This game has never had problems with the Australian censors. It is included because it was a controversial title.
The original GRAND THEFT AUTO was passed with an MA15+ (Medium Level Animated Violence, Adult Themes) rating in October 1997. GT Interactive Software was the applicant.
In their 1997 to 1998 Annual Report, the OFLC acknowledged that the first GTA game was controversial.
One game which attracted some media attention was the game Grand Theft Auto.
The Board noted that the 'top-down' animation reduces the cars and the characters in the game to an ant-like perspective which lacks detail or realism, and significantly reduces the impact of the concepts and violence within the game.
There are strategic elements in the game which also mitigate against the impact of violence. Players are required to concentrate on mastering the controls, mapping routes through the cityscape, avoiding capture, obtaining and implementing instructions and completing a variety of other tasks, such as making deliveries.
During the game, players can drive off the road and among pedestrians, who run out of the way. While points may be scored, there is a disincentive in the game to 'running over' pedestrians as this results in the player being chased by police. The action in the game is not detailed, victims fall down when killed and appear with a small red splotch next to them when 'run over'. In addition to the aspects of violence within the gameplay, the game contains some coarse language and mild verbal references to drugs.
The Board noted that while some people may view with concern the conceptual impact of some aspects of the game, the animated depictions of violence are highly unrealistic and not detailed. The Board was of the view that the impact of such elements is mitigated by the competitive skill-based gameplay and the need to master the game controls.
The Board considered that the game has a mature tone and themes which are not suitable for children under fifteen. Accordingly. the Board legally restricted the game to a mature audience 15 years and over.
An add-on titled GRAND THEFT AUTO: MISSION PACK #1 LONDON 1969 was passed with an MA15+ (Adult themes; Medium level animated violence) rating in April 1999. Directsoft Australia was the applicant.
In their 1998 to 1999 Annual Report the OFLC explained why.
Grand Theft Auto - Mission Pack #1 is a third person perspective 'top-down' animated game in which the object is to score points by completing missions for a crime boss, including stealing cars. It is an add-onto the original game. The Board considered that, as with the original game, the add-on has a mature tone and themes which are not suitable for children under fifteen. Accordingly, the Board legally restricted the game to a mature audience 15 years and over, with consumer advice of 'Medium Level Animated Violence, Adult Themes'.
In November 1999, the colour Gameboy version of GRAND THEFT AUTO was passed with an M (Adult themes; Low level violence) rating. Jack Of All Games was the applicant.
This game has never had problems with the Australian censors. It is included because it was a controversial title.
In October 1999, GRAND THEFT AUTO 2 was passed with an MA15+ (Medium Level Animated Violence, Adult Themes) rating. Jack Of All Games was the applicant.
In their 1999 to 2000 Annual Report the OFLC explained why.
Last year one game which attracted some media attention was Grand Theft Auto, which was classified MA15+ with consumer advice of Medium Level Animated Violence and Adult Themes. It is a third person perspective 'top down' animated game in which the object is to score points by completing missions for a crime boss, including stealing cars. There were concerns regarding violence and themes based around doing 'jobs" for a crime boss. The top down, unrealistic perspective of the game combined with disincentives for criminal acts mitigated the violence and adult theme of criminal activity sufficiently for the game to be classified MAI5+. This year the sequel, Grand Theft Auto 2, was classified MA15+ for the same reasons.
In late 2001, Take 2 Interactive Software released GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 before it had been rated by the Classification Board. This was done because they assumed that it would be passed with an MA15+ rating.
Unfortunately, this proved to be a costly mistake.
On November 28 2001, GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 was banned by the OFLC because of sexual violence. Take 2 Interactive Software was the applicant.
Thanks to Dean L. for sending in the full Classification Board report for the game.
Title: GRAND THEFT AUTO III
Board Report T01/2716
Gangland missions and car chases in Libery city.
REASONS FOR THE DECISION:
In making classification decisions, the Classification Board applies the National Classification Code and the Classification Guidelines. The Classification Board follows the procedure set out in the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.
The game features frequent realistic depictions of violence of medium intensity including impactful blows and bloodshed to realistic animated characters. There are blood sprays when players are hit with baseball bats and pools of blood surrounding victims. For these elements the game would warrant an MA(15+) classification (ie elements likely to disturb, harm or offend those under 15 years to the extent that it should be restricted to those 15 years and over).
However during the game the player is able to pick up prostitutes in the Redlight District. The player and the prostitute can then drive to a park, where the car will rock back and forth in a suggestion of sexual activity. As the rocking continues the player’s health will increase and the balance of the player’s funds will decrease. After a short time the rocking stops and the prostitute gets out of the car. The player is able to chase the prostitute on foot or in the vehicle, and can strike the prostitute with the car and/or any weapons including fists, feet and baseball bat. An attack on a prostitute can include savage kicks and blood sprays - as for attacks on any other characters in the game. Once the prostitute has been beaten to an unresponsive state and is lying in a pool of blood, the player can take her money (presumably including the amount paid for sex).
