly a drug – ie it uses a real world drug name, you inject it etc. In those cases they have no choice but to classify it RC.

  • And they wonder why piracy is high in Australia. I’ll still play it regardless of their refusal.

  • There are three essential principles that inform the board’s classification decisions:

    1. the importance of the context
    2. assessing the impact
    3. the six classifiable elements of drug use, language, nudity, themes, sex and violence

    So it seems on the face of it either the current board ignored the first two principles.. or, as we’ve seen it before, the publishers/devs didn’t provide enough context for them to allow classification.

    • In physics, it’s called “Asymtotic Freedom”. You are free to make any decision, as long as you make none. When you make one, your options diminish. Check it out.

  • This goes hand in hand with how the Victorian government wants to ban children’s books because they have the work boy or girl in them. Australia is slowly turning into a mix of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s brave new world.

    • *citation needed.

      You actually believe that? It was scaremongering by the Vic Liberals based on one ANU study on kids’ attitudes to gender that Melbourne City Council commissioned. The rest was made up as far as I can see. The Herald Sun decided to rehash the story in the last few days ’cause that’s what they do.

      I’m pretty happy to say the Classification Board have misinterpreted We Happy Few and made the wrong decision. But the real danger is the weakening of whistleblower protections, the constant attacks on the ABC and the laws destroying protection of journalists’ sources, not some confected pearl-clutching over councils banning kid’s books…

      • I’m in the middle of exams, if I’ve gotta do another citation I’ll lose my mind haha!

        No I didn’t believe it, but the notion that the government would toy with the idea is a cause for concern, so for now I’ll remain sceptical. In this day and age it would be foolish to believe any MSM without other sources backing said info.

        Agree with you on the lack of whistleblower protection, ABC sadly had that coming due to biased reporting when it was supposed to remain neutral. I’m more just disappointed that our government rips choices away from us and we can’t do anything about it. Atleast election time is coming up.

        • ‘No I didn’t believe it, ‘

          ‘This goes hand in hand with how the Victorian government wants to ban children’s books because they have the work boy or girl in them. Australia is slowly turning into a mix of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s brave new world.’

          yeah, nah mate.

          • I’ll throw some emojis in there next time to show sarcasm. nah, yeah mate.

        • Here’s the presser from the Libs.


          Evidence-free and a complete misreading of the report, dog-whistling to the conservatives. “There are reports…” So transparent.

          ABC sadly had that coming due to biased reporting when it was supposed to remain neutral.

          The two big ones were Emma Alberici’s analysis of the tax cuts, which were restored after a review found that she was spot on in her analysis and it was and evidence based critique, and Andrew Probyn’s referring to Tony Abbott as “the most destructive politician of his generation” in a news report which *did* breach impartiality as it was a news report not an editorial or opinion show, and he was rightly censured. But every analysis on the ABC’s bias has found that they straddle the line pretty well, the odd (quickly handled) mis-step notwithstanding, and if they show any bias at all, it’s very slightly in the government’s favour (whichever government’s in power…). Recall the fawning interviews of Malcolm Turbull just after he ousted Tony Abbott.

          The constant framing of the ABC particularly by Abbott, Bernardi, Hanson, Kevin Andrews etc as a rabid den of lefties is particularly irksome, and the financial and board interference by the government (of either stripe) in what should be a public-owned and public-service broadcaster with great journalism is very sad. To say that the ABC “had it coming” is, to me, a great misunderstanding of how the ABC should operate. If it’s not occasionally making mistakes then it’s not trying hard enough, and as long as mistakes are not systemic and are corrected quickly then that’s all part of the process, in my view.

          Good luck with the exams. 🙂

          • I was reading similar articles today in regards to the children books, I dearly hope that was a misunderstanding a not someone contemplating the notion, but common sense prevailed this time haha.

            Definitely agree in the attacks that ABC get in regard to that. Great quote there from you “If it’s not occasionally making mistakes then it’s not trying hard enough, and as long as mistakes are not systemic and are corrected quickly then that’s all part of the process” definitely agree with this statement.

            I think where it all boiled up was all the heat Q and A was getting, and triple J changing the date of hottest 100 away from Australia day, the government debates on that were hectic! You right, saying that they had it coming was quite harsh of me, it’s all abit of a brutal affair.

            and thank you 🙂

  • Based on what I understand about this games setting, I’d say the dev’s are likely laughing at the irony here as much as they’re frustrated by the actual censorship.

  • Wow, how did mario get past with all those mushrooms having a positive influence on his lifespan….

    • Video game classification hadn’t started at that point, it was 1994 that people got peeved at Night Trap and a couple of other titles that sparked the certification craze.

  • I’m no fan of censorship, and realise my opinion’s only one of many, but… really… so what. It’s a game. Our lives are not going to be significantly poorer for lack of access to one title. One could argue slippery slope of course.

