Legal Opinion: Is the R18+ really just a rebadged MA15+?

Saints Row 4

By on July 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm

So, what’s the deal with our new R18+ regs? The impression I get from reading the gaming news is that the Classification Board is banning games left right and centre. Some gamers have even claimed that R18+ is just a rebadged MA15+, and that any games now approved under R18+ would have been done so under MA15+.

Which is… actually kinda true. Most games that have been let through under R18+ would have been let through under MA15+. Only a couple are “true” R18+ games. Yet despite this, our classification system is giving us more certainty over what we’ll be allowed to play. It’s an improvement. To see this, we need to compare what’s been Refused Classification with what’s been accepted under R18+.

Predictable refusals

Both State of Decay and Saints Row 4 were refused classification since R18+ came in, for much the same reasons. State of Decay had explicit drug use with benefits, as discussed by the Australian Classification Board:

“In the Board’s opinion, the game enables the player’s character to self-administer proscribed drugs which aid in gameplay progression. This game therefore contains drug use related to incentives or rewards and should be Refused Classification.”

Saints Row 4 was refused classification for both sexual violence and drug use. According to what I took out of the GON news article comments, this was specifically for having weaponised alien dildos. However, here’s the Board’s comment:

“In the Board’s opinion, Saints Row IV, includes interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context. In addition, the game includes elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards.”

Both these games crossed the line by either having sexual violence, or actively promoting detailed drug misuse by linking drug taking to rewards.

What’s been let through?

In contrast to the two refused classifications, fourteen games have received an R18+ classification:

  • Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus
  • Spartacus Legends
  • Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge
  • Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition
  • Ride to Hell: Retribution
  • Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel
  • Chivalry: Medieval Warfare
  • Atelier Totori Plus: The Adventurer of Arland
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  • Dead Island: Riptide
  • The Last of Us
  • Metro: Last Light
  • Mars: War Logs
  • God of War: Ascension

Of these, only Mortal Kombat had been previously refused classification. Originally released in 2011, the Board found the game had violence stronger than MA15+ allowed. Once R18+ came in, the game was reclassified to R18+.  

However, several of these games give pause for thought. According to our review, Dead Island: Riptide was just a lame reskin of the original, MA15+ game, with the same amount of gore. The previous game in the God of War series was still pretty bloody, with dismemberments aplenty, and yet also classified as MA15+. I’m not entirely sure what Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is all about, but surely cannot outdo the controversy created when Tim shot a tiger in the face, right? (The tiger had it coming.)

This illustrates two conflicting outcomes of R18+. At least one game has now become available when it wasn’t previously — a clear victory. However, R18+ is also being used to label games as R18+ that were previously MA15+. This does create scepticism. Yet this relabelling is a good thing.

R18+ creates certainty

Back when God of War III came out, there was a big controversy over whether it would be banned. With so much gore, the game wasn’t reaaallly MA15+ material, and just about everyone, including the developers, expected it to be banned. However, it wasn’t, because. Just because. No one knows.

However, we do know specifically why Saints Row 4 and State of Decay were banned. Nowadays, the key Refused Classification criterion is that games cannot:

“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.”

Before R18+, however, some games, like Mortal Kombat, were also banned due to being:

“unsuitable for a minor to see or play.”

An extremely broad category. Unfortunately, aside from strong themes and the usual no drugs, sexual violence, or drugged sexual violence, what’s suitable for minors isn’t exactly clear. Prior to R18+, every game had to be measured against this standard. If the game contained sex, violence, or coarse language beyond some uncertain concept of what was suitable for a 15 year old, it could be banned. Some violent games, like God of War III, made it through, and yet others, like Mortal Kombat, did not.

The distinctions were, in many cases, completely arbitrary, and developers had little to go on other than tone the games down just to be on the safe side.

The new regulations are an improvement because now games are not subject to such vague decisions, and give far more certainty to what’s right, and what’s wrong. If some games have to be “upgraded” to R18+ to define the boundaries, then so be it. We’re in a process of defining certainty, and that’s fine. At least now we know that games should only be banned if they breach common community standards, specifically:

  • Sexual violence that rewards participation
  • Drug use that promotes prohibited drugs
  • Any truly disturbing material such as the portrayal of black-haired Yeomen.

All these will still be Refused Classification, and rightfully so. But hopefully, they will now be the only games that are Refused Classification.