In the view of the majority of the Board, the violence the player can inflict on the prostitute, can be conceptually linked to the sexual activity which precedes it. The player has the option of bashing and killing a woman with whom he has just had sex.
In the view of the majority of the Board, this option in the game requires a level of maturity which goes beyond the MA15+ classification category. Such a depiction of sexualised violence exceeds the level of intensity allowed in the MA Guidelines.
The game is therefore ’Refused Classification’.
In the view of the minority of the Board, there is sufficient separation between the suggestion of sexual activity and the fatal bashing of the prostitute for the game to be accommodated at MA 15+.
Thanks to Richard C. for this information.
I found this YouTube clip called 'How To Pick Up A Hooker' that contains the scene of the prostitute being beaten. The actual pick-up begins at 01:42.
Unfortunately, it does not include the car-rocking scene where they have sex. That scene can be found in this YouTube clip starting at 02:24.
Hoping to avoid a costly recall, Take 2 Interactive Software appealed against the ban to the Classification Review Board. However, on December 11 2001, they confirmed the RC-rating of GRAND THEFT AUTO 3.
Classification Review Board
December 11, 2001
The Classification Review Board unanimously determined that the
computer game Grand Theft Auto 3 is "Refused Classification", confirming the decision of the Classification Board.
In reviewing the classification of Grand Theft Auto 3, the Review Board worked within the framework, and applied the provisions of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, The National Classification Cod Classification of Computer Games.
The Review Board considered the computer game
A presentation was made to the Board by the Managing Director of Take 2 Interactive, a barrister for the applicant and a forensic psychologist. The Classification Review Board had an extensive demonstration of the game play.
A three member panel of the Board convened in response to an application from the distributor, Take 2 Interactive.
The Classification Review Board is an independent body, drawn from people with a wide range of backgrounds, appointed by the Governor-General.
The Review Board meets in camera to hear formal applications for review of decisions of the Classification Board.
The full Classification Review Board report for GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 is as follows.
11 DECEMBER 2001
23-33 MARY STREET
SURRY HILLS, NSW
MEMBERS: Ms Maureen Shelley (Convenor),
Ms Dawn Grassick,
Ms Kathryn Smith
APPLICANT: Take 2 Interactive Pty Ltd
Represented by Mr James Ellingford (Managing Director), Ms Julia Baird (Barrister),
Dr Gary Banks (Clinical and Forensic Psychologist), Ms Megan McGregor (Corrs Chambers Westgarth)
To review the decision of the Classification Board to assign the classification RC under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to the computer game Grand Theft Auto III.
DECISION AND REASONS FOR DECISION
The Classification Review Board upheld the decision of the Classification Board to classify the computer game RC but for reasons different to those provided by the Classification Board.
2. Legislative provisions
The Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act 1995
governs the classification of computer games and the review of classification decisions. The Act provides that computer games be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code (the Code) and the classification guidelines (the Guidelines).
A tribunal of the Review Board was empanelled and viewed one and a half hours of excerpts of the game play at its meeting on 11 December 2001.
The Review Board heard oral submissions and received a written summary from Ms Baird (Barrister) and received a written report and supporting academic papers from Dr G Banks (forensic psychologist) representing the applicant. Mr Ellingford and Ms McGregor provided detailed answers to questions from the Review Board.
4. Matters taken into account
In reaching its decision the Review Board had regard to the following:
(i) The applicant’s Application for Review (including oral and written submissions, and a written report by Dr Banks and the academic papers "The Psychology of Criminal Conduct" by Ronald Blackburn John Wiley & Sons publishers - undated excerpt and "Clinical Approaches to Violence" - chapter 9, eds Kevin Howells and Clive R Hollin, John Wiley and Sons - undated excerpt)
(ii) Gamers’ websites reviews of Grand Theft Auto III in particular "Grand Theft Auto III Review" by Jeff Gertsmann, Gamespot VG October 24 2001 http://gamespot.com; and "Grand Theft Auto III review" by Doug Perry ign ps2 October 22 2001 http:/www.ign.com which is linked to the website of the publisher of the game, Rockstar; and discussions on the game at www.gamepro.com and www.gametalk.com
(iii) Excerpts of the game play as supplied by the applicant
(iv) The relevant provisions in the Act
(v) The relevant provisions in the National Classification Code as amended in accordance with Section 6 of the Act.
(vi) The Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games determined under Section 12 of the Act.
