Australia… A land of no consequence.

October 11, 2009

left-4-deadChildren must be protected from violent content, and the best way to do that is via government sanctioned censorship. As a father myself I find this attitude despicable. I’ll decide what my kids can and cannot view thank you very much. I do not need some self aggrandizing moral crusader to tell me what is acceptable and what is not. Such views always have an agenda, whether it be self serving or just simply misguided for the greater good. That greater good of course being based on their belief system, not (most likely) yours.

It’s hard to stomach the attitude of prevailing censorship in todays world where war is the new peace, and TV news now broadcasts horrors into our living rooms that were unimaginable 20 years ago, all done under the guise of reportage, but of course they only show those horrors that don’t reflect poorly on domestic foreign policy.

For starters, rather than condemn video game developers, how about we start condemning the parents who don’t engage in actively parenting their children and making informed, educated decisions? For example I don’t mind my kids playing Halo ODST. Fighting for a cause, defending humankind. All very noble. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I let them play GTA. Yes, it’s all killing, but context and level of violence renders blanket condemnations overly simplistic and ill informed. As a kid I remember watching war movies and running around shooting Nazis. Gunning down my friends day after day after day with pretend guns as we recreated World War II during lunch. Now the pretend guns are on a screen, and instead of Nazi’s I’m shooting the alien Covenant.

Both the aforementioned games are rated “M”, yet feature vastly different motivations, levels of violence and gore etc… In short, a ratings system will always be simplistic and merely a panacea for parents who are to lazy to actually get involved in their kids lives and pay attention to what their kids are watching and playing. In many cases these same idiots go and BUY these clearly “M” rated games for their children. Just trawl any message board and you’ll see an alarming amount of pre-teens talking about playing GTA IV. The huge failure is entirely the fault of the parents and any government organization should be educating and condemning THEM rather than going for the soft target of video game developers and depriving adult gamers.

Which brings us to Australia. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a gamer and have heard of the game Left 4 Dead. Arguably the greatest zombie game ever made. It’s simplistic in it’s design, but really, most people just want hordes of zombies to shoot as they make it from point A to point B trying their best not to die, and the game delivers epic, violent fun.

Despite only coming out in late 2008, at E3 this year Valve announced a sequel. Not an expansion, but a full on sequel. This angered a lot of gamers as based on previous evidence we expected the tremendous level of support Valve had offered with previous titles. Just take a look at all the free content added to Team Fortress 2, and even going back to the Original Half-Life which added the ORIGINAL Team Fortress Classic, an entirely new game, for free.

As someone who bought L4D a mere couple of weeks before the E3 announcement, I was rather displeased by the announcement. If Valve had been up front from the start, I’d have probably still bought L4D. I just don’t like being treated like a wallet with legs, which is what Valve have essentially done. There was a boycott planned, but the folk responsible for getting it off the ground were invited to visit Valve, and unsurprisingly sold out and whored themselves to the company when offered shiny things in return for shutting the hell up. It all made me think of a line from Krusty the Clown in The Simpsons. “They drove a truck load of cash up to my house. I’m not made of stone.”

You expect this sort of treatment from the likes of Electronic Arts, though sports franchises aside I’m struggling to come up with any game whose full sequel was released a mere year after the first. That’s a discussion for another time though.

As you’d expect from a game that involves shooting the legions of the infected in the face with a variety of interesting firearms, L4D is an immensely violent game. A zombie game without violence would be like a racing game without cars. Pointless. You don’t make a “G” rated zombie movie, and you don’t do the same with video games. Not if you want it to sell anyway.

I don’t know if it’s because of their history, or whether they’re just very anti-violence there, but THIS is what most of the world (including Australia) saw when they played Left 4 Dead.

And this is what German gamers saw.

Almost no blood, and bodies that just vanish. Any self respecting gamer would agree that the German version is pathetic. A sanitized, “PG” version of a great game. Like an airline version of an “R” rated film or the horrendous “This film has been edited for content” nonsense we get on TV where all the character is sucked out of the film. Anyone who has seen the TV edited version of Die Hard 2 that plays on US TV from time to time knows what I mean.

At this point I would just like to say that the cuts to the German version of  Team Fortress 2 actually added to the game I think. Instead of body parts your body would explode in a shower of false teeth, bolts, clocks, burgers etc… For me it added to the comedy nature of the game and I went out of my way to get the German content in my game. (This was before Valve added it as an actual option to the game.) Valve dealt with German censorship in a clever way, and it worked. Germany is NOTORIOUSLY anti-violence, even going so far as to almost ban paintball recently in the wake of a school shooting.

