Saturday, December 19, 2009

Australia's Inconsistent Videogame Classification, Revisited

Apparently too horrific for Australian adults...

Regular readers of this blog would remember a post I did in October about the inconsistencies inherent in Australia's classification of certain videogames. At the time, it was the banning of Left 4 Dead 2 that inspired my post but as I mentioned in it, so far the games that have been refused classification in this country haven't really concerned me. Regardless of this, just a mere two months later, some interesting developments have occurred.

First and foremost and as I expected, Left 4 Dead 2 was released in Australia. Valve, the developers of L4D2, submitted an edited version of the game while they appealed the banning of the 'proper' version. The end result was that the appeal was unfortunately unsuccessful, and the edited version was released at the same time as the 'proper' version in the rest of the world. Australia's Left 4 Dead 2 is a laughable excuse of a game, with Valve essentially neutering their own game to accommodate our classification guidelines. The edits are severe, with bodies disappearing as soon as, or even before, they touch the ground; blood and gore is basically non-existent; while footage of the game looks like it is taken from something in the Nintendo 64 era, just with higher production values. Certainly not an image any developer would desire in the high definition generation. It's a joke, but it's up to you as to whether it's Valve (for making such severe edits) or Australia (for banning the game in the first place) being the comedian.

Another game was recently banned here in the form of Rebellion Entertainment's Aliens Vs Predator. As is usually the case with banned games here, it was violence and gore that was the primary reason for AVP's ban, with the classification board deeming it unsuitable for minors. One look at the game reveals that yes, absolutely, it is not suitable for children, but adults should have every right to play it and simply could not after it was banned. All because our ratings system doesn't have a rating that complies with the type of content seen in such a game.

...While this is all fine and dandy. Bizarre, no?

I say "could not" for a reason; today it was revealed that an appeal of Aliens Vs Predator's ban, made by Sega the game's publisher, was successful, meaning that Australia will now be receiving the game when it releases next year, unedited and all. Just like the rest of the world. This is great news for anyone interested in the game, but its release is not something that concerns me.

What does, is that this decision by Australia's classification board to allow Aliens Vs Predator into our country with an MA15+ rating -- our highest one -- highlights the inconsistency I referred to in my previous post, demonstrating precisely how random it appears to be and how some games can get through fine, while others can't or get edited to a ridiculous state. The fact that it happened so soon after Left 4 Dead 2's joke of a situation only exacerbates the problem, and reflects upon Valve's edited game -- arguably more popular than AVP will be -- in a more significant way than the original banning did. One glance at both games, side by side, makes the differences between the two pretty clear, but to prove the point the pictures I have included in this post show you everything you need to see to understand what I am talking about. Aliens Vs Predator is clearly the more brutal game, so the fact we will be getting it completely unedited while Left 4 Dead 2 looks like a poorly made Nintendo 64 game is bizarre. The inconsistency is a joke and looks like it will continue into 2010.

The good news is, a discussion paper has recently been released to obtain public opinion on whether Australia needs an R18+ rating or not; the bad news is that regardless of this paper's outcome, a decision on the rating is still a fair way off, meaning there is every chance more games will be in the spotlight for their inevitable refused classification status. On a personal level, I am awaiting the day that it does involve a game I'm eager to play, but on an objective level, it appears the situation is only going to get worse before it gets better. As someone who enjoys watching the progress of the videogame medium as it continually matures, that is one seriously daunting prospect.


Michelle said...

I have to say I can't imagine playing Left 4 Dead 2 without the little details you've mentioned. Reading about the controversy about the classification online I couldn't always follow the train of thought but now I've experienced the game at some length, I think what Austrailian gamers have been put through in the last year alone has been appalling.

Steven O'Dell said...

Michelle -- yeah it's not ideal, that's for sure. Still, for the most part we do get to play the games that the majority of people may want to, so it's not all bad. Left 4 Dead 2 might be the biggest game in terms of popularity to be affected, but it is also the exception rather than the rule. Prior to it, Fallout 3 last year was a big one but was released unedited (in terms of violence) after Morphine was changed to Med-X; otherwise, generally speaking, the games affected are the lesser known ones, hence why the drama hasn't concerned me. Yet...

I just wish the inconsistency would stop. All it's doing is making things worse.

Dithymia said...

After seeing what happened to Left 4 Dead 2 and the fumble that was it's classification in Australia in comparison to the first game, reasons along the lines of shooting humans as opposed to zombies, which was the exact same as the first Left 4 Dead. Then what happened to AvP, especially like you said with the close timing, I was flabbergasted (always wanted to be able to use that word in a serious way..) with the inconsistencies. I knew they were there but it only exacerbated their presence.
Same goes for the Grand Theft Auto IV DLC, original release with no blood pooling or hooker "favours". DLC release - just kidding guys, blood pools and hookers are all good now.

P.S. Hi Bajo.. why didn't I know this Blog existed sooner. /Runs over :)

Dithymia said...

I also just realised that this is Steven O'Dell.. not Steven O'Donnell

My apologies!

But my comment still stands and I couldn't agree more with your stance on the inconsistencies Australian Gamers have to face.

Steven O'Dell said...

Dithymia -- Thanks for dropping by, even if you did think I was from Good Game. ;)

By focusing on the inconsistencies in our classification I was hoping to discuss our unfortunate position without offering just an opinion on it like so many other people have, or could do. My frustrations and anger about the pathetic situations (such as the GTA IV one you mention) we find ourselves in from time to time probably meant that some of my personal feelings came out anyway, but regardless of that the issue is worth talking about. So thank you for taking the time to read about the drama from my point of view, it's appreciated.

Unrelated question: may I ask where your name originated from? It's rather unique -- I like it.

Dithymia said...

I haven't checked recently on the status of Gamers 4 Croydon, but hopefully that takes us somewhere.

My name comes from a song I enjoy named Alexithymia by the band Anberlin, it is also the name of a mental condition (I think..).
I originally used it as a username but people mistook my name for Alex, when my name is Daniel. So I removed the Alex for a "D".

Steven O'Dell said...

Dithymia -- Hm, I think I've heard of Anberlin before. What genre?

Last time I heard, the main guy behind Gamers For Croydon was quitting his job to work for/with the party full-time. This was just before the Christmas period so I assume a small break ensued and we'll hear more in the near future.

Suetekh said...

Good read Steven, I for one have filled out the discussion paper and sent it off; it seems that at the moment that is all we can really do. Clearly the current system needs to change as the average age of gamers increases, apparently the average age is now 28! Attorney General Michael Atkinson seems to think that not having an R 18+ rating will protect children from games like Left 4 Dead 2 but instead it puts games like AvP into their hands thanks to inconsistent ratings being assigned.

Steven O'Dell said...

Suetekh -- And it's that irony that frustrates me most. Inconsistency between differing mediums may be understandable -- each should probably be treated as a separate entity when it comes to classification and guidelines -- but the inconsistency within just the one medium? Very unfortunate and very annoying. Either create a set of guidelines that make sense and can be enforced consistently, or bring in the R18 + rating so that games suitable for adults only can be played by adults and no one else. Instead we have this massive kerfuffle that is only confusing the population of Australia, not to mention the games industry worldwide, rather than helping them make informed choices about the games they buy. Surely this ridiculous situation we find ourselves in needs to stop eventually...