5. Findings on material questions of fact
In his review Jeff Gerstmann states
"GTA 3 takes place in a fictional metropolis known as Liberty City. Liberty City is a largely corrupt place, with several warring factions spread throughout its boroughs. You’re (the gamer) a small-time crook who gets set up by your girlfriend during a heist (theft). You take the fall (are charged with) for the crime but manage to escape when a posse of thugs overtake the paddy wagon (police van) that you, along with a few other prisoners, are travelling in. This is where you hook up with the demolitions expert known as 8-ball, who takes you to meet a friend in the early portion of the game, which also serves as a tutorial of sorts to help you get acclimated (sic - acclimatised?) to the rules of the world. That friend is involved with the Mafia, of course, and he gives you tasks of increasing difficulty. Each mission starts with a cutscene (introductory or establishment scene) that sets up your challenge nicely, explaining why it needs to be done to help "the family" and giving your missions - which include such tasks as delivering an item, tailing a suspected security leak and wiping out (killing) the leaders of opposing gangs - real sense of purpose. As you progress, you’ll meet other people in the business of breaking the law, who will also have jobs for you. This gives you the options, as you can either do every available mission from each of your contacts or skip around from boss to boss and do the jobs in whatever order you please. Since certain missions trigger plot points, it’s entirely possible to miss some missions throughout the course of the game. As you proceed, other portions of the city will open up, giving you access to new missions, cars and terrain."
The aim of the game is to successfully complete "missions" (i.e. commit crimes of increasing levels of sophistication) to gain money the total of which is shown on-screen. Another feature is the accumulation of "stars" that is the "wanted meter" up to a maximum of six. These stars demonstrate when the gamer has been sighted committing a crime by the police. To successfully complete "missions" the gamer will inevitably come to the attention of the police. However, if the gamer attracts too much attention (that is 6 stars) then the gamer will be "wasted" (die, but can be "refreshed" come back to life, any number of times).
In the course of the game, the gamer must keep in good health. A maximum of 125 points are achievable. If the health points sink too low the gamer is "wasted".
The jacket cover of Grand Theft Auto III (the game) states that you (an unnamed character in the game known only as kid or friend and representing the gamer - that is one who plays the game) have been betrayed and left for dead and now are taking revenge. In the introduction to the game the betrayal is undertaken by the gamer’s girlfriend who says, "I’m an ambitious girl and you’re small time" and who shoots the gamer and leaves him to be caught by the police after a botched hold up. The unnamed girlfriend has a similar appearance to one of the two "skin" (randomly generated game characters who have no identified personalities) sex worker-types who walk the streets of the Red Light District of Liberty City between the hours of 10pm and 6am.
A feature of this version of Grand Theft Auto is the change from "bird’s eye view" or a top-down approach, to a personal or "first person" view. Whilst nine views are available to the gamer, much of the action takes place in first-person view. This is considered to add to the gamer’s pleasure in the game, making it more personal, and in the view of the Review Board giving the action of the game greater impact. The Convenor of the Review Board has personal experience of playing Grand Theft Auto (the original release).
Jeff Gerstmann states "The previous incarnations of the game were cursed with poor mission design that never really made you feel like you were working toward any sort of greater goal. You merely drove around, causing trouble, occasionally doing odd jobs for local criminal masterminds until you had collected enough cash to proceed." This importance of "missions" in the game and the jacket introduction that the gamer has been betrayed and is "now taking revenge", which is supported by graphical and storyline features, increases the impact of the game on the individual gamer (that is the person operating the console) in the view of the Review Board. The game jacket states "You’ll have to rob, steal and kill just to stay out of serious trouble".
A feature of this version of Game Theft Auto is its realistic graphics and the challenge and complexity to gamers offered which, according to Doug Perry of www.ign.com, puts it in a different league to other games. The Review Board believed that it provided quite a sophisticated level of graphics and that the game holds some inherent artistic merit due to its high production values - this game has a plot, some development of characters, quite high level graphics, reasonable animation, challenging game play, some three hours of music and sound which can be altered at the will of the gamer and offers a challenge to gamers which would take many hours (over 70 in a single session according to some game sites) to complete. It is a game that can be played as a straight driving game (the most popular for 12 to 17- year-olds according to "Computer Games and Australians Today" commissioned by the Office of Film and Literature Classification) as there are some 50 different vehicles which can be stolen and crashed, or as a pursuit game or purely as a game of violence.
During the course of game play, the gamer undertakes a number of missions or interacts with the environment - graphical features which whilst not part of a mission add to the game’s complexity and challenge. Activities which a gamer can undertake include stealing police cars and ambulances, killing police officers, running over pedestrians, obtaining 11 different weapons (baseball bat, hand gun, automatic weapons including Uzis, AK-47s, M16, sniper rifles, shotguns, Bazookas or rocket launchers, Molotov Cocktails, flamethrowers and hand grenades) as well as using fists, feet - for kicking, the head for head-butting, and explosives which are all used to attack pedestrians or other crime figures.
An attack on a pedestrian (male or female) can be undertaken with most of these weapons and can be repeated at the will of the gamer. If a pedestrian is attacked then the gamer decides how long the attack will continue. If the attack is prolonged red fluid will pool around the figure, who will become prone, being attacked. Attacks viewed by the Review Board ranged from a simple punch in the face, to repeated kicking of the groin of a prone male pedestrian accompanied by pooled red fluid, shooting and killing of police officers including shots to faces of those officers at close range and to the running over of a sex worker and then the repeated bashing of that same sex worker. According to game sites the preferred weapon is a gun and the preferred method of killing is shooting at close range.
