The Classification Board Is Reviewing We Happy Few's Ban

In a press release this afternoon, the Classification Board has announced that it will be reviewing the refused classification ruling for We Happy Few.

The review was triggered after the board received an appeal against We Happy Few's effective ban earlier this year. The ratings board had previously found that the prevalent use of Joy — despite the overarching dystopian themes, and the general principle of trying to subvert a society controlled by mood enhancers — was a violation of the classification guidelines.

"A player that takes Joy can reduce gameplay difficulty, therefore receiving an incentive by progressing though the game quickly," the Board's report said.

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.

Read more

In the press release announcing the review, the Board said they would meet on July 3. They also opened the floor for public submissions, saying that anyone who wished to stand "as an interested party to this review" could write to the Convenor of the Review Board either by email or through this postal address:

The Convenor
Classification Review Board
Locked Bag 3
HAYMARKET, NSW 1240

The deadline for applications and public submissions on behalf of the game is June 29, with the board noting that they could "only consider submissions about We Happy Few itself and not any other matters relating to computer game classification policy or issues generally".

You can read the Board's press release in full below:

The Classification Review Board has received an application to review the classification of the computer game We Happy Few. We Happy Few was refused classification by the Classification Board on 21 May 2018. The Classification Review Board will meet on 3 July 2018 to consider the application. The decision and reasons will later be published on www.classification.gov.au.

If an individual or organisation wishes to apply for standing as an interested party to this review, please write to the Convenor of the Review Board. The names of interested parties will be disclosed in the Review Board’s final decision report, unless requested otherwise. The closing date to lodge your application for standing as an interested party and any submissions is 29 June 2018. Please note that the Review Board can only consider submissions about We Happy Few itself and not any other matters relating to computer game classification policy or issues generally.

Submissions should be emailed to [email protected] or sent to:

The Convenor
Classification Review Board
Locked Bag 3
HAYMARKET NSW 1240

The Classification Review Board is an independent merits review body. It makes a fresh classification decision upon receipt of an application for review. The Classification Review Board decision takes the place of the original decision made by the Classification Board.


Comments

    Christ. There really is no words for this ridiculousness.

    I wish we had people younger than 70 in charge of these decisions.

      Its ridiculous that they've been open to the idea of reviewing an initially poor decision and allowing the general public to voice their opinions/thoughts on the game and why it should be made available for adults to play?

      I mean, this is democracy working at its absolute finest, yet you still find a reason to nit-pick?

      Some people just cant be satisfied. I am wondering if you will bother to make a submission to get your voice heard about why the game should be made available, or if you'll just stay behind your monitor/phone screen and complain.

        I think it's entirely reasonable to express exasperation that this mess ever happened in the first place. It didn't need a three paragraph micro-lecture in response.

          It clearly did since everything stated in the exasperated post is wrong. Over 50% of the board is under 40 and the oldest bloke is 62 from memory. They use the rules to streamline classification and anything that's a line ball gets knocked back pending submissions. It's as good and fair a system as you can get.

          Last edited 26/06/18 4:36 pm

            I'm beginning to understand the thought processes that prevented you from recognising a throwaway comment of exasperation as exactly that. Have fun with that.

              The post is wrong and I support the correction. I've had a lot of fun with it.

              Thankyou. I used to like Kotaku comments. Feels like FB is the better crowd now.

                Yeah that's the better place to mindlessly complain about a system working pretty well and as it was intended.

                Last edited 26/06/18 7:43 pm

                The level of militant pedantry is absurd.

                  Agreed. The pedantry is strong here.
                  Type of nerd-ego-war that no one would put up with in real life.

        I am wondering if you will bother to make a submission to get your voice heard about why the game should be made available, or if you'll just stay behind your monitor/phone screen and complain.

        Why not both? :-)

        If you think that an unelected board of bureacrats making a decision in private, while giving people only three days to submit a response via a random press release, after which the board may or may not still completely ignore 100% of all submissions made, "is democracy working at its absolute finest" well... you keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means.

        Last edited 26/06/18 10:25 pm

          Youre getting an opportunity to have your say

          That's better than the game being slapped RC and forgotten about

          So yeah, democracy means exactly what it means here

        Maybe I misunderstood OP, but I took the line,
        I wish we had people younger than 70 in charge of these decisions.
        to imply that the classification debacle as a whole is ridiculous.

          I thought it was pretty obvious exaggeration. Thanks for seeing that.

      Yeah it’s seems incongruous for a dystopian game to be accused of actually promoting drug use, rather than (it seems) showing the overall negative impact of sedating a whole population.

      BUT the reviewers don’t make the classification rules - the government does (the guidelines are a legislative instrument issued by the minister for justice). So the review here is whether they’ve properly applied those rules. Hopefully they’re open to some nuanced arguments, rather than just a quick look at what drugs do to your stats or whatever in the game.

