So R18+ still means something different for games in Australia

Once again, proof that our government doesn’t entirely give us what we ask for.

A few years ago, games lobbyists in Australia seemed to finally have a win in regards to adult content in games. By adult content, I am not talking about porn in video games, but adult topics that are shown on primetime TV and movies.

But as I discussed last year with the refusal of classification of We Happy Few, what we can see on TV for 20+ years still isn’t acceptable for games.

A large part of this is because games are still thought of as politicians as a child’s pastime. The fact that repeated surveys show the average age of gamers in Australia is closer to 35 than 15 doesn’t seem to be a factor in changing the rules.

The description is that same as for films, but it's not the case

What we got was the R18+ rating, sure. On the surface what we asked for. What we didn’t get was a change to the rules for Refusing Classification – the regulations that banned more games than the lack of an ‘adult only’ rating.

Like Fallout 3 years ago, We Happy Few was refused classification last year because of drug use. Not just drug use, but the fact you are seen by the rules as rewarded for taking drugs. If you look at the context of the game, this is not the case, and the classification was revised.

This was still an issue more than 10 years ago. How?

The change was only skin deep.

An update is coming for We Happy Few that required the game to resubmitted. Now the original Refused Classification rules have come back into play.

DayZ, a zombie survival shooter that has been digitally available for years, has been refused classification. Why? Because the players could use marijuana. And the bigger joke was marijuana didn’t do anything yet – the devs hadn’t implemented the feature.

Today this has been revised because the devs changed the game to remove the drug.

Don’t misunderstand, rating DayZ R18+ because of illegal drug use I consider reasonable. What isn’t is that adults can watch shows like Weeds or Narcos as a choice.

The problem is the base rules for refusing classification didn’t change. So if you have a game aimed at children where they get medicine from their parent to heal boo-boos, and that shows incentivized drug use. The refused classification verdict must be handed down.

DayZ. I never played it, but why should grown adults be refused the choice?

Why are you talking about We Happy Few again?

I keep talking about We Happy Few, and that is for a good reason. The gameplay is similar to A Clockwork Orange, considered a film masterpiece. But add ‘Hit X to take Joy’, and all bets are off.

Both A Clockwork Orange and We Happy Few are a known quantity to the mainstream, so that makes it handy as a quick example. But what about the last few weeks?

Rocksteady has been refused classification for Bonaire – and we don’t even know what it is. The thinking was a Red Dead Redemption 2 expansion, but only Rocksteady knows for sure.

Another high profile game coming up with various drug use is Cyberpunk 2077. With this recent spate of refusals, there is once again a genuine chance Australians will not be able to play it. Legally, anyway.

Cyberpunk 2077 Paramedics
Not the drug use the board is worried about, but drugs are a huge part of the Cyberpunk RPG

The biggest joke to me? I don’t even play We Happy Few. Reviews came out that things weren’t great, so I didn’t play it. I was going to play it sometime on Game Pass, but it looks like that might not happen now.

But it’s only a few games – what’s the problem?

Yes, it’s only a few games. There are so many other vitally essential fights happening at the moment. But it also shows what the Australian government and we as people have become. The message we sent previously was to rate interactive media (video games) the same as film and literature. What we got was a rating (yay) that because of a completely different set of rules means nothing. It was lip service to the majorities wishes.

It’s the same as when you only have $50, and a salesman offers you a new Tesla for half price. It doesn’t matter what the price is. I don’t have the money. Make the game adults only? That’s fine, but because the classification board can’t classify the game, it doesn’t matter what the rating is.

And if the government does this for simple things, think about what they do for things that matter. Yes, this is a political rant. But if you think I am picking on a party, remember that we didn’t get R18+ for years because of one man – South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson. He didn’t want it, so it didn’t happen. What finally got through was a flawed bill that showed action but did nothing.

Sure it would be nice, but you can do a lot with the asking price

The video game rating issue demonstrates beautifully has become of the Australian political system. And everyone in the system seems to be fighting tooth and nail to keep it that way.

So what can we do about this?

We need to be aware that the Australian system has problems. Australia has the most closed democracy system anywhere. We are one of the few democracies that doesn’t have protected freedom of speech for its population. For politicians, there is protection.