In his review Doug Perry writing at www.ign.com states: "You can shoot gang members with simple 9s [9 millimetre guns] or run them over in a car (accompanied by a funny squish sound - Mr Perry’s quote) or toss a grenade at their feet, and watch them split apart at the seams, transforming into a puddle of blood."
Changes in features of characters or skins do not occur when attacked. As part of the action of the game these characters or skins may reappear at other locations where they can be beaten again or left unmolested by the gamer - at the gamer’s direction and choice.
Mr Ellingford, for the applicant, stated that if the gamer stays around the scene of an attack long enough an ambulance would attend the scene and the character or skin would be "cured" and will walk off. Whilst, the Review Board accepts that this may be the case it did not view this in the game play excerpts supplied. This occurrence was not mentioned in any of the game sites reviewed by the Convenor - which may mean that the gamers have not viewed such action or they don’t believe it is worth mentioning.
As a number of questions regarding the game and courses of actions which might be possible could not be answered by the applicants during the meeting, reference to gamesites were raised by the Convenor. Mr Ellingford agreed that comment/discussion/tips and clues regarding the game would be available on the Internet.
The pedestrians, police or other officials, or crime figures attacked may fight back and the gamer can sustain injury or be killed. The gamer’s health level will deteriorate the more he is injured. The health level can be increased by resting (driving around and not being wounded), booking into a hospital or clinic - this was not witnessed by the Review Board but has been noted on the advice of Mr Ellingford for the applicant, or having sex with a sex worker.
In one scene, the gamer attacks a group of four or five pedestrians which includes at least one woman. She says, "Oh, it’s you again" and the gamer then repeatedly attacks the members of the group including the woman. She calls out, "Please somebody, help". The gamer continues the attack, as she calls for assistance, until all members of the group are lying on the ground in pools of red fluid. Mr Ellingford for the applicant said - on the advice of a gamer in his office - that the statement "Oh, it’s you again" is randomly generated and he (the applicant’s in-house gamer) had not come across any female character in his game play where the on-screen gamer meets this character, apart from this scene.
I would note at this point that the presence of an experienced gamer, particularly one experienced in the version of the game under review, at the Review Board’s consideration of the application for review would have greatly assisted the deliberations of the Review Board. There was some delay and inconvenience experienced by the Review Board because none of the persons representing the applicant had the required level of knowledge of the game under review to satisfactorily answer the Review Board’s questions. When a game has over 100 hours of game play, it is incumbent on the applicant to provide to the Review Board with all possible assistance to ensure a reasonable assessment of the game is undertaken.
After one series of attacks by the gamer, the gamer returns to the car and the radio station voice-over says "Wasn’t that just great". The tone of the female voice is almost sexual in its pleasure. The radio voice-over continues on the item which appears unrelated to the attacks by the gamer but is, in the opinion of the Review Board, most unfortunately juxtaposed.
Another scene shows the gamer talking to a mechanic who is giving him instructions about a crime he is to commit. In the background is a sex worker-type, a character named Misty, who is sitting with her legs spread, her torso forward and the nipples of her breasts exposed. In another version of the same scene, Misty says to the mechanic "Are you going to let me play with your big end again?".
One mission the gamer undertakes is the bombing of a rival gang boss’s car and killing of the crime boss. After successfully completing this mission the gamer scores a bonus worth thousands of dollars.
In another scene, the gamer is being briefed on some action he is to take against a character who is "Pimpin’ some scuzzy bitches" in "the back yard" of a crime boss. Mr Ellingford (after consultation with his in-house gamer) stated that "scuzzy" means disgusting or filthy. The Review Board gathered that this language meant that one crime figure had sex workers (possibly of an inferior standard) soliciting in an area controlled by another crime figure.
In another scene a crime figure briefs the gamer on a "Triad gimp". Mr Ellingford (after consultation with his in-house gamer) stated that "gimp" meant an idiot. The Convenor sought clarification of the term from another person who advised that "gimp" also meant cripple or person with a disability.
In one scene, of which the Review Board took particular note, the gamer stops to pick up a sex worker. The sex worker was of the type depicted with ‘punk-style’ hair, shorts and long boots - similar in appearance to the girlfriend who betrays the gamer in the introduction. She agrees to get into the car and the gamer drives onto a grassed, treed area. The car begins rocking and exhaust fumes are emitted in increasing amounts. The Review Board took this imagery to be a suggestion of sexual activity.
The scene was accompanied by the gamer’s money decreasing for the duration of the sex worker’s time in the car and by his health rating improving (several versions of this scene were demonstrated by the applicant including one in which the gamer had a maximum health rating of 125 - in this version his health did not improve).
After the sex worker leaves the car the gamer first drives off, then changes his mind and pursues her through the trees. A circle of white (which Ms Baird for the applicant stated was a spotlight from a helicopter) appears on the ground. The sex worker is run over by the car and she is spread-eagled in this circle of light/white.