(Side note: Remember Dunblane? Hungerford? Just two violent incidents in the UK that come to mind, a country where guns are very strictly controlled. In the case of Hungerford, violent video games didn’t even exist. Lunatics will always be lunatics. Censorship will never change this, and people will go on violent rampages. Blaming movies, video games and the like is scapegoating of the worst kind and highlights a simplistic surface level, soundbite version of debate on the issue, rather than pulling back the skin and looking at the horrors that lay inside. That being that some people are just psychopaths and if there IS any trigger event in the media, it’s just as likely to be Looney Tunes as it is Doom or Evil Dead.)

Which brings us to Left 4 Dead 2. The OFLC, the Australian censors, refused classification on L4D2, meaning it can’t be released in Australia. The reasons for this were:

* The game contains violence that is high in impact and is therefore unsuitable for persons aged under 18 to play.

* It notes that this violence is “inflicted upon ‘the Infected’ who are living humans infected with a rabies-like virus that causes them to act violently.”

* The report singles out the use of melee weapons as those that “inflict the most damage” and cause “copious amounts of blood spray and splatter (sic), decapitations and limb dismemberment… or even cause intestines to spill from the wounds.”

* In conclusion, the Board finds that the “interactive nature of the game increases the overall impact of the frequent and intense depictions of violence. This coupled with the graphic depictions of blood and gore combine to create a playing impact which is high.”

* Interestingly, the report also reveals that it wasn’t a unanimous decision and that “a minority of the Board is of the opinion that the violence is strong in playing impact and therefore warrants an MA15+ classification” instead. However, the majority voted to refuse classification.

Right, let’s break this down point by point:

* The game contains violence that is high in impact and is therefore unsuitable for persons aged under 18 to play.

I have no argument with this. The game is incredibly violent. However as a reason to refuse classification it’s flawed as once again it’s dismissing the real issue, that being parents taking responsibility for what their children view and play. It is NOT the governments job to protect children. Certainly no more so than it is to protect every other citizen. This is a moral crusade of questionable merit in an area the government has no business in. A small body of individuals should not be the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn’t acceptable content in mainstream media.

Now I am not against a rating system. Games should be rated on content. Not just for parents, but for my own interests. I like to know what games I’m getting and what the content is. The ESRB is who rates the games I buy, and I like how they tell me what the content is. I think the rating system is flawed as it’s too narrow (Halo ODST and GTA should NOT carry the same rating in my opinion) but it’s functional. I have no issue with a rating system. I do have a problem with games being banned due to objectionable content under said system, especially when the decision to do so is governed by such a small group of individuals who clearly have an opinion which vastly differs from the informed majority. I”m sorry, but if you don’t actively know video games, you do not get to have a voice in this argument. Just like I wouldn’t argue on the subject of quantum physics because I know nothing about it, and wouldn’t dare to be so arrogant as to think I had the right to talk on the subject.

* It notes that this violence is “inflicted upon ‘the Infected’ who are living humans infected with a rabies-like virus that causes them to act violently.”

So here the OFLC is admitting to the context in which the violence takes place. This intrigues me. I enjoy the GTA series but find the violence reprehensible and disturbing at times. I find stabbing a lone individual and robbing them much more disquieting and unsettling than slaughtering the hordes of zombies in L4D.

* The report singles out the use of melee weapons as those that “inflict the most damage” and cause “copious amounts of blood spray and splatter (sic), decapitations and limb dismemberment… or even cause intestines to spill from the wounds.”

Again, back to GTA, I find the acts you can perpetrate in that game far more likely subjects of condemnation and censorship than creatures who are basically animals in human form. It speaks to the OFLC not taking a broader view of the context they themselves just admitted too. The reasons for the violence etc… The OFLC declared GTA IV acceptable (with very minor changes) and released it with their highest rating, allowing children 15 and over to play the game. A game which also includes lots of blood and violence such as decapitations.

In GTA you can hire a prostitute, have “sex” with her. (It’s not graphically shown.) Then you can kill her and get your money back. You will often times have to fight your way out of trouble and kill police officers. You can mow down pedestrians in your car. You can go on killing sprees. Do I think the game should be banned for any of this? Of course not. IT IS A GAME. Do I think the OFLC shows an astounding level of hypocrisy in allowing 15 year olds to play a game that allows all this, while declaring the carnage from killing zombies unacceptable? Damn straight!

* In conclusion, the Board finds that the “interactive nature of the game increases the overall impact of the frequent and intense depictions of violence. This coupled with the graphic depictions of blood and gore combine to create a playing impact which is high.”

The “interactive nature of the game”. You mean as opposed to those non-interactive ones like… Erm… Hang on, I’ll think of one… Closest I can come up with is Myst. These are games. All games are, by their very nature, interactive.