The party system has demonstrated more and more that the system is there for the politicians first. The NBN is a simple example of this. How much money has been wasted following the existing US system of multi-vendor technology?

New Zealand proved that the original fibre plan costings were correct. Implementation was expensive to begin with but got cheaper as the rollout continued. New Zealand is now ranked 17th in the world for internet speeds. Australia is 50th and doesn’t meet the definition of ‘high-speed broadband’ anymore.

Now the fibre plan had problems as well, and this is important to remember. Because of Australia’s widely spread population, rural areas did need something else to connect them, but well over 90% of the country would have been better off. The people winning with the multi-vendor solutions? Companies, and mainly Telstra at that. Why is Telstra more important than 90% of the people the government is supposed to represent?

These are landline speeds. We are great at wireless speed, but think of mobile data plan costs.

I have given two examples of things that are important to me personally. Games are admittedly a luxury. Internet in today’s world is a need.

Look at what issues are important to you, and look at what your representative is doing about it. If you don’t know, ask. It is their job to answer you.

I’ve said it before and will continue to do so. If we can come together on the little things, imagine what we can do for the important ones. A simple view of democracy is majority rules, but the top 10% seems to be controlling this country.

OK, rant over. Back to games with tomorrows review ūüôā

Until then,

JohnHQLD

We Happy Few is now R18+ in Australia

We Happy Few Redactor

Australians can now enjoy We Happy Few August 10th 2018

In May, I wrote about the effective banning in Australia of We Happy Few.  So the Australian Classification Board reviewed We Happy Few yesterday (July 3rd) and has decided to give it an R18+ rating.

Some people may be thinking “Great!¬† Common Sense has prevailed!”.¬† To a degree, I can understand this thinking – the feeling of relief that comes with what seems like good news.

You can see the media release of from the Australian Classification Board here, but the actual report on the decision will not be available for a few days.  This report is what I am really interested in seeing for a few reasons.

The original classification refusal was due to the use of a fictional drug Joy.  According to the Board, the game’s drug-use mechanism was seen as making progression less difficult, providing a reward for drug use.

This is important because of an ACB Guidelines that states¬†“Video games will be refused classification if they include or contain ‚Äėdrug use related to incentives and rewards'”.

Other games and ‘rewards’ have come under fire from this rule, such as Fallout 3.¬† Yes – taking ‘Morphine’ to heal was considered a reward or incentive and glorifying a real word drug.

We Happy Few Screen 02
It's alright, he's the clown police. Wait I shouldn't have said that...

Now I have spoken about my concerns with upcoming games and drug use, such as the hotly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077.¬† If you haven’t read that article, the short version is I am concerned that Video Games are held to very different standards than every other form of media in Australia.¬† And not only are Video Games held to a different standard, that standard is a moving target.

I have said before that not being able to play a Video Game is far from the biggest issue in Australia today, and I stand by this.  But the reasons for a game being refused classification while the same material can be seen in every other medium is indicative of bigger issues.

Why is this?¬† The Australian Government right now has a lot of double standards in its policies, and it shows no intention of even acknowledging this may be the case.¬† While it’s true that the population can vote out a govenement, both (well, all 3) major political parties are just as guilty as each other in terms of contradictory behaviour.

Cyberpunk 2077 Paramedics
Not the drug use the board is worried about, but drugs are a huge part of the Cyberpunk RPG

As a country, I believe Australia needs to learn how to voice its displeasure and demand actual change in Australian policy and its politicians.¬† Video Game content not being rated like TV, Films and Literature is a small example, and one I believe should be a simple start.¬† It’s not requiring sweeping changes, just recategorising one field to the same standards as other responsibilities of the ACB.

But there are sweeping changes needed make no mistake.¬† Some are purely policy driven, where the majority vote should decide.¬† There are also changes that need to be made clear by voters that party politics and ‘the way it’s always been’ just isn’t how things are anymore.

There are many important issues in Australia right now that are being deflected with the right sounding words.  There are many more outright being ignored or at best delayed because of politicians and others not feeling change is worthy of their consideration.

So while I am happy We Happy Few is getting a classification, it’s important to remember that overturning one decision wasn’t the problem.¬† The fundamental issue of a game being declined because of actions that are seen and discussed every day in film, music and literature without legal restriction to their audience is the problem.