The gamer then collects a bonus. Mr Ellingford stated that this bonus was part of the scenery and the gamer would get the bonus if he was simply walking past the same point. That is, it is not necessarily part of the game that the gamer needs to run over the sex worker to receive the bonus - simply that this was the case in this version of play.
The sex worker then recovers and starts walking away. The gamer then leaves the car and accosts her by beating her repeatedly until she is prone on the ground and surrounded by red fluid. The gamer then takes the sex worker’s money. This scene, from when she leaves the car until when the gamer returns to the car after assaulting her for the second time, takes over 2 minutes.
The Review Board noted the juxtaposition of the sexual imagery of the rocking/revving/smoking car and the assault on the sex worker. The Review Board considered that this juxtaposition gave the attack greater impact than if the two images had been widely separated by other game play.
One way to increase the amount of money a gamer holds is by beating up pedestrians. One group of pedestrians that the gamer knows have money on them are sex workers. The Review Board was shown scenes where the gamer beat up other pedestrians who didn’t have any money on them and the gamer’s monetary rewards do not increase. All sex workers who were beaten, that the Review Board saw demonstrated, increased the monetary reward of the gamer. At www.gamepro "cheats" are offered to gamers. Cheats are ways to get around problems in the game. One is listed as Free Health Points "To get more health, find a hooker and drive up to her (make sure you’re not driving a cop cruiser, van or taxi) and she’ll walk to your window to talk to you before getting in. Drive to a dark, abandoned area and the car will start to rock, increasing your health. By this time, your money will have decreased a bit. When she’s done, quickly walk out of the car and beat your money out of her - free life points."
This game was released on October 23 in the United States. Already, extensive guides and cheats are offered to gamers including codes to increase the gore in the game, how to kill police officers more efficiently and suggestions such as the above. Also, according to the Australian release version’s jacket cover a 1902 information help-line is available where assistance can be accessed.
The sites reviewed by the Convenor are well-established gamer sites published by reputable companies. They are not necessarily the province of extreme game players or those of aberrant behaviour. The site www.gamepro.com is operated by IDG Games media group which states it is the leading global provider of IT media research, conferences and expositions. IDG publishes more than 290 computer newspapers and magazines and 700 books including the ". . . For Dummies" series and magazines such as PC World and MacWorld.
It was the opinion of the Review Board that the developers and the publishers of the game must be well aware of the game’s possibilities given that they created the code which allows the gaming action.
6. Reasons for the Decision
The Classification Review Board decided unanimously that the game should be refused classification under section 1(d) of the Code, that is that the game is unsuitable for a minor to see or play.
In reaching this decision the Review Board took into account the Guidelines which state "These guidelines are, at the direction of Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers, to be applied more strictly than those for the classification of film and videotape. The Ministers are concerned that games, because of their ‘interactive nature’, may have greater impact, and therefore greater potential for harm or detriment, on young minds than film and videotape."
The Guidelines state further that
"Under this scheme, classification decisions are to give effect, as far as is possible, to the principles spelled out in the Code that:
(a) adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;
(b) minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them; and
(d) the need to take account of community concerns about: depictions which condone or incite violence and, in particular, sexual violence; and the portrayal or persons is a demeaning manner."
Grand Theft Auto III is a violent game which requires a mature perspective from the gamer. The Review Board considered that possibly most of the game’s target audience would have this mature perspective (that is those over 18 and some people aged 15 and over, but not most 15, 16 and 17 year olds).
It is possible to play this game as a pure vendetta against sex workers and attack them to take money, particularly after what has the appearance of having sex with them for which the gamer has paid. However, the Review Board believed that while the only women depicted in the game are a crime boss, sex workers and victims that the denigration of women, or portrayal of women in demeaning roles, is not the game’s purpose and that gamers who indulged in extremes of such play would not be following the game as intended. The Review Board has to consider the likely impact on the majority of gamers. Indeed, all the people in the game (male, female, or any or all races) are either criminals or victims.
The Review Board is required to consider under Section 11 of the Act part (d) "the persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it (the game) is published or is intended or likely to be published". This can mean its intended audience or the audience or market which would legally have access to the game.
The Review Board believes that the primary market for the game is males. Whilst some females may play this game it has few rewards for women and according to the study commissioned by the OFLC women are not attracted to driving games. Women are not portrayed in valued roles, except for one female Asian (albeit crime) boss.
Women can take an active part as a sex worker or girlfriend but it was the submission of the applicant that the main character is a male and his appearance cannot be changed. However, a cursory search of the game sites showed that experienced gamers can use codes to change to a different male character (as described at Gametalk). Such characters are not "fully featured" that is there is some restrictions on what the character can then do. One gamer found a "black dude" who was quite good but the consensus was the male character as shown in the introduction allowed the most flexibility in pursuing gaming action.