26 comments (Leave your own)

Atelier Totori Plus: The Adventurer of Arland ? Seriously? It seems tame compared to god of war, and mortal kombat

 

I agree that R18 should be founded on the basis of “Sexual violence that rewards participation”, “Drug use that promotes prohibited drugs” and what ever that last one was, but some games do really only fit in Ma15+

Lets do a review:
Chivalry, yes has decapitation and you can cut up the bodies, but personally I find its just not worth of R18+, blood isn’t strong and the 4 seconds you spend cutting one guy then moving onto another really reduces the amount of effect is has on you.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, I mean, someone please enlighten me. The themes are of a 80′s TV show, and year realistic FC3 got in with Ma15+? What?
Army of 2: DC was just a MA15+ game. Played it, beat it, it has nothing over 40th day bar better graphics. I don’t even remember any gore at all, no drug references, I don’t even think there was sexual references!
Without playing it, The Last of Us doesn’t seem that, plus it was died down already for all PAL regions (shoot heads, they don’t explode like in US version), so makes me wonder about it.

 

I’m still not sure why Duke Nukem Forever, with it’s Steroid use and interactive “Tit slapping” in a certain level doesn’t qualify it for “explicit drug use with benefits” and “Sexual Violence” respectively over the likes of Saints Row/State of Decay..?

Again, I imagine a large dart board with BAN and DONT BAN segments, with titles of upcoming releases etched onto the side of randomly tossed darts.

 

jeza104,

Yeah I was going to say the same thing. I’ve yet to play it but with what little research I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem like something that should hit R18… I’ve also been Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (not 2) and again, it doesn’t seem like an R18 title…
I got myself a copy of MK before it was released in Australia as I was a fan of the series (lets not talk about those games that had different stances and 3D spaces), and although some of the stuff could be deemed pretty brutal, I don’t feel it should have been RC’d.

Really feels like there is a lot of discrepancy between what actually goes through and what doesn’t, especially when what seems to be an issue for one game, isn’t for another. Also, the discrepancy between what the ACB find inappropriate and what the actual consumers find inappropriate, especially the consulting adult consumers that should be the only ones that have access to R18 games.

 

The most annoying part of the new R18 rating system is the retaining of regulations regarding drug use in games.

To imply, that as a grown adult who can vote, drive, shoot, drink, smoke and expected to make intelligent and responsible decisions in life, that I’m susceptible to suddenly taking drugs because a video game suggests it would give me superpowers (or regenerate my HP bar, or give me super-fast reflexes, or +1 to defense against orcs) is downright absurd and offensive.

Most notably this occurred with Fallout3 where Med-X was renamed from Morphine for Australian release and suddenly it got the green light for M15+. Suddenly I realise that half my class in high-school were criminals when we had Drug Wars on our graphics calculators! That’s trading of realistically named drugs for benefit! Surely we all turned into drug dealers and addicts.

Makes me wonder if we’ve gone 2 steps forward, 1 step back and kind of missed the whole point.

 

i guess there is another hidden issue here, and that is other countries like the UK and the US who also have there own rating system, still have access to the original content

and because of this, our rating system is taking the money out of Australia in some cases, because people still want the original content that the developer has offered, and if people want to buy it off shore they will

I also still question the consistency of the Classification Board as there have been multiple cases where games where let in and then later banned due to fair reasons, but the fact that these where missed before release is not very professional

 

spkypwnsuall,

I got my copy of The Last of us from JB:HI:FI and heads still exploded etc.

 

“Drug use that promotes prohibited drugs”

But actually, pretty much any drug use.

“All these will still be Refused Classification, and rightfully so.”

Why should drug use be allowed in television/cinema, but not games?

 
Patrick Vuleta

Hmmm, I worded it like that as that seems to be a particular sticking point. Fallout New Vegas had drugs, The Witcher series has drugs.

I think it’s about glorifying prohibited drugs.

 

stewge,

Drug Wars was great; so many of my friends back in primary school (running off school computers no less) were playing that. Interestingly enough, none of us have sought out to buy/sell illicit drugs, or abuse them.

I agree with you on the renaming of drugs ordeal, feels like a real cop out. Can’t have kiddies/adults knowing that Morphine takes away pain (did anyone, at any age, not actually know that?). Also if context is an issue, why are REAL LIFE drugs a problem when they are being used in survival games (eg State of Decay) which is based on a REAL LIFE world becoming infested with zombies? Further, If people are going to seek out and/or abuse drugs, I’m pretty sure ‘because I saw it in a video game’ is going to be one of the last reasons you’ll ever be given, if at all.