If we can all recognise and get change on something so minor, imagine what can be achieved by the same group when they turn to more important issues?

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

We Happy Few no longer includes Australians

We Happy Few Redactor

When your government tells you there are things too Adult for Adults

Honestly, this is a bit of a rant article.¬† Yesterday, the Australian Classification Board refused to classify Compulsion Games newest outing ‘We Happy Few’.¬† The reason?¬† Well, like anything, there are a few, but chief amongst them is drug use.

Now, that sentence is both true and misleading.  There is a lot you need to know for that sentence to make complete sense.  This information is referred to as context, something the Classification Board seems to have forgotten about.  But more on that later.

This is going to look like a random mishmash of items, and superficially it is, but bear with me – each section will illustrate how frustrated we are about things in Australia, with this simply being the latest example.

An underrated gem of a film РEquilibrium (2002)

Before Batman Begins, my favourite Christian Bale movie was Equilibrium.  Set in the near future after World War III, the leading council of the city-state Libria has established peace by stopping all emotions in the citizenry.  The theory is all crime and violence ultimately comes from uncontrolled emotion, so by issuing a drug called Prozium II to the people, no one feels, and there are no criminals.

Criminals in Equilibrium are those that refuse the drugs, known as ‘Sense Offenders’.¬† Christian Bale plays John Preston, a Cleric or highest ranking police enforcer, tasked with finding and removing Sense Offenders for the greater good.

The trailer below shows the world in a bit more detail.

Equilibrium
It hasn't aged incredibly well, but the final act of this film is one I still sit back and watch

It’s not for everybody and isn’t an original story overall, but it’s a great telling of a sci-fi standard.¬†Not a family movie, but the violence isn’t too over the top and the pacing is good for the story.

If you live in Australia, you can check it out on Netflix here, and it’s rated M.

2016 – I see an Early Access game on Steam called ‘We Happy Few’.

I heard a few bits and pieces about the place for this game called ‘We Happy Few’.¬† It was a Kickstarter that a few people told me was a game I would probably enjoy.¬† Dark outlook, supposedly strongly narrative-driven¬†storyline, alternate history – just the kind of thing I would like.

Unfortunately,¬†I missed the Kickstarter completely, but the announcement trailer certainly caught my interest and it’s been on my Steam Wishlist pretty much ever since.

My friends were right – this was a game that seemed to call to me.¬† I was already under the gun time-wise and didn’t want to start playing Early Access, so I decided to wait until the game was finished.¬† That way, I could see some reviews or gameplay footage and make my final decision.

So what is ‘We Happy Few’ actually all about?

Excellent question!  I have no idea.

Really.  I tried to avoid spoilers a lot because it was a title that really caught my interest.  Compulsion Games seemed to think along the same lines because even though the game was being built upon and improved in Steam Early Access, it was always seen by them as a glorified demo to not spoil the full experience.

What I can tell you is We Happy Few takes place in 1964 England in a timeline where the Germans successfully occupied England.¬† The people of Wellington Wells all take a drug called ‘Joy’ to stop them from remembering the Very Bad Thing the town had to do in the past.

Joy puts the people in a perpetual happy state, extinguishing the memories causing them anguish and guilt.  However, not everyone is happy to be in a drug-induced utopia.  Some people want to remember, and stop taking Joy.  These people are called Downers, and want nothing more than to leave Wellington Wells behind them.

We Happy Few Screen 02
It's alright, he's the clown police. Wait I shouldn't have said that...

But to do so, you have to explore and find a way out.¬† The problem is if the other people realise you aren’t taking your Joy, they will make you.¬† That’s if you’re lucky.¬† Otherwise, they will ‘free’ you from Wellington Wells without a second thought.

Now, you may understand why I started talking about an old movie.¬† Doesn’t this sound like a game played from the Sense Offenders side in Equilibrium?¬† The ruling body doesn’t want you to have free thought or emotions they can’t control.¬† This idea has been in science fiction writing almost as long as sci-fi has been around – just look at Brave New World.¬† Similar thoughts were being explored in the 1930’s, it’s just the source material sadly hasn’t stood up over the decades.