So if I’m reading that correctly, the OFLC has an issue with the QUANTITY of violence. Okay, we’ll give them that one. This IS an insanely violent game with almost no let up, but that’s the point. The entire premise of any zombie fiction, whether it be movie or video game, is survival. There is very little point in a zombie game where you are NOT almost constantly under threat. That’s the entire attraction of the genre. The zombies want you dead, and you don’t want to be. In fact it could even be considered noble in a way. The greatest gift of all, life, is what you’re are protecting. See, dress it up like that, doesn’t sound so bad does it?

The problem, however, is L4D2 is almost identical to the original Left 4 Dead which received the highest “MA15+” rating from the OFLC and was deemed acceptable in its original form. I truly fail to see how the violence can be any more intense than the original, which the OFLC deemed fine for sale to 15 year olds. Which is ironic given that over here you’d have to be 17 to legally buy it.

In my digging around on this subject, I noticed that the OFLC also banned Blitz: The League, Midway’s game that was basically a “SCREW YOU” to the NFL (after EA gained exclusivity on NFL games) depicting the darker side of football. The reason? Drug use. Remember folks, this is the same group of people who declared GTA IV and all it’s morally questionable activities perfectly acceptable for 15 year olds. Being an evil, prostitute murdering, cop killing sociopath is fine for 15 year old Johnny. But heaven forbid he should shoot up some drugs and play football! NOT ON OUR WATCH!

* Interestingly, the report also reveals that it wasn’t a unanimous decision and that “a minority of the Board is of the opinion that the violence is strong in playing impact and therefore warrants an MA15+ classification” instead. However, the majority voted to refuse classification.

So clearly some people on the board are at least somewhat in touch with reality. Though if they are, what are they doing on this ridiculously inept and hypocritical board in the first place?

I know a lot of Australian’s, and to say they are angry at the OFLC is an understatement. Valve resubmitted an edited version of the game and have now received the “MA15+” rating. The details:

“No wound detail is shown and the implicitly dead bodies and blood splatter disappear as they touch the ground. … The board notes that the game no longer contains depictions of decapitation, dismemberment, wound detail or piles of dead bodies lying about the environment.”

So Valve got their game through, but in utterly butchered form. Thanks to the OFLC a few Australians I know have essentially been forced into piracy to get the game as it was intended, not this pathetic, sanitized, government approved version.

Therein lies the issue. What have the OFLC created here with this edited version? I mean after all, all this is supposedly done in the name of protecting children from violent content, protecting the young ones from their ridiculously inept parents who have no interest in keeping up with what their children are into. Parents who are so weak willed and pathetic as to require the government to do their jobs for them, when you know damn well most kids will still get to play this game, either through sloppy parenting or, more worryingly, the sloppy parenting of their friends parents.

Now for a little context, my Dad worked in law enforcement. When I was a kid in the early 80’s my father was taken hostage and held at gunpoint for four hours by a large group of individuals. I’m not going to go into any more details than that right now because you don’t need to know them. I saw how it hurt my father, what it did to my family, the effects of which are still felt today close to 30 years later. This is the closest I have come to real world violence thankfully, which I guarantee is a lot closer than most, if not all members on the OFLC board have ever come.

natural_born_killersNow I love violent video games. I love violent movies. Despite being an abject pacifist in the real world, only ever having been in one fight a quarter century ago (where the closest we got to videogame violence was Jet Set Willy) and running away from any potential violent conflict. I adore violence in media. It can be exhilarating, it can be artistic (see most John Woo movies, especially Hard Boiled), it can be used to communicate a message (Natural Born Killers), it can be nauseating (see a lot of Japanese gore movies.) The one constant across all the media I view and engage with is that is does not sanitize the consequences of violence. The consequences are real and graphic.

Which makes the Australian government approved version of L4D2 all the more disturbing. The OFLC has mandated a consequence free environment. L4D2 – The Australian Edit still has all the violence in it. You will still slaughter as many zombies as the rest of the world will. You just won’t see any consequences for your actions. You won’t see that violent behaviour, regardless of context, is bloody, gory and messy and has consequences.

Now the OFLC claims to be protecting children from violence and has approved this sanitized, unrealistic environment. That leads me to believe that the OFLC considers children impressionable. Now if children are so impressionable that in unedited form L4D2 is dangerous, what message is the OFLC approved version sending?

Far from protecting children from violence, the OFLC are essentially teaching these impressionable children that violent acts are clean, sanitized, and have no consequences. That violent acts are not bloody, gory, messy and disgusting.

