No game over the last few years helped highlight the absurdity of Australia’s classification guidelines like We Happy Few, a game about a dystopian universe where the population is kept in check with mood-altering drugs. The overall messaging around Joy in We Happy Few was a key factor in the game’s R18 rating, and developers Compulsion Games are surprised that the Lightbearer DLC was banned too given the in-game context.
According to Sam Abbott, the Kiwi-born producer and chief operating officer at Compulsion Games, the Lightbearer DLC is fundamentally a story about the perils of addiction. It stars rocker Nick Lightbearer, a whisky drinking, pill popping star who tries to piece together the missing parts of his memory.
The DLC replaces the health recovery mechanics with alcohol, eating Joy and the consumption of coffee. The first two are especially problematic under Australia’s guidelines for video games, but in a response to Kotaku Australia over email, Abbott explained that the DLC eventually prevents the player from relying on any of those mechanics. Segments of the storyline are also designed to highlight the withdrawal issues and horrifying experiences drugs can have, feeding into the original game’s anti-dystopian messaging.
“For context, Lightbearer is fundamentally a story about someone coming to grips with a terrible addiction problem and breaking out of its grasp,” the We Happy Few producer said. “It’s a more pronounced anti-drug message than the base game was, and the arguments behind the decision reversal last time should apply even more strongly in this case.”
“By the end of the DLC you’re actively prevented from using any drugs (including alcohol) except coffee – and there are parts of the DLC that are positioned as horrifying drug experiences or withdrawal issues – so thematically it’s about as crystal clear as it can be without just glossing over the issue.” Abbott told Kotaku Australia that the DLC being banned was a surprise, and that they didn’t expect the DLC would affect the original classification.
Australian legislation is actually pretty strict in this regard. Under the Classification Act, the Board is legally required to pull classification for any video game if that is discovered to have “any classifiable elements” that would give the game a different classification that weren’t disclosed during the original application. The legislation doesn’t specifically say that publishers are required to submit applications for all DLC or add-ons, although the nature of some platforms (like the Nintendo eShop) and physical sales means that developers cannot sell through those channels without a classification rating.
“We consider the DLC to be separate stories because you play them separately from the base game,” Abbott said. “That being said, the Australian rating system is what it is. As many of your commentators have pointed out, the ratings board has restrictions of its own to work with.”
It’s understood that Compulsion Games have contacted the Classification Board, but a decision on whether a formal challenge to the Refused Classification hasn’t been made.