Playing a game that lets you explore such ideas is a game I want to play.¬† I also like a mechanic in the game that may seem strange to some – you can’t save.¬† Each life is exactly that – one life in the game.¬† If you are caught and killed, you awake as someone else in the town.¬† You have already explored and reatin your own knowledge of Wellington Wells so it’s not a true reset, but peoples’ reactions will change as you are a different person.

That sounds great!  When can you play it?

Well, I can’t.¬† The Classification Board refuses classification, making it illegal to sell the game in Australia.¬† The battle for an R rating, allowing people 18 years and older to purchase games in Australia, was well publicised worldwide a few years ago.

One of the main problems is the use of Joy in the game.¬† In Australia, a blanket rule for games classification is that ‘Video games will be refused classification if they include or contain ‘drug use related to incentives and rewards”.

In We Happy Few, if you take your Joy like a ‘good’ citizen, you can gain advantages in the form of being able to move around town easier.¬† Well, easier, in this case, means ‘not being killed by an angry mob’ – not sure if I would call that a reward, but definitely an incentive to do so.

But there is another big problem Рthe boards own standards.  On the Classification Boards own website describing the essential principles for classification, the following text appears:

There are three essential principles that inform the board’s classification decisions:

  1. the importance of the context
  2. assessing the impact
  3. the six classifiable elements of drug use, language, nudity, themes, sex and violence.

Number one is the big one – Context.¬† In We Happy Few, this isn’t a weird drug simulator where you swallow different pills for a higher score.¬† This is a game where you play someone explicitly working against a government forcing you to take a drug against your wishes.

We Happy Few Doctor Poster
Would you want this guy to be your doctor?

So in this context, Brave New World and Equilibrium should be banned materials.  Surely there are not different standards for games than there are to film and literature?

Yes.¬† Yes, there are.¬† Anyone can walk into a bookstore and buy Brave New World.¬† It’s a classic, but even though I enjoy it honestly it’s a hard reread for me these days.¬† But the point is an 8-year-old can walk into any bookstore and buy a copy and start reading.

But Equilibrium?¬† Rated M.¬† Not even MA15+, just M.¬† In Australia, anyone can walk into an M rated movie – it’s just an advisory that there may be mature themes.¬† MA15+ means anyone under the age of 15 needs to be accompanied by an adult.¬† So a non-interactive version of similar themes can be viewed by anyone.

From Wikipedia:

Australian M Rating

Video games have an R18+ rating, meant to legally restrict the contents to adults that could be harmful to younger viewers.¬† There have been many famous cases in the past, such as Fallout 3, where drug use was listed as grounds for refusing classification.¬† The drug in question used as a reward?¬† Morphine.¬† Taking a drug to help heal yourself was seen as a reward or incentive.¬† Don’t worry that the in-game mechanics can have you become chem dependant, tackling the mature theme of drug dependency – you can’t glorify drugs!

Well, I will just let that one sit and speak for itself.¬† And Fear and Loathing isn’t even a unique example – it’s just visually the best drug-fueled trailer to prove my point I could find in 2 minutes.¬† Cheech and Chong movie marathon anyone?¬† Wolf of Wall Street?¬† And you know what all these movies are rated?¬† R18+.

And it’s another example of inconsistent¬†application of guidelines.¬† PlayStation¬†3’s Haze was a game where you played a super soldier literally fuelled by drugs.¬† You needed to administer drugs for health and abilities to allow you to progress in the game, but in the context of the narrative, this was OK.

Back to We Happy Few – why is the same basic concept of control of the population via drug use openly available in literally every other media?¬† Whatever happened to the all-important ‘Justification by Context’?

This is context proven in storytelling¬†in many ways, I just pulled the classic and my favourite movie adaption to compare to for this article.¬† To be told I can’t view it essentially because I am not mature enough but can go and buy much worse material from JB Hi-Fi¬†is offensive to me.

There are movies I don’t want to see, so I don’t.¬† The Saw movies are outright torture porn, with what I consider ‘high impact violence’ and little justifiable or redeemable narrative to explore.¬† That is the conclusion I came to after watching the first three, and I don’t watch any more of them.¬† And the first four are only blocked to people under the age of 15.

We Happy Few 16
A scene that refuses to change. I just felt it was appropriate somehow.

