Hold the R18+ Please, I’m Australian.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for game developers who want to sell their games to us Australians. Being a prosperous nation there’s enough spare income flying about that people are willing to spend up on non-essential items such as games so it makes sense to try and market their product to us. However from time to time the developers run up against the wall that is the Australian Classification Board when their game pushes across some boundaries:

THE sequel to a popular video game has been banned in Australia after failing to receive a rating of MA15+.

Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification by the Classifications Board this week, meaning it will be banned from sale.

In its report the board said the game, due to be released in November, contained “realistic, frenetic and unrelenting violence”.

“The game contains violence that is high in impact and is therefore unsuitable for persons under 18 years to play,” the report said.

Here’s the decision in PDF form which actually makes for some entertaining reading. I’ve never seen someone so formally describe a game where you are basically hacking up zombies with cool weapons. But this does bring up a point which I’ve lamented before: Australia needs a R18+ classification for it’s games, especially considering the average age of the Australian gamer is now 30.

Now I know a couple people who are in the game industry and nothing seems to stress them more than the last few months up until release. The amount of work that they put in to make sure that every bug they can find is ironed out and the game play experience is as best as it can be is staggering. I’m still frankly amazed that many game development houses attempt to release their games in Australia when the threat of refusal of classification is always there as it means putting the developers through another crunch cycle so that the game can be sold in Australia, something which will never go down well. Indeed if your game is one that is guaranteed to get refused (like say Postal)  you will probably not bother and save yourself the time and money.

For the most part though a lot of game development houses have learnt from previous rejections and know what to avoid. The best example I can think of is dismembering bodies after you’ve killed someone. If you’re a particularly twisted individual like myself you’ll usually test a game to see if you can do this sort of thing. You can then imagine my surprise when I played Dead Space and Fallout 3 that both allowed you to do such things yet have been classified as MA15+ in Australia. The decision on Left 4 Dead 2 makes note that you can’t do this but it appears that their refusal for classification is based around the use of melee weapons that allows you to make quite a pile of bodies with a decent amount of blood and guts spilling everywhere. Since that’s probably one of the major selling points of the game (who doesn’t love chainsawing up a bunch of zombies with 3 friends?) they’re going to be hard pressed to remove that, so we’ll probably end up with guts and gore replaced with rainbows and sugar plum fairies.

Maybe then it will be suitable for our sensitive little minds.

I’ve been a gamer ever since I learned how to use a keyboard and I’ll be damned if the government believes it knows what’s safe for me to see and what isn’t. Too often do we have games that are refused classification in Australia because of some petty aspect of game play that in all seriousness most Australian adults would have no problem with. If parents are worried about their little tykes getting their hands on these games then that’s not a problem for the classification board to solve. Realistically retail stores would have to be more strict in checking ID, but 30 seconds at the cash register is a small price to pay when compared to the high cost that is incurred when you have to redevelop your game in order to dumb it down for the Australian market.

It’s not for lacking of trying either that we don’t have a classification. There was supposed to be a public discussion on the matter back in July however due to a shuffling of cabinet members the minister responsible Bob Debus was replaced by Brendan O’Connor, and this has stagnated any progress on the matter. In fact a recent interview with O’Connor on Gamespot shows that they’ve basically rolled back to square one, since they’re now reconsidering their methodology for consulting with the Australian public.

At this point I’ve just lost hope with the Australian government doing anything solid on this matter. Realistically refusing classification to a game doesn’t stop people from getting their hands on it either because if they can’t buy it locally they’ll import it. If they can’t import it, they’ll pirate it, and so far any attempt to stop piracy has failed miserably. In essence the government is attempt to keep “extreme” material away from the Australian community, failing, and souring a multi-billion dollar industry’s view of our market. Keeping Australia behind all other developed nations in this regard is short sighted and provides no tangible benefits to the community at large.

Don’t make me throw a temper tantrum.

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