    Were this a perfect world, and only over-18s played games with high-level content, this likely wouldn’t happen, but unfortunately some parents are ignorant, irresponsible, whatever, and let their kids play games that are totally unsuitable (sure that definition/assessment will vary between individuals), or the kids get access without their parents even knowing, and the classification board are surely cognisant of that.

    I can totally understand the basis for this definition, even if I don’t particularly like the outcome. Some little kid plays a game like this and gets an idea in their head that taking drugs is cool or will make something about their life or present circumstances ‘better’, then there’s a direct link.

    The role of groups like ACB is not just to inform but to ‘protect’, or they wouldn’t have the power to RC. If this stops one kid from subconsciously thinking that illicit drug use is a positive thing, then it’s done its job.

    We all know the game can likely still be obtained if someone really wants to, and whilst that applies to savvy kids too, it surely reduces the potential number.

    So again, I’m not saying I like it, or that there’s even necessarily any proof that the approach works, but I understand why it happened, and have to agree to an extent.

    Now… as for the argument about whether games should be treated any differently to other media (plenty of glorified drug use shown in films), that’s another kettle of fish, and I tend towards the position that they shouldn’t, but I reckon this sort of title, and games in general, hold more of an attraction in many cases, so that could also form the basis for their differing treatment.

    • The problem is that the ACB *must* classify according to the classification guidelines. They are not allowed to use reasoning such as ‘even though it will be rated R18+, young kids will still play it’ in order to refuse classification.

      Drugs used as an incentive or reward is a hard ‘no’ in terms of classification refusal. It is treated differently than in film classification due to the interactivity of video games. Sadly, I’m not sure the developer of We Happy Few will be able to fix this issue, unless they release a ‘hardcore Aussie edition’ where the player is unable to access Joy at all.

      • Yep exactly, despite a number of studies showing that interactivity *reduces* involvement (I can remember at least 2, not that I can find references), but there are probably just as many claiming to find otherwise (though there haven’t really been enough long-term, large sample-size studies to find *anything* conclusive).

    • This game isn’t for little kids though so “Won’t somebody think of the children’ Is pointless as an argument. Plus alcoholism & cigarettes are more detrimental to our health care system financially than substance abuse, This piece of interactive fiction has no bearing on real life, It’s use of real life scenarios to purvey morality in the videogame medium is not indicative &/or shouldn’t be associated with the cause of substance abuse, Games aren’t to blame for gun crime either, It is a slippery slope.

      • Totally, but that doesn’t stop them getting it does it, and unfortunately they have to consider that. There’ll always be a line drawn, and in a media with significant attraction for children (even if their parents do all the right things, they’ll find a way) the rules will be there to protect them, regardless of whether they actually will.

        That being said, I wonder if this rule exists independent of children, ie do they think that this sort of thing should be inaccessible to all of us? In that case, why the hell is ‘Limitless’ not banned… it’s not even MA (meaning any kid can legally see it). That’s a fictional drug, so is Joy.

        Makes me thing there *is* still some protect-the-kids mentality behind it (the rules for games, I mean).

  • I mean, yeah, I think the previous posts have generally nailed it: the game is available anyway. And according to the description of the narrative sequences and play mechanics, this game generally just reflects real life anyway. So, why the ban?

  • Makes me wonder how PoE2 got rated. Did it get rated? I’ve got Aussie friends playing it, one even playing that Monk class that encourages drug use.

  • The problem with this isn’t that drug use shouldn’t be discouraged, it absolutely should. However Australia bans more video game than every other Western country, so what makes Aussies more sensitive and requires this protection more than others? We promote ourselves as a “free country” yet censor more contents than everyone else from the free world?

    • Probably different board members classified it. Or in We Happy Few Joy is so central to the main story that the board members felt it focused on drug use, whereas Far Cry’s drugs are fairly minor in the scheme of things.

      • Not really, the presence of bliss is pretty central to Faith’s region, and in the story context with the angels, judges, etc. I just had my heart restarted at the prison two days ago due to exposure to bliss.

    • The “drug use” in Far Cry 5 is homeopathy, so it’s not really drug use, it’s drinking water for a placebo effect.

  • Drug use makes things easier, Like Panadol, ibuprofen. Cold Meds. Legal Drugs which are highly advertised

  • What gets me is I can understand if the people of the game took cocaine in order to be happy, but they’re not, they’re taking a legal drug in the game…. much like people take drugs to help with depression or psychosis. To me at least, people taking a drug everyday to act normal is genuinely a real thing, especially something like psychosis where if you didn’t take these drugs you could (would?) see things happening and your perception change of things around you.

    On the other hand, Postal got banned and I found it incredibly easy to obtain and shoot people with my cat silenced pistol…. then light them on fire….. and pee them out. Games are great.

  • No real biggie. Microsoft will more than likely refund early access on xbone and importing a copy is easy.

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