Video games banned in Australia: the greatest hits banned

Being a gamer in Australia can sometimes be a bit irritating. If, for example, you play online games like Final Fantasy XIV or World of Warcraft, you are almost forced to play on servers in Oceania unless you can tolerate high ping connections to the United States. or the EU (which are more populated). Although Australia often gets early access to certain games, it rarely lasts longer than a week or two before the rest of the world can catch up. And until recently, Australia banned some of the game’s biggest hits due to an archaic rating system.

For a very long time, Australia was pretty strict about what content you could see in a video game. Prior to 2013, the Australian Classification Board only classified games up to a rating of MA15+. Anything they believed to be viable for an adult would be denied classification and thrown onto a “do not import” list. Anyone found trying to smuggle in these banned games would face massive fines (before digital downloads, of course.)

This included “sexuality and nudity in relation to incentives and rewards” for The Witcher 2 and Saints Row IV, the former of which had a side quest where you could receive sex as a reward.

Most famously, the pre-R18+ era included a ban on South Park: The Stick of Truth due to a stage in which several characters are anally probed by aliens. This was later changed to an image of a koala crying while a text description describes what is happening.

After 2013, the R18+ rating was created, allowing more adult content to pass through censors, but still retaining prohibitions for certain topics, namely drug use related to incitement and sexual activity, including including minors or characters who appear to be minors. The latter being understandable, of course – no one should want it – but the former being debatable.

Drug Prohibition focuses on in-game drugs that reward perks and are close in naming conventions to purchasable drugs in real life. While this ban caught some pretty funny games that are absolutely aware of what they are, like “Weed Mod for Minecraft PE”, it also caught some games that don’t feature a lot of drug use, like Ultreia, a puzzle game. about a world full of robots and the meaning of life. You can still buy Ultreia on Steam, but it’s unranked.

Other examples include Disco Elysium, which was initially denied classification and successfully canceled because the developers argued there were negative consequences for in-game drug use – or DayZ, which eventually removed all references to marijuana from its worldwide releases to meet certification.

The cannabis item had not been fully implemented in-game before the ACB banned it. Fallout 3 had to rename the item “morphine” to Med-X before distribution – so fake meds are okay, but real fake meds aren’t.

Why the strict rules surrounding drug use? Do the censors think anyone playing side-scrolling pixelated beat-em-up Mother Russia Bleeds will suddenly want to inject themselves with a rage serum? In Grand Theft Auto Online you can start a drug dealing business, which grants the bonuses of being dirty and smelly, but there is no ban there.

Trying to gloss over recreational drug use and pretending it doesn’t exist seems more than a little foolhardy these days. Countless films feature drug use both implicitly and explicitly, and yet they are not classified as denied. If anything, it highlights how far ACB lags behind what is acceptable content in modern times.

A relatively recent report from 2020 suggests the average age of gamers in Australia is around 34 – clearly old enough to understand the implications of on-screen drug use. ACB appears to be aimed at protecting a demographic that is not the primary user of the medium from potential exposure to drug use.

This is all vaguely debatable, however. Gamers interested in getting their hands on certain banned builds can usually do so anyway – Steam, for example, will simply list the game as unrated when you make your purchase. You can also sign up for a US or EU account and access their storefront releases – and their uncensored releases of video games.

Adding the R18+ rating didn’t really do much except shift the goalposts from what the ACB feels is acceptable to see slightly. No one in their right mind is going to play a drug mod for Minecraft, see Steve snort an eighth or whatever, and immediately contact a dealer for a hookup. Perhaps the ACB needs another look at its policies and wondering if what they are doing is protecting its intended target, or if it is instead causing endless frustration.

Written by Junior Miyai on behalf of GL HF

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Carolyn M. Daniel