      I’m not holding my breath though for a review of the guidelines any time soon, particularly in the lead-up to an election next year (“won’t anyone think of the children??”). Early in the term of a new government, maybe ... ?

        They aren't following their own rules tho. The rules don't prohibit drug use. The prohibit proscribed or illicit drug use. A fictional drug is classified as neither, unlike some previous games that have tried to use names such as morphine or reefer in-game. Therefore the board wrongfully considered the use of the fictional drug Joy when making their decision.

      All things being equal, it's probably better that the Classification Board applies the rules consistently. When games like this get banned, the debate should be about whether the rules need changing rather than wishing that the board applied the rules less consistently.

        Agreed, the biggest issue here is that the ACB has a bunch of rules they have to follow, and that there are cases where those regulations don't allow them to take context into account. What we should have been doing since the R18 came into effect (or really, since before) is calling for a review into the language of the regulations.

          When R18 came into effect for games, standards needed to be drafted for it.

          I can only assume that the overwhelmingly conservative standards applied were a last-ditch middle finger of defiance at being forced to craft the thing in the first place.

      While I agree with your sentiment on the double standard for video games, I would like to point out that none of the board are over the age of 65.
      In fact the board is surprisingly even when it comes to age of membership. There are five people on this board under the age of 30 and only two members over the age of 60. There are around five members per age bracket (based on decade). The youngest member is 25 years old.

      So we do have people younger than 70 making these decisions, in fact the majority are below the age of 50.

      Unfortunately the review board is much older. With all members being over the age of 40.

      Last edited 26/06/18 5:13 pm

      Dipsticks. I meant that the game was denied in the first place.

    Hopefully they'll base on the two issues I think are key here. Firstly, the context isn't one promoting drug use, but the opposite, and two, there is prior history with Fallout 3 (most FO games actually), where the drug use that earned the original ban is still there, only with a non-realistic name. Joy isn't a real thing, hence it meets that same criteria that was acceptable under a more harsh criteria, when there wasn't the R18 rating to fall back on.

    Which is a third issue. If that rating has any reason for being, this is it. Rate the game R18, and let the adults choose for themselves. Then put the emphasis for selling back on the retailers, who generally do a solid job enforcing it.

    Thinking to the future though, I think this sort of process should happen every time theres a Refused Classification outcome. Review the reasoning, and get a 2nd and 3rd opinion to make sure its the right one for that product.

    Basically, peer review the decision sooner rather than later. Make it part of the process, and hose down the negative press faster. At the very least it clears up more inconsistencies like between this and FO3.

    The games that really deserve an RF outcome are pretty clear at every point. This isn't one of them, and just makes us out to be far more nanny state than we should be.

      Yes! You should submit that exact statement to the review board. Very well said!

      Alright guys, you peer pressured me into submitting an email. Some slight editing to make it read better, but that was the guts of it.

      Are a few of you happy now? See what I did there?

    Ahem.

    Dear Ratings Board,

    You made the right decision banning We Happy Few. Ban more games. Especially games about drugs, sex, or themes subversive to the Christian ideology. I think Super Mario Odyssey is a Communist recruitment tool, please ban it. Also, fewer games about penises and demons, or demons with penises.

    Love,

    Poet

    I believe Refuse Classification (RC) contradicts the existence of R18. It needs to be update to allow R18 rating to be applied to more games and stop applying excessive weight to interactivity as psychological studies have shown no evidence that drug/sex/violence in video games has more negative effect rthan other media.

      No.

      R18 was introduced to allow parents to be more informed on a games content. Because previously MA15+ was the upper limit. R18 was not introduced to allow anything and everything to be allowed.

        Agree, I wouldn't want there to be no limits at all. There is some absolutely abhorrent stuff out there in the world that should not be available for sale, but We Happy Few doesn't fall into that category.

        So your saying R18+ exists for parents who can't read M15+ labels?

        I am not saying it can allow anything, cause even in cinema, television and literature... R18+ doesn't allow everything. I am saying that R18+ is not applied evenly cause for games the decision is what I believe is unjustly weighted for "interactivity".

        A scripted scene in a movie is not equal to a scripted scene in a video game, cause I am watching it with a controller in my hand and may be prompted to push X?

        The most popular television series in the last decade has a school teacher cooking meth, put a craftable item in a game that even resembles a drug in name or animation BANNED!!!! Its not fair to apply interactivity as the main reason for it to be banned, it should be valued on the content alone.

        Well, that in itself is an issue, technically R18 means that the parent is no longer required to get involved because the individual buying the game can make the decision for themselves because, presumably, they are 18+.

