Saints Row fans down under have been given a reprieve of sorts with news that Volition’s upcoming Saints Row IV has finally been given classification in Australia. As a country that began as a colony of criminals, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our government continues to feel they must constantly educate and correct adult behaviour. One of the achievements of Australia’s current government has been the creation of plain packaging for cigarettes, designed to reduce the advertising of this harmful product. While this is laudable, the government is increasingly intervening in our lives. There are constant calls for fat taxes on junk food and you can even get fined for not voting! Exercising the presumably democratic right not to vote in any election, local, state or federal, will cost you $70 in penance.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that Australia has strict restrictions when it comes to videogames. The Classification Board holds final sway over which games and films get classified and therefore released. Before last year, there wasn’t an 18+ classification, meaning games could only be classified for “Mature” audiences 15+. Games like Fallout 3 in 2008, Left for Dead 2 in 2009 and even The Witcher 2 in 2011 were all originally refused classification. They were each subsequently classified once they had been altered for Australian audiences. In the case of The Witcher 2, it was refused classification because a side quest involved sex as a reward. This, despite prostitution being legal in every Australian state.
The Act (Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995) was updated to much fanfare last year with the addition of an 18+ classification. Aussie gamers welcomed the change, assuming it meant no more silly restrictions. In their infinite wisdom though, the Board found in June that Saints Row IV includes a certain activity involving a dildo which, according to them, constitutes a form of rape. They also found that the use of Alien “drugs” resulted in enhanced super powers. Many games feature the use of potions to restore health and provide boosts, including vigors in Bioshock Infinite and chems in Fallout. Have to be careful about condoning alien drug use though I suppose. Don’t want to set a precedent.
Volition’s title was re-submitted last month and once again refused classification. It was only on their third attempt that the board, in their wisdom, has given the game classification. Minus the “activity” and the alien drugs, the game has somehow leap-frogged “adult only” and now received a 15+ rating and children the country over will now be able to pick up a copy. Volition has also announced that, to ensure Australians aren’t exposed to the offending material, Australian versions of the game will be incompatible for co-op play with other regions.
The irony is that many Aussie gamers were no doubt considering importing the game from overseas anyway as Australian game prices are far more expensive than most other markets. It will be cheaper to import a copy from overseas for consoles or to try and buy an international CD key for the Steam uncensored version.
Recent statistics show that retail spending in Australia has been flat for a number of months now. With the upcoming federal elections, Australians will no doubt begin to hear their politicians declaring the need to support local businesses. They could start by spurring actual retail spending by treating gamers as adults rather than delinquents.