Another Game Has Been Banned In Australia

Last week I wrote how Devolver announced they wouldn't be releasing Mother Russia Bleeds, a visceral side-scrolling brawler, in Australia and New Zealand. At the time, the publisher blamed censors for not approving of the game, even though Mother Russia Bleeds wasn't listed by the Classification Board or New Zealand's equivalent, the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC).

Being gamers themselves, the OFLC opted to fire back at Devolver on Twitter this morning. Amidst all of that, the publisher was able to confirm that the co-op brawler has been banned from sale in Australia.

All of this kicked off with the Switch version of Mother Russia Bleeds. The game has been out on PC for a few years, even though there's good reason to believe the Classification Board would never approve its sale locally. Here's an excerpt from my story last week so you know just how problematic it is:

As enemies are killed in Mother Russia Bleeds, their bodies begin to spasm. The player can then take a syringe to extract a drug called Nekro from the corpses of those bodies, which can be injected into the player character to either go berserk or regain health.

Other drugs have different effects: Bloody Mary turns enemy corpses into walking bombs, White Russian increases player damage more than usual, Blue Lagoon heals more than other drugs, and so on.

Given that Fallout has been stung for using drugs to heal, injecting blood from corpses so you can go berserk seems like a bit of a red flag.

But in any case, the game is available through Steam for Australians. If you're releasing a game on the Switch, however, Nintendo mandates that publishers and developers submit the game to censors around the world.

The most efficient way to do that is through the IARC, the International Alliance Ratings Coalition. The coalition is a partnership of content ratings bodies from around the world. Legislation was introduced a few years ago to enable the Classification Board to join that coalition, which offers an automated system for people selling digital products (apps, games) online.

It's partly out of necessity. There's too many games and apps for ratings agencies to review, and the IARC's tool helps deal with the workload. Publishers fill out a series of questions about the content of their game, and the tool generates consumer advice labels and ratings for every member nation in the IARC.

This is where Mother Russia Bleeds comes in.

Even though a listing for the visceral co-op brawler wasn't visible on the Classification Board website, Devolver explained over email and Twitter that they had received a "Refused Classification" rating through the IARC system:

As outlined in legislation and more decipherable English on the Classification website, IARC decisions carry the same weight as a ruling from the Classification Board themselves:

Classifications made by the IARC tool are based on Australian standards and values. They use Australian classification symbols and are made using the Australian classification guidelines. They are legal classification decisions.

A rating for Mother Russia Bleeds still hasn't appeared on the Classification Board website at the time of writing. If a game is banned in Australia, a listing should appear on the Board's site.

However, this is all for Australia only. While we share a lot of commonalities with our Kiwi cousins, being a member nation of the IARC isn't one of them. A representative of the Office and Film and Literature Classification told Kotaku Australia explained that New Zealand isn't a member of the IARC coalition, and they use their own legislative framework and guidelines to rate games there.

"[Mother Russia Bleeds] has not been submitted for classification here in New Zealand, [and] therefore has not been banned here. Australia and NZ have different frameworks for classification, and we do not follow the IARC system," the OFLC representative said.

That's a detail that Devolver were apparently unaware of. But the Kiwi censors were more than happy to let the publisher know - over Twitter.

Devolver later explained that the OFLC appears on the IARC system "with a red lock", meaning that if a game is refused sale in Australia, chances are it can't be sold in New Zealand either. "As of now it acts of it won't be allowed to release on NZ," the publisher said.

The OFLC and Devolver have been going back and forth about the mysteries about the IARC process, which could be a massive boon for Kiwi gamers:

I've emailed the Classification Board for more clarification on how they deal with the IARC process, and what the time delay is between an IARC decision and that game appearing on their website. Either way, it's pretty straightforward for Aussies: Mother Russia Bleeds isn't coming here, and certainly not because Devolver didn't test the waters first. Our Kiwi friends, however, might be a little luckier.


    Oh dear, that tweet. Alex, they read your articles... I wonder if they read the comments.

    Luckily the Switch is region free and you can easily set up another eshop account.

    Is the game actually good?

      Its OK - just a "gory" beat em up that relies on its gore to be interesting. Otherwise its rather lacklustre

    Sounds like Devolver are a bit .... clueless.

    I’m on the classifications boards side. I played the game and now I can’t stop stabbing corpses and injecting myself with their made up drug. It’s become a real problem and since I’ve started doing it I’ve noticed the economy has suffered and African gangs are on the rise.

      SEE!! PROOF, BAN ALL GAMES!!! HAIL H......!!! too soon? ok see you in 10years time.

    Devolver.. stop being so full of shit... youre caught already ffs

      Yeah when I first read about this it sounded more to me that they couldn't be assed trying to put it through classification. Which is fair enough but just say that.

    I bought this on the Playstation store a year or so ago. Assume it passed classification then?

      I just did a quick search and couldn't find it on the Australian PSN store. Maybe you bought it from an international store?

    I remember thinking at the time of the first article that NZ and Aus have two different rating boards.. Australia refusing something doesn't mean NZ would. NZ are our fun neighbours who party too loud so we steal all their stuff.

      Steal their stuff, steal their stars - Kiwi stars automatically get claimed by us until they turn embarrassing, at which point they belong to NZ again.

    reading that description of
    " As enemies are killed in Mother Russia Bleeds, their bodies begin to spasm. The player can then take a syringe to extract a drug called Nekro from the corpses of those bodies, which can be injected into the player character to either go berserk or regain health.

    Other drugs have different effects: Bloody Mary turns enemy corpses into walking bombs, White Russian increases player damage more than usual, Blue Lagoon heals more than other drugs, and so on."

    how in the living fuck did bioshock get released here in australia? cause the plot sounds similar????

      thats the biggest problem with the ACB and ARB, they dont care about precedent and it really feels like they just apply the rules when ever the hell they want. the Saints Row 4 refusal is still the biggest fuck up they have done with AvP 2010 being the second biggest fuck up followed by hotline miami 2

        I agree. No consistency. Unprofessional

    Is that actually how the IARC works though? I can understand the system giving out certifications allowing a game to be distributed in Australia, but is a failure to issue a certification from IARC really equivalent to "Refused Classification", and not "Unclassified"?

      Not quite. The IARC process is an alternative to making individual submissions for every country. So a refused classification from the IARC automated tool - which produces different ratings for all countries that have signed up to the system - has the same effect as a RC from the Board itself.

        Do we know if the IARC allows for a review on the decision?

        Not surprised at all the automated tool doesn't allow for drugs, but as we've seen in the past there's room for nuance and context if you appeal to the review board.

        Though I doubt Devolver will try, they're too busy being 2edgy4classification

          Good question. I should get an answer today from the Classification Board.

    I don't get it... I've been playing Mother Russia Bleeds on Steam since last year. How can it be banned?

    One of the strict rules for classification is ensuring the content does not depict drugs having a positive effect in any way, so i was surprised it slipped through the nets for the steam release. not a big loss though, I play a lot of beat-em-ups and mother russia bleeds it's not a very good one anyways... great graphic style, animation, sounds and story but the gameplay is average.

    Generally speaking, New Zealand's classification board is a lot less crazy than Australia's. Can't think of many instances where Australia allowed something and NZ banned it, but there are a lot of cases where the opposite has happened.

    So the idea that the IARC submission system locks NZ out because Australia rejected it is insanity. They're different boards with different standards. And that seems to be the real story here, rather than the Australian Classification Board being idiots.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now