        This is no different to sale of alcohol and cigarettes, they are available for audience that is 18+ of age and that is enforced under the penalty. The problem here is that parents still buy R18 games for their kids and see no problem with it and the R18 rating for media is not enforced with harsh penalties. Then again, parents buy alcohol and share it with kids as well...

        I think it is also worth noting that the rating should not be confused with content description. High Impact Violence and Sex Scenes (The Witcher 3) is a description of content one might see in a game. R18 is not and should not be used as a description of such content.

        I am sure many of us oppose the nanny like society in which everything has to be labelled for consumer's safety but at what point the problem is with the consumer and not the product? Should knives be labelled "caution sharp object" just because people refuse to use or lack common sense when interacting with said object?

          I am also apposed to bible clutching nanny state stuff like this classification board as well. I just dont like people treating the R18+ category as meaning anything and everything is allowed in games if its rated like that. That is not why the R18+ rating was introduced into the ratings system.

            That is fair enough, but as some point you need to decide if you are pro censorship or against it, regardless of what framework said censorship is based on (bible, common standards, ethical standards and so on).

            The question here is, do we, as adults (and I am 42 years old) are permitted to decided for ourselves what we can or cannot watch/participate in (in relation to media) or is that decided for us?

            Please keep in mind that, under current process, at some point, people who are younger than me will be making a decision on my behalf of what I am permitted or not permitted to watch/participate in. What gives them that right and most of all have I agreed to give them that right myself?

            Naturally, I consider myself a reasonable person and there certainly exists content that I am not interested in watching/participating in... however, do you not think that I have a right to make that decision and do you not think I can be trusted with that decision as well?

              I think i made it pretty clear in my comments i think the censorship board are a collection of loons.

              My point is i think the people reviewing the content should have some experience/ Understanding of the media they are reviewing. Because the context of something can appear different to someone who does not understand it to someone who does. We happy few is an example of that. This was refused classification because the people reviewing it did not understand the context. Had the person had an understand of video games We happy few would have been granted a classification.

              Some media should be illegal to distribute. RC needs to exist.

              Specifically, media which either
              A: Can only be created by harming somebody. This should be illegal to even posses. (child porn, snuff films - not usually applicable to videogames)
              B: Is so abhorrent that it shouldn't be on store shelves. "RapeLay" is the standard example when it comes to videogames. I don't think possessing this kind of stuff should actually criminal because nobody is harmed directly, but the normalisation/fetishisation of rape is so potentially harmful to society that I can support banning it from being sold.

              A dystopian video game involving a fictional drug is obviously neither of these things, but saying that no content should be refused classification is crazy.

          Labelling isn't a nanny state issue, that's just giving people information so that they can be better informed consumers.

          A nanny state is where you don't get labels, things just get banned without consumers having any say in the matter at all.

    Back in the 80's Twister: Mother of Harlots was banned due to the name!! Re-named as Twister and published by System 3 (Last Ninja people). Crap game, but still got banned due to name only!!!
    Games have always been banned and always will... sadly! Which makes me think how did the original Elite get through? You could trade narcotics, sell slaves attack the space police.
    Games are games and are purely a suspension of the ordinary to a fanciful place. Let us enjoy our fantasy as escapism from the real world for a little while and if the game is aimed at an older audience, freakin' damn well rate it that way.

    Last edited 26/06/18 4:41 pm

      Which makes me think how did the original Elite get through?Probably because the classification system for games didn't exist back then :P

        Twister was banned and that was essentially the same time/era, give or take a few months. There was classification, but not ratings such as pg13 etc.
        Magic Mushrooms had great difficulty in getting released, again, on the name basis only. That was an 85/86 release.

          Well, if it was based on name alone (as with Twister according to your post - cursory google can't turn up any info on it) then that's probably your answer. "Elite" doesn't exactly turn any heads :P And there was no classification scheme to rate games by their contents as has happened here, it sounds more like individual cases catching people's attention and getting hit with the ban stick.

      There have been other games that have included drug trade and passed our classification scheme, such as GTA: Chinatown Wars (which had a simple commodities market mini-game with various drugs as the commodities).

      Remember that it is "drug use tied to in-game incentives" that is prohibited. Selling drugs is completely different :-)

    3 days warning before they close submissions is kind of rough though.

      That's government-speak for, "We've already made a decision, but we have to tick a box that says we allowed submissions."

      Personally I'm optimistic that they've come to their fucking senses and realized that their initial decision was inconsistent with both their standards as read and precedent, and they just want this over with.

    Bold of them to use the language "fresh classification decision" when it's apparent that they slapped a ban on this with no consideration for the context of the drug use in the game.

    I might remind the board that use of medications as mood alteration has been an acceptable part of mental health practise for years, legally and without public outcry.