So why is this an issue now?

So here and now, this is another peeve of about a single game I wanted to play.¬† But it is probably about to highlight another round of ‘Refused Classification’ games.

The upcoming Call of Duty Black Ops 4 (a game I honestly won’t be playing) is rumoured to be bringing back active health management.¬† Basically, no more hiding behind a wall and waiting to magically heal – shoot up a stim and heal yourself to continue.

Now, even in a game, I am not interested in, I am happy this mechanic is being explored.¬† The old school medkits for health in stationary positions worked at the time, but in today’s frantic multiplayer environments not so much.¬† Knowing that people will need to heal, it just creates choke points on a map that stop the flow of a game, making it not fun for anyone.

The standing still not taking damage health recharge idea works, but really for most games even though they don’t say it we know how it works.

Portable Medkit
If you remember this graphic, you know the feeling

In almost all shooter games, especially the ones that introduced the stop and heal mechanic such as Halo, you are wearing some form of power armour.  Standing still after taking damage to your shields allows them to recharge.  This makes sense narratively.

Taking physical damage when the shields are down, how can crouching for 2 seconds heal you?  The only way that makes sense to me is your armour is pumping you full of drugs.

Now, these are games – I am not trying to cry for ultra-realism or real-world logic to explain game mechanics.¬† If you had to stop and bandage¬†yourself to heal in every game and wait days to heal, most games wouldn’t be fun.

I don’t mind the implied ‘you got shot full of painkillers keep going’ of the rest and heal, but the new Call of Duty limited health by the number of stims you can carry brings a new tactical range of choices to the game.

Think this fight is a breeze?¬† Don’t heal and go ahead at half health.¬† See how good you really are.¬† That’s the kind of implied challenge these mechanics allow developers to give their players, and for large numbers of players are fun gameplay options.

The other flip side to this argument¬†is once again context.¬† Use morphine to deal with physical pain?¬† No no no that’s far too adult.¬† Need to heal in a Legend of Zelda game?¬† Drink a magic potion!¬† It’s magic, not a drug, so everything is just fine.

Ran out of health?¬† If you have a fairy, you can come back to life!¬† It’s not resuscitation technology or drug related at all, it’s just magic, it’s fine.¬† But the comic series GaMERCaT still has one of my favourite comics on an alternate look at how the potions in the Zelda games work:

Gamercat - Potion Puree
Click on the image to go to the site

Want to tell me which version of healing has the more mature themes?

I am not saying We Happy Few is a must play game, but it is an object of creative expression just like any other title mentioned in this article.  And it is one that as a mature adult I would like to enjoy.

If I can make that decision with film, television, literature, magazines, music, clothing, food, or any other aspect of my life – why can’t I make it with Video Games?

Hopefully, this will help demonstrate – again – the disparity in criteria for rating other forms of entertainment and video games.¬† Gaming has evolved from ‘shoot the alien spaceship’ or ‘jump over the obstacle’ to true creative pieces.¬† True, there are plenty of examples of silly, violent and trashy games, but have a look at the movies on offer that are rated and classified¬†for adults to choose for themselves.

To the Australian Classification Board – we have an R18+ rating.¬† Use it.¬† Not only on this game but on all games, now and in the future.¬† Maybe even the past as well.¬† And while these things are being examined, here’s an idea – instead of a separate set of guidelines for games, how about just using the the same guidelines as films?¬† That would be a great start.

If you can think of any other suggestion for the Classification Board, let me know.  The only way to change is to take the changes to the politicians and vote for the ones that will implement them.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

WAIT!  You said this was a Kickstarter?  How are they affected?

Ah, yes, almost forgot.¬† I’m really sorry about that.

Honestly, not really sure where this puts both Kickstarter backers and people that purchased the game on Steam Early Access at this time.

Compulsion Games have addressed the Steam community with the following statement:

We Happy Few Steam Message
Snipped from the Community Page

So Compulsion Games is going to be appealing (rightfully), but there isn’t any information yet on what is possible.

They have already started talking refunds for Kickstarter backers, and I find it hard to believe that similar action wouldn’t be followed for Steam users.

They are trying to be as transparent as possible from the looks of it, so fingers crossed the ACB pulls their finger out and just gives the game a classification.