Since the news broke yesterday that Saints Row IV had been refused classification by the Australian Classifications Board, you could say there has been some uproar. Let me start by saying I don’t care for Saints Row. I doubt I was even going to play this game in the first place. It means little to me. But that’s not the case for many people. In fact the response has been pretty big from the gaming public. Quite a few people have written about it on Facebook, Twitter and in blogs and news outlets have commented too.
There’s a lot of comments and stories about how Australia’s classification system is still broken even after introducing an R18+ category. In fact, most people wrote about the issue before even knowing what the specific content in the game was. All that was said was the game contained illicit or prescribed drugs and implied sexual violence which are not within the context of the game. What people can’t seem to grasp is that R18+ doesn’t mean you can put whatever you like in a game.
I have seen rants with all the usual arguments. Like, how we as paying adults are being banned from viewing the content that we wish. And if such content can be in movies why can’t they be in games etc. The kicker for me is the always grabbing headline of “The System is Broken” Sure these arguments seem fair, but frankly to me they seem uneducated. I’m not saying that some arguments aren’t valid, they are just looking in the wrong place or being posed incorrectly.
The way our ratings system works is not how people perceive it to. Many assume there is just one, all encompassing system that covers all forms of digital entertainment, be it movies, television or video games but that’s just not the case. Video games are interactive, so the classifications law see them as potential for higher impact for the same content when compared to a film or TV show. I guess that is a fair assumption.
“We are in control in a video game. We make the decision.” Yes for some games that’s true. For others it’s not. A game like Saints Row, yes, the decision is yours to use a weapon that penetrates the anus of your fully clothed victim, or pedestrian, thrust them into the air and leave their pixelated backside exposed to the rest of the virtual public.
However, other games are more linear and don’t give you a choice. Sometimes you must do something in order to proceed. And sometimes it can be something graphic that you need to do. But when that does happen it must be within the content of the game. Let’s say for a second that Saints Row IV was a bit different. Let’s imagine you are an alien from outer space. You are on a mission to gather information about the citizens of earth. Would this anal probe weapon be within context? I would assume so. Would the game receive an RC? Who knows. I like to think that it probably would be allowed because it’s withing context. And that makes sense. It’s the same with movies too. Violence, and sex need to be within the context of the movie.
Drug use is another thing that gets video games banned. Well drug use when the player is given an incentive or reward for using drugs. I can see what the ACB is trying to do there too. The laws have been set to protect people and not glorify drug use. In the report for Saints Row IV it mentions:
“The game contains an optional mission which involves the player obtaining and smoking drugs referred to as “alien narcotics”. Smoking the “alien narcotics” equips the player with “superpowers” which increase their in-game abilities allowing them to progress through the mission more easily.”
Hey, fair enough. I would say this constitutes as drugs = rewards.
“But wait!” I hear you crying, “I’m an adult! I should have the right to buy what ever I want and view any content that I wish to view!” Good point. You didn’t need to shout though, I’m standing right here. Unfortunately we don’t live in a country that is as ‘free’ as you think it is. Frankly the world we live in needs this kind of classification. The world does need censorship.
“Yeah, well I can tell the difference between the fantasy world and the real world!” Good on you I say! You are welcome in my house anytime. The world needs more people like you. In fact if the world was only made up of people like us this wouldn’t be such an issue now would it?
Personally I do not like censorship. I agree that we should have the right to create and view what ever content we wish. Well, if we lived in a moral world anyway, which we don’t. Not everyone can differentiate between violence in a video game or movie and the real world. Others think certain types of violence is okay.
I also agree with context defines content and in a perfect world this would still hold true to creativity. Unfortunately we as a whole still require someone to tell us what we can and can’t do and that’s not just with our entertainment. It’s the reason why all laws exist.
Look. My issue is not that Saints Row was refused classification (don’t say banned, it sounds stupid.) My issue is with censorship and the world we live in. Ideally I want there to be complete creative freedom. It just isn’t possible in this world. For censorship to be abolished, people need to know what is right and what is wrong. They also need the ability to know what is real and what isn’t. In my world you should have the right to make a game with violence, but not in the manner of walking up to a baby and stabbing it 30 times for no reason. But that’s okay, because in a perfect world you wouldn’t want to make that game. If the baby is the newborn Satan and the game is all about stopping Satan from regaining his rule of hell after you rightfully took it from him… Go ahead. Stab that baby.
In this perfect world a classifications system of sorts is still required though. However, the government should have no business in it. The system would be to inform consumers what the content of the game is. I could pick up “Hell Reigner 2” and see that it has high impact violence in it. I should be able to research further into what content this high impact violence is. “Sweet! Newborn baby possessed by Satan stabbing!” A parent of a 10-year old would also have access to this information and would have the responsibility inside them to say “You know what Jimmy, this game is not appropriate for you”
To abolish censorship, content creators would need to know what’s right. It feels wrong to say ‘morally right’ because it sounds preachy and that’s not what I’m trying to do. Until the world can distinguish between right and wrong and real and make believe, some form of control is needed. Unfortunately that is never going to happen. Ideally adults would have the right to chose content that they want to partake in and parents would chose the correct content for their children. Creators would have the decency to know what is acceptable and what isn’t and would want to have content that supports the narrative.
I’m not saying I agree with the decision to refuse classification on Saints Row IV. I kind of think that the anal probe weapon falls within context of a game that is over the top with a host of outrageous guns. But maybe it’s not. Maybe I can’t tell. That’s why, unfortunately, it was denied.