      How many memes are there that suggest people are raving sociopaths before their first coffee in the morning? Or people on prescriptions to treat stress, depression, or anxiety? How about diabetics injecting insulin? The relief from that can be very calming, its not a far stretch for that feeling to be instant.

      It just seems that as soon as drugs are mentioned in a game, its assumed that its junkie level ice use, or heroin, or some other illicit drug, when it might just be a panadol. What gets me is that most illicit drugs are performance degrading, not enhancing. Most doesn't mean all, but the ones they're thinking of certainly are.

      Ice doesn't give you superpowers.

        Ice doesn't give you superpowers.

        Oh, I dunno... it does seem to empower some individuals to ignore the effect of pepper-spray and gain the strength to break restraints and fight off half a dozen cops and hospital orderlies. :)

    Since MS have bought this developer, what have they done to support the review of this games 18+ release in Australia.

    If not, what good reasons do they have not to ?

      its wasnt MS who brought these Devs, its was Gearbox

        No, Gearbox are publishing We Happy Few, but MS bought the studio recently.

          huh i did not know that, i only knew about Gearbox Publishing it

    rolls eyes into back of skull and out my ass!

    Can we have people other the bible clutching pensioners on the board?

    I think the review boards should be populated by people who actually consume the content they are reviewing. Because they would actually know the context of content in a video game. Rather than someone who thinks the 1950s were the greatest time.

      You should probably do some research into the demographic of the classification board instead of parroting the tired old 'dinosaurs' trope.

      Average age is 40ish.

      See the various posts right at the top dj. Most of the board are under 50, which is quite representative of the average gamer age. There are only a couple over 60, and none over 65, so the assumption that its pensioners doing this is quite mistaken.

      https://www.kotaku.com.au/2018/06/we-happy-few-ban-classification-board-review/#comment-3932742

      They're volunteers, so I think it might be their inexperience causing this. Fairly new to the job, don't want to make a mistake, so err on the side of caution. It just takes someone emphasising 'drug use is bad, m'kay?' in training, and that sticking, for ANY use to make them hesitant.

    I sent my email to them not just about this game but also future games in general that are being refused classification.

      Probably would've been better not to. They'll consider that a waste of their time and may even ignore the submission entirely.
      Please note that the Review Board can only consider submissions about We Happy Few itself and not any other matters relating to computer game classification policy or issues generally.

    Something needs to be done to curb this bullshit.
    So sick of being told what I can/can’t experience as a grown adult.
    The system as it is deserves all the mockery it gets. Archaic and regressive.

    This is an email I sent to the ACB two weeks ago...
    Margaret Anderson
    Director

    First of all I’d like to say thank you for getting back to me with my enquiry on the Video Game ‘We Happy Few’. There are a few points that I was hoping you could address for me please.
    1. My original enquiry was not asking what you’re policies are, it was asking why is the Australian Classification Board treating Australian adults like children? If you’re Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games
    2012 are the result of that, then a consideration should be made to update these guidelines.
    2. From you’re reply it seems the issue The Board has with the game in question is the fact you claim drugs are being used for an advantage which breaches The Boards guidelines which states and I quote.
    ‘Incentives’ or ‘rewards’ may include, but are not limited to: the awarding of additional points; achievement unlocks; new skills or increases in attributes such as strength; making tasks easier to accomplish; accumulating rare forms of
    game equipment; plot animations and pictures as rewards following an event/action.

    Now can you please explain to me why this would be an issue for the average Australian Adult? Is The Board worried that our minds could be so easily influenced that we would play a video game where you take a fictional drug and get some
    positive effect from it then that same philosophy would then translate to real life? I really do hope The Board gives us a little more credit than that.

    3. Microsoft has purchased the developer (Compulsion Games) behind an upcoming and much-anticipated game ‘We Happy Few’ In you’re personal opinion do you think if this game really was so tainted with offensive material that the
    biggest company in the world would buy the studio? Microsoft like most companies care greatly about public image. Microsoft gaming division operates in 42 Countries. So it seems they will be selling this game in 41 countries

    4. Look at Australian Classification Board on Twitter. If you have a look at how the public perceives the Australian Classification Board on Twitter you will see nothing but people who are frustrated for the same reasons I am.
    It’s overwhelming. People like to make decisions for themselves. They don’t like the government doing it for them. I don’t understand why this game couldn’t be rated R18+ with ‘STRONG DRUG USE’, then as an adult I could decide for myself. It’s almost like
    a dictatorship.
    Thank You for taking the time to listen to my concerns and please have a look at you’re guidelines so that Australia can align with the rest of the world and allow so called adults who have full legal permission to drink, smoke, gamble
    and even partake in brothel experiences play a video game with drug use IF WE CHOOSE TO.
    Regards – Ben Fogarty

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