Goddamnit, The Medium.
One of the more interesting games from the Xbox Series X/S reveal — and billed as an Xbox console exclusive — was Bloober Team’s The Medium, a psychological horror adventure that renders two in-game worlds at the same time. The world-rendering aspect is so unique that Bloober Team patented it, but — as always — there’s a catch.
For Australians, that catch is the classification system. A listing has appeared on the Classification Board’s website noting that The Medium was submitted for classification remotely, and consequently slapped with a Refused Classification rating. (The publisher and developer are listed as Bloober Team, confirming the listing’s relation to the Xbox Series X/S exclusive.)
The classification rating typically means that The Medium will be banned from release in Australia until rectified. But as we’ve seen with previous cases, developers can often work to get this turned around in time before release. Crusader Kings 3 found itself on the end of one of the stranger RC ratings in gaming history, but fortunately Australians were able to play the game thanks to Xbox Game Pass anyway.
Other games have run into more serious RC issues. DayZ‘s attempt to add weed was met with a much firmer ban, one that resulted in the game being pulled from Steam before it was eventually modified worldwide. Other games like Katana Zero were initially banned but had their ratings overturned on appeal. The original version of The Witcher 2 had to be modified for Australian audiences due to Geralt being offered sex as a reward, and some anime games like Omega Labyrinth Z were flat-out banned over the sexualisation of minors.
What category, then, does The Medium fall into? I contacted developers Bloober Team to understand what’s happened on their end, and I’ve also emailed Microsoft given the role they’ve taken in promoting The Medium so heavily. Microsoft’s support will be needed if The Medium is going to get a physical release in Australia, so I’ve also asked what the situation is on that front, and whether they’re working with Bloober Team to ensure the game will be classified ahead of release.
Bloober Team responded to queries last week, saying via a representative that the developers would be “working on that tomorrow and on Thursday”. I emailed again asking for an update, but heard nothing back, and had no further reply at the beginning of this week when I asked for clarification. Microsoft, when contacted, referred all inquiries to Bloober Team.
The Classification Board didn’t directly classify The Medium, but they did get back to me with some information around its listing. The game was classified on July 6 through the online IARC tool, although rulings through IARC have the same legal force as a classification from the Board themselves. (That said, mistakes on online forms happen frequently, and Bloober Team wouldn’t be the first developer to mess up their IARC form.)
A representative from the department added:
As of 28 October 2020, the Classification Board has not received an application for any physical game by the title The Medium.
That part’s interesting, if only because the Xbox Series X and S don’t have that many console exclusives for the launch window. The Medium is launching on PC too, but it seems odd that The Medium wouldn’t be getting a physical release to help boost the Xbox’s retail presence in those final weeks leading up to Christmas. (That said, this was all before Cyberpunk 2077 was delayed to December 10, and you can imagine Bloober Team would be thinking about a delay of their own.)
Now, it has to be stressed that the refused classification rating isn’t the end of the story. We’ve seen multiple times over the last few years when a RC rating was generated by a poorly-filled out IARC form, and not for any actual problems with the game’s content. In other instances, there are genuine clashes with Australia’s classification guidelines, but those are generally resolved with some minor tweaks. Wasteland 3 is the most recent example of that, but a more apt example could be Outlast 2, which was rated R18+ locally after a scene featuring depictions of sexual violence was removed.
Bloober Team’s horror games in the past have been more psychological horror than gore, sex and blood. So I think The Medium will probably be fine one way or another. Games like Cyberpunk 2077 can get rated R18+ without any fault, and as strict as the guidelines are compared to other countries, developers have found plenty of ways to fit into the R18+ guidelines.
That doesn’t mean Australia’s classification guidelines don’t require changing — they absolutely do, and will be. But we’re still in the dark as to what The Medium needs to do precisely. Hopefully we’ll find out from Bloober Team about whether they genuinely fell afoul of Australian guidelines, if it’s just a small change that won’t affect the end experience, or something as simple as an administrative error. Fingers crossed it’s the latter and more of a Crusader Kings 3-type situation, but for now, the RC rating sticks.