The Review Board considered the applicant’s request to classify the game at MA15+. To provide such a classification would mean that the game could be seen and played by gamers, most likely to be male, over the age of 15, that is - the game could be played by minors. In the Convenor’s research it was noted that some 50% of Play Station 2 game players are over the age of 30. However, the applicant made no submission as to the age of gamers. A submission related to the ages of gamers such as 50% of gamers are over 30, X% are over 20, X% are over 18 etc would have assisted the Review Board in its deliberations. Also it was noted that once a classification was given to the PlayStation 2 version a PC version, due for release in mid-2002, would gain the same rating unless it was modified. A PC version would have a much wider playing audience than the ps2 version.
The Review Board is required to reflect contemporary community standards in its decisions. To assist in the consideration of the game the Convenor undertook a search of internet reviews of Grand Theft Auto III, prior to the Review Board’s meeting. In all, some 12 reviews were read and particular note taken of that by Jeff Gertsmann of gamespot.com - a popular gamers’ site - whose article was the basis for a number of other reviews. Some of the issues raised by the reviews were discussed by the Review Board when reaching its decision.
In his article Mr Gertsmann, who is an admirer of the game and describes it as one of "the most amazing PlayStation 2 games to be released this year", states "Before we go any further, there’s one thing everyone should know about Grand Theft Auto III before purchasing it. It is easily the most "mature" M-rated game [Convenor’s explanation: US Entertainment Software Ratings Board rating - sales prohibited to those under 17 years of age] on the market today. More often than not, its storyline revolves around rather violent acts of crime, and if you stray from the storyline and just go on a crime spree or your own, the game becomes an absolute bloodbath. On top of that, the game contains adult language and situations, including drugs, prostitution, and a heaping helping of sexual innuendo. If R-rated crime sagas such as Goodfellas or Heat are too much for you, then this isn’t the game for you. The game and its dialogue have (sic) been written specifically for an adult audience, and it definitely isn’t for kids."
On a site directly linked to Rockstar, the publisher of the game, www.ign.com the reviewer Doug Perry, who is a fan of the game and played it for 50 hours in one session, states in a section: "It’s rated M for mature, which means if you monitor the kind of content in games that your kids play (if you’re a parent - Mr Perry’s comment), you definitely want to check this out before buying it. But the point is that this is a video game, it is a form of entertainment. Like movies or comic books, or TV. It’s aimed at a mature audience and it’s got mature themes".
The Review Board considered the possibility of a gamer choosing only the most violent action or only the action which targeted women, or of choosing to target people of a specific race. It is possible in this game to pursue all of these courses of action until, as Mr Gertsmann describes, the game becomes an "absolute bloodbath". However, the Review Board is required to consider what is likely to be the action of most people using the game. The Review Board believed that most gamers would want to pursue the missions as set and achieve success by this means and not concentrate on the purely violent aspects of the game. Indeed, the gamers’ sites refer to people using it purely as a driving game and pursuing "perfectly insane stunt bonus points" - to the exclusion of all else.
The Review Board also considered whether the "revenge" on women or women who looked like the girlfriend (ie sex workers) was a specific aim of the game. Whilst this is possible and is rewarded by money and increasing health if sex workers are targeted (the only group which gives this benefit) , the Review Board considered that gamers would not necessarily pursue this action. However, given the easily available advice on how to improve health by beating sex workers it is possible that this would be a common action by gamers.
The Review Board considered whether the game should be refused classification on the ground of "sexualised violence" as outlined by the Classification Board. The representatives of the applicant devoted much of their time and expertise to definitions of sexual violence, the non-appearance of the use of the term "sexualised violence" in the computer games classification guidelines, and to what Ms Baird described in the written summary of her submission as "the fatal bashing of the prostitute".
The Review Board viewed the assault on the sex worker as a violent scene the impact of which was greater because of its juxtaposition to the sexual imagery portrayed earlier.
In response to the applicant’s submission that the term "sexualised violence" was not used in the computer game classification guidelines and should therefore be disregarded, the Review Board sought legal advice from Marcus Bezzi, a Senior Government Solicitor with the Australian Government Solicitor (Sydney Office).
It was Mr Bezzi’s view that it would be desirable for the Review Board to be consistent in its deliberations and if the Review Board found the a glossary of terms such as those listed in the film and videotape guidelines useful then such consistency could be achieved. The Review Board found such advice to be of assistance.
The applicant in its submission stated Grand Theft Auto III was a game involving violence. On the game cover it had incorrectly applied a sticker which reads MA15+ High level animated violence. Whether Grand Theft Auto III is a violent game was not disputed by the applicant as was re-iterated by Ms Baird in her oral submission.
The game is one which is violent throughout and which depicts some detail of criminal behaviour. The animation and graphics are realistic. The game retains some almost "cartoon-like" characteristics, although it is possible to become very involved in the game play to the extent that some might consider it harmful.
The game has more than high-level animated violence. The impact of the violence goes beyond that which most people would consider reasonable, particularly if some of the cheats and guides are used to increase the gore levels, even for this type of game. The description by Mr Perry, although not seen by the Review Board, of a person splitting in half and transforming into a puddle of blood goes beyond high-level violence and could be described as excessive and serious violence.