The OFLC can’t have it both ways. If they rejected the game in its original form they can’t claim that children are damaged by the level of violence, then claim that the consequence free version is acceptable. You are still shooting zombies just like everyone else. The only difference is the children playing the Australian version of the game will see no consequences for their actions, which is perpetuating the myth of consequence free violence that is prevalent in so much media these days. (Like the TV shows where people are shot and there’s no blood whatsoever.)

There’s a possibility, I suppose, that by forcing Valve to make these ridiculous edits to their game that the OFLC have rendered it unappealing which is actually the goal of the entire exercise. I think that’s probably giving too much credit to the OFLC who, from everything I’ve read and heard from friends, are the living embodiment of knee jerk reactionaries. Also their approval of GTA IV rather destroys that theory.

So we arrive at the ultimate conclusion of this giant mess, and what have we learned? That the OFLC don’t have a problem with violent, reprehensible acts (after all they did approve GTA IV in all of its objectionable glory),  just the consequences of said violent acts. This is leaving the impressionable children they are supposedly charged with protecting to be led to believe that that violence has no realistic consequences, that it’s not gory and messy, and that bodies just vanish once bereft of life, and leaving those adults in Australia who want to play the proper version of the game, not the pathetic Disneyesque version the OFLC have forced upon that fine nation, with no option other than to engage in illegal means to obtain the game, thus encouraging the piracy that so many governments are bought and paid for by the media industry to prevent by any means necessary.

Well played OFLC. I’m not sure you could have handled this any more incompetently and hypocrtically if you tried.

Footnote: I’ve been reading up online about all this. Saying you wish the people in charge of the OFLC would die, and in some cases making death threats hardly helps the issue and just makes gamers seem immature and in need of the government protection and censure certain parties seem hellbent on mandating. Be mature. Take the high ground. Do not sink to such reactionary rhetoric like they have. Speak out. Speak loudly. Maturely. Write to these people. Write to the papers. Proof read. Spell check. (By the time you read this I will have done four drafts of this article and even then I guarantee it’s neither perfect, nor free of mistakes.) Put forward an image that contradicts the media stereotypes of gamers, rather than helping to perpetuate them.


7 Responses to “Australia… A land of no consequence.”

  1. FIREWIRE1394 Says:

    HERE HERE!!!

    Stick it too them.

  2. Skynet Says:

    Very good read, I enjoyed it. You’ve obviously done research into the matter to prove your points.

    Here’s another thing I don’t get, the minor cuts that were made for GTA4 to be approved were all reversed when TLAD came out. There’s full frontal male nudity, you can now actually see the sexual acts occurring and pick which act you wish to have performed, this was not in the original GTA4 Australia received I believe. And probably a few more I’m unaware of.

    Also I’m glad you pointed out the fact about people making death threats, etc. to the OFLC and Michael Atkinson in particular. This does nothing for our cause and only makes things worse. I hope that my fellow Australian gamers can see this and will stop making threats towards the people making the decisions, it will not get anything productive done. Please stop that!

  3. Dr. Zoidberg Says:

    Hopefully Dead Rising 2 doesn’t get the same treatment, that would be annoying.

    I bet all of the importers on ebay/other sites are licking their lips over this. They should get massive sales from Australia now.

  4. DGN Says:

    Well written, and I agree wholeheartedly.

    I’m sick of the government trying to lobotomise me. I have a brain, let me use it. Nine years ago, when I was 14, I was made to read “Lord of the Flies” for school (one of the best texts I’ve ever read). The logic displayed by the classifications board would suggest that I should not have, at any time, been allowed to read such a text; it involved violence, gore, and ultimately murder between classmates. We also watched the movie. Games are interactive, yes, but so are books; readers generally imagine what they are reading about. Movies go as far as to take the decision process away from viewers, so they never even see that a non-violent plot was possible if people acted differently.

    I will say that introducing an R18+ rating would solve the majority of these issues. Video stores can check your ID, so why not game retailers?

  5. Steve Says:

    I guess the first Dead Rising made it through? Given the brutality of that game that’s ridiculous. It seems there is no logic. (Well I already proved that really.)

    It seems fairly amazing to me that Australia doesn’t have a rating higher than the current one. It’s madness. I find it rather scary that in equal measure your country can be so restrictive, and then on the flip side let 15 year olds play GTA. It’s just astonishing.

    I hated “Lord of the Flies”. I felt it was a miserable, depressing book. Largely for the reasons you’ve stated it would fail classification. That’s just personal taste though. The book is still a classic.

    Thanks for the comments guys.

  6. Dr. Zoidberg Says:

    I don’t think there was any censorship in Dead Rising. I guess it’s a bit more cartoony but there was still some nasty stuff in it.

  7. […] This is censorship, when the Australian government bans a video game. […]

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