2020’s thrown a lot of normal things out of whack, and one of those things has been the regular cadence of classification reports. So it’s interesting to know that for all of the 2019-20 financial year, Wasteland 3 was actually refused classification — and what the developers had to modify it to guarantee its Australian release.
The game was originally refused classification in late February — just before the COVID-19 pandemic — and it wasn’t reclassified until March 13. The listing on the Classification Board website says the game was first banned under the Games 1(a) clause, which states:
The computer game is classified RC in accordance with the National Classification Code, Computer Games Table, 1. (a) as computer games that “depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified.”
Obviously, however, that doesn’t really explain why the game was banned.
In the board’s annual report for 2019-20, however, the Australians censors opted to go into detail over the ban. It was the only game refused classification in the 2019-20 financial year, out of 316 reviews conducted by the Board. And in the original version of the game, characters were allowed to smoke “Rocky Mountain Mousegrass”, which was effectively weed:
During the game, characters are able to smoke a drug known as ‘Rocky Mountain Moosegrass’, which appears to be a strain of cannabis. The drug is denoted by an icon of a cannabis cigarette or joint in the player’s inventory that is accompanied by captions that attest to the cannabis-like effects of the drug. One caption features the text, “It’s like… man. It’s like a fresh mountain breeze. You gotta try some.” Another caption states, “Smoke to take the edge off. Like… way off.”
On selecting the item from the inventory, the sound of a lighter sparking is heard and the player character leans back, implicitly inhaling smoke. The player character then breathes out a plume of smoke. The use of the drug results in a positive effect known as ‘bouldered’ worth ‘1AP’ (Ability Point) being applied to the character, which is “usable in combat or exploration”. After using the drug, a text box appears on screen noting that the ‘bouldered’ effect lasts for 350 seconds and has a “strike rate” of +2%. These details are accompanied by the caption, “Hey man, like, just take the weight off, you know? Feel the world. Yeah.”
The board noted that cannabis/weed/marijuana wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the game, but that “Rocky Mountain Moosegrass” was “a clear reference to the drug”. “The name ‘Rocky Mountain Moosegrass’ is a clear reference to the drug and is accompanied by several signifiers that are obviously drug-related including the joint icon and the references to the cannabis-like effects of the drug – such as the resultant ‘bouldered’ or ‘stoned’ effect,” the Board noted.
Wasteland 3 was subsequently altered to remove the “interactive use” of “Rocky Mountain Moosegrass”, which allowed the game to be rated R18+ under the Australian guidelines.
This is one of the reasons people — including the now-former director of the Classification Board, Margaret Anderson — have been lobbying so hard to modernise the restrictions and clauses in the Australian classification system. The classification review has been completed and a report has been with the Communications Minister since late May, according to the Classification Board.
For their part, the Board argued that games should be classified under the same regime as film and literature (emphasis mine):
The Board’s submission therefore argued for the harmonisation of both classification categories and guidelines for all classifiable content, regardless of delivery platform, so that films, computer games and publications (or hybrids of all three) would be classified to the same standards whether they are broadcast on television screens, watched in theatres, played or read in homes, or streamed to or read on tablets or mobile phones. In the Board’s experience, it is highly desirable that there is a single set of guidelines for the classification of media content as we progress further into the 21st century. The distinctions between films, games and publications are rapidly eroding.
If implemented, such a change would resolve just about all of the issues most Western video games run into when being refused classification. More explicit anime titles probably wouldn’t benefit from such a change, though.