Late last month a fairly obscure game from Japan was “Refused Classification” in Australia by the Australian Government Classification Board. The game, MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death was to be released on the PlayStation Vita – a gaming console with a tiny install base. Few people would have known this game existed, much less played it.
The game’s classification refusal, on the basis that its depiction of sex and violence was likely “to cause offense to a reasonable adult” is concerning. When a work is RCed it means it’s effectively banned. In a country where politicians bleat about freedom of speech so that bigotry can be allowed, the deafening silence in protecting freedom of artistic expression is disturbing.
It’s disturbing because it’s the product of apathy rather than a belief that the game in question has poor morals.
When the games industry opposes restrictive censorship it bands together in an inspiring manner to right the wrong.
When the absence of an R18+ rating for video games led to many games being refused classification or heavily edited so they could be released at the 15+ rating, the campaign to push through changes to the law was massive. The media enthusiastically took up the cause, players petitioned lawmakers in great numbers and there were even political movements that generated positive turnouts in state elections.
The Board is particularly uncomfortable with games that feature the slightest hint of sexual violence or drug use.
The conservative resistance was rolled, and the R18+ rating was introduced. The industry, as a collective, patted itself on the back and went back to their games.
What they failed to notice or failed to care about was the caveat that this R18+ rating had; the Australian Classification Board continues to assume that games have a higher impact on the audience than the other art forms. It is still trigger happy with banning games that, were they films, would be waved through with barely a nod.
The Board is particularly uncomfortable with games that feature the slightest hint of sexual violence or drug use. Since the R18+ rating was introduced, the games that have been RCed include MeiQ, Hotline Miami 2, and Syndicate. Other games, include State of Decay and Saint’s Row IV, needed to be heavily modified to avoid being RCed (again, to remove the hints of sexual violence or drug use).
Most of these games are low profiles so their censorship hasn’t stirred the community. And that’s the problem; in the face of real and genuine censorship, the gaming — and indeed the arts community — should be out in force.
When a film is RCed, people protest. They import and play the film. When Baise-moi was RCed the debate was loud and the anger from the film community real. When a Bill Henson photo exhibition was confiscated by the NSW police and the works came under sharp criticism from the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the arts community rose up in anger against the censorship and Rudd’s condemnation.
But no one seems to care about games like MeiQ. A lack of interest in playing the game – or any of the others that have been RCed – is fair enough given how niche they are. But the principle itself should be worth fighting for.
I didn’t need to be interested in Henson’s photographs to protest their confiscation. You don’t need to be interested in MeiQ to realise that at some point the Board might go after a game (or any other art work) that you are interested in.
Artists shouldn’t be allowed to break the law and confiscation of illegal goods is sometime necessary. But this RC rating isn’t there to protect against art made through breach of the law — it’s arbitrary censorship by another name.