It might just be because I’ve covered a lot of drug abuse material through my uni degree, but it seems like a real slap in the face to society or sufferers to act like games are a large factor (if at all) and completely crack down on it, with very little intervention for the actual causes. Not to say it is easy to intervene, but I digress. Let’s dramatize video games and make them seem like the work of the devil because its easier to control instead of focusing time and resources on the real problem.

Wasn’t there a movement towards removing cigarette smoking in movies because they were found to be influential / contribute to people smoking? Movies are clearly innocent and its only interactive media that cause problems.

 

The biggest issue with the ratings board is what they define as ‘community standards’. I don’t believe this is actually defined anywhere, so it’s purely a judgement call by the board. Half of the borderline decisions probably depend on
a) Pressure from various interest groups
b) If they got out of the wrong side of the bed that morning.

Out of curiosity, does anybody have any demographic information on the ratings board members?

In other news, if a game you want gets RC’d or modified, import it where it is legal to do so. Then tell your local retailer that you imported it because you couldn’t get the original here. Not sure if this will prompt the ratings board to revise their standards or just get RC stuff properly banned though…

 

ottomatic,

Go to the OFLC website, there is a link to the classification board members with a bio.

All normal people as far as I’m concerned.

 

I guess it’s just a pain period for a board that’s only recently granted a new classification.

Having said that: how many films are banned each year? I understand there is a difference between watching a guy kill people and abuse drugs, and BEING that guy, but ultimately (save for really nasty stuff) I thought that the classification board existed to rate a kind of media (be it film or game) so that consumers could make an educated decision on what content was appropriate for them, and not to dictate for us. It’s the same ratings board, and the same classifications – why should one kind of media get the short end of the stick?

“Classification decisions are to give effect, as far as possible, to the following principles:
(a) adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;
(b) minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them”

It seems that this decision to ban so many games (several without published reasoning) almost conflicts with para 1(a) there, and I think 1(b) is really up to parents, who should see “R18+” or “MA15+” on a game and think before buying rather than assuming that because it’s in it’s OK, because the ACB did their job.

I don’t for a second automatically side with a banned game, given there probably is some crazy stuff out there, but I also think there is a stigma around video games that needs to evaporate from our culture before bannings like this will become rarer.

 

The board members biographies are an interesting read. Profession, gender and age spread is interesting when considering what they are rating with regard to games.

 

hellsfool,

What are your thoughts exactly? Good representation? Poor representation?

 

well the board is after new members to help rate games… Im thinking of signing up

 

stewge:
The most annoying part of the new R18 rating system is the retaining of regulations regarding drug use in games.

To imply, that as a grown adult who can vote, drive, shoot, drink, smoke and expected to make intelligent and responsible decisions in life, that I’m susceptible to suddenly taking drugs because a video game suggests it would give me superpowers (or regenerate my HP bar, or give me super-fast reflexes, or +1 to defense against orcs) is downright absurd and offensive.

I agree this ruling is just asinine. Those poor adults are gonna think drugs give you super powers then go out and do meth. THEY’RE SO IMPRESSIONABLE! Won’t somebody think of the adults!

 
NoobyMcNoobnoob

just a rebadge to give gamers an illusion that they can get out of there “games=spawn of satan.” view of our hobby.

 

theblah,

The consistency of the board is the largest concern to us generally, but hadn’t considered the economic issue. Interesting note.

thebim,

Conflicting rules really does appear to be their thing… As far as their are concerned, any damage to minors instantly removes us from the equation, no matter how much we want the game…

novak47,

Huh. Saw something before (looked like MP) where upon an execution the head exploded, and in the Pal version it remained intact.

 

spoidar:
“Drug use that promotes prohibited drugs”

But actually, pretty much any drug use.

“All these will still be Refused Classification, and rightfully so.”

Why should drug use be allowed in television/cinema, but not games?

Agreed. It’s a moronic restriction and I am surprised the writer actually thinks it is reasonable and valid.

By that logic, I guess we should go ahead and ban all Starcraft games. All of those give you the option of flooding your marine’s bodies with a ridiculously harmful drug that even in the lore has an entire shopping list of harmful side effects.

Oh but it’s ok, kids. They are “Stim-Packs”. Not “Cocaine” or “Heroin”. The fabric of society is saved!

What a damn joke…

 
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