The fact that sex workers as targets provide multiple benefits is a most unfortunate piece of coding on behalf of the game’s creators. Sex workers are the only group which provide these multiple benefits. They are not part of the "mission" of the game but, in a sense, are innocent by-standers.
The Review Board watched one and a half hours of game play in total. Whilst this was time consuming, and had some negative impact on most of those viewing the game, such that Ms Baird asked at the end of the viewing "Can we please have a break?" and two of the applicant’s representatives left the room during the screening, it was considered that such viewing would not be an unrealistic period for an average gamer to be sitting at the console playing the game, and should represent a reasonable experience of a skilled player.
The Review Board then turned its attention to the National Classification Code, in particular the section Computer Games 1(d) which states a computer game is to be classified RC (refused classification) if it is unsuitable for a minor to see or play.
Section 11 of the Act requires the Review Board to also consider in part (a) "the standards of morality, decency, and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults."
In considering all the evidence before it, it was the decision of the Review Board that Grand Theft Auto III contained material which, on a cumulative basis and given the high degree of flexibility and control by the gamer who could increase the already serious levels of violence, was unsuitable for a minor to see or play. The description of Mr Gertsmann as the game having been "written specifically for an adult audience and it definitely isn’t for kids" was one held by all members of the Review Board who participated in the review.
In the absence of an R rating for computer games, as is available to the Review Board for films and videotapes, the Review Board classified the game RC. The Review Board was unable, in this instance, to uphold the other part of its duties in the classification of computer games, that being that adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want. The availability of an R rating would have seen this game released for adult consumption.
There is anecdotal evidence that Grand Theft Auto III is already being pirated by some of those who obtained copies during the period the game was on retail shelves and have access to CD burners, and that the refusal of classification of the game has led to what is reported to be a flourishing black market. On one gamer site a player posted a notice on Thursday 13 December (two days after the Review Board’s meeting) "now that its (Grand Theft Auto III) been banned in oz, could I play the euro version on an aussie ps2 (PlayStation 2 console)".
In "Computer Games and Australians Today" a report commissioned by the Office of Film and Literature Classification in 1999, the authors state: "Games that contain themes or other content which may warrant restriction to adults only are not currently permitted, even though comparable content in other media is permitted. It appears anomalous, and without scientific basis, to treat one medium as different from others in this respect."
Perhaps the Ministers responsible would give consideration to an R rating for computer games, as is available in films and videotapes, so that adults may see and hear and play what they want - legally.
The Review Board’s decision is to classify the computer game Refused Classification (RC) on the ground that it is unsuitable for minors to see or play.
This decision is taken after full consideration of the applicant’s submission, and after assessing the computer game as a whole, based on the excerpts as supplied and demonstrated by the applicant, against the relevant legislative criteria, including those contained in the Code, and in the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games determined under section 12 of the Act.
In December 2001, the Director of the OFLC issued a media release to inform retailers that they needed to remove GRAND THEFT AUTO from their shelves.
GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 REMAINS OFF THE SHELVES
Following a review of the "Refused Classification" decision for the computer game Grand Theft Auto 3 the game remains illegal to sell.
The "Refused Classification" status of Grand Theft Auto 3 leaves retailers liable for prosecution under relevant State and Territory legislation. It is an offence to sell or demonstrate the game in Australia.
The Director of the OFLC, Des Clark said, "I have been assured by the distributor all stock will be recalled and retailers had previously been asked to remove stock from their shelves. Community Liaison Officers have also been visiting retailers to let them know of the substantial penalties involved in selling refused classification stock."
The classification for this game highlights the importance of seeking a classification for computer games prior to their distribution. It is an offence for games to be sold without a classification and it is an offence to sell games with incorrect markings suggesting a classification has been made by the Classification Board.
People can check the classification of games and films and videos by visiting the database section of the OFLC website www.oflc.gov.au. It is important that people and particularly parents are aware of the content of the games their children play.
If you have already purchased a game you will need to contact your retailer about return procedures.
With GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 now banned, Take 2 Interactive had no choice but to do a re-call.
GTA 3 officially banned in Australia
zdnet.com.au, December 13, 2001
The OFLC's spokesperson, Tricia Flanagan would not be drawn today on the subject of enforcement. She once again re-iterated the OFLC's advisory role, explaining that: "Censorship is the responsibility of all nine governments. Enforcement provisions for the classification scheme are contained in State and Territory legislation. There are some variations (between states)."
Considering the title's high popularity and critical acclaim, original copies of the Australian-region-encoded game may now become collector's items for videogame aficionados. Particularly as Take 2 Interactive is considering releasing a toned down version of the game to comply with local censorship guidelines.
ZDNet Australia spoke to Take 2 Interactive Australia spokesperson Leanne Pine on the subject of re-releasing the game: "It is something we are looking at it, we don't know if it is going to be possible, but that's something we would look forward to. We have to wait for the full report from the OFLC, to be able to know what element of the game resulted in the RC rating. To be able to then cut that part out." she said.
However, such activities hold a substantial cost for the game publisher and distributor, which may impact the likelihood of re-release.
Ms Pine elaborated: "We would have to look at the timelines and the cost for it, as it's (the banning of a game title) never happened to us before."
In January 2002, a modified version of GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 was passed with an MA15+ (High Level Animated Violence) rating. To achieve this, Take 2 Interactive Software had removed the scene with the prostitutes.
Computer Game Classification
NSW Legislative Council
Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile
14 March 2002
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [5.02 p.m.]: I refer tonight to computer game classifications. Apparently the Joint Standing Committee of Attorneys-General—of which the New South Wales Attorney General is a member—is reviewing the computer game classification process and in doing so it is proposed to combine the film and computer game classification systems. Up until now there has been no R-rated classification for computer games, but that will no longer be the case if the film and computer game classification systems are combined. Honourable members do not need me to spell out those classifications for them. At present we might be able to prevent our children from watching R-rated films—only people over the age of 18 are admitted to theatres that are screening such films—but we are not able to prevent them from playing R-rated computer games.
The term "R-rated" has no real meaning for many people in society but it means something to those who sell such games. Shopkeepers are aware that they cannot sell R-rated games to children. Potential purchasers of such material may be asked for some form of identification—a drivers licence—to establish whether they are over the age of 18. However, once a computer game leaves the shop anyone can have access to it. Children might have access to and might be able to play a game that has been bought by their parents or by an older brother or sister. Children of primary school age are probably more adept than many honourable members in this Chamber at playing these computer games. I have watched my grandchildren playing computer games and I am amazed at how adept they are. I am certainly aware of the age difference between me and my grandchildren when they try to show me how to play computer games.
Children are easily able to play any R-rated computer game. Honourable members might want to know what constitutes an R-rated computer game. A game that was recently banned in Australia was a Playstation 2 game entitled Grand Theft Auto 3—a seemingly innocent title. That game was initially classified in Australia as an MA15+ game. The Office of Film and Literature Classification then advised distributors that the MA15+ classification was not suitable and that the game had to be withdrawn. Under the proposed system that game could be reclassified as an R-rated computer game. The distributors of that computer game might edit it in an attempt to change its classification to MA15+. However, at this stage it is more likely to be given an R-rated classification.
There were several reasons why the Office of Film and Literature Classification objected to the MA15+ classification. Grand Theft Auto 3 is a virtual reality game. Players not only watch the game; they are able to participate in it and they are able to decide the outcome. The player can be cast as a gangster who car-jacks or steals vehicles. The game contains a scene in which the player can hire a prostitute. The player can then choose to bash and kill the prostitute for money after having sex with her. The content of that computer game is certainly beyond the pale. Joanna Weiss, a staff member of the Globe in the United States of America, where there has been quite a reaction to this Grand Theft Auto 3 computer game, has written quite an interesting article on the matter. She wrote that Grand Theft Auto 3 was "one of the hottest video games in the country". It is probably one of the hottest video games in Australia. She wrote also:
In the United States its popularity has soared. More than 635,000 copies were sold in October and November alone...
In only two months, it became Blockbuster's top game rental for 2001.
As I said earlier, it is a virtual reality game and players are made to feel that they are actually in the game. It is ultimate escapism. Players can become murderers—any person that they choose to become. They have total freedom in this so-called Liberty City. They can go wherever they want to go and they can be as good or bad as they choose to be. They can hit people and kill people. I hope that that computer game will not be released in Australia. [Time expired.]
Games Turn Deadly Serious
The West Australian, May 24, 2004
The Director of the OFLC was quoted as saying:
"(The player) pays a prostitute to get in a car, they bonk, they get out and he bashes her to death with a baseball bat and gets the money back," OFLC director Des Clark said.
"Conceptually that's an extremely high level of violence - and that was RC (refused classification)."
Mr Clark said the impact of violence and sexual activity was higher if you were rewarded with status and money for your actions.
He said the OFLC was concerned about the increase in graphical detail - including "blood spurts" and sleazy environments - but any game that went too far would be refused classification.
We have heard of two cases of customs confiscating the game.
In November 2001, a newsgroup post claimed that customs had confiscated a package containing six copies of GTA 3. This would have been considered a commercial quantity.
Jason sent in this second report.
In November 2009 a guy posted that he knew someone who lost a copy of GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 to customs.
This game has never had problems with the Australian censors. It is included because the distributor censored it prior to submission to the Classification Board.
In November 2002, GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY was passed with an MA15+ (Medium Level Animated Violence) rating.
Take 2 Interactive Software had modified the game to remove a reported seven seconds of footage involving sex with prostitutes. A similar scene had caused the company major problems when it was included in GRAND THEFT AUTO 3.
In their 2002 to 2003 Annual Report, the OFLC documented the complaints they had received regarding the censorship.
...48 complaints from persons objecting to the distributor’s modification of the computer game Grand Theft Auto Vice City to achieve a lower classification for sale in Australia. The Board classified this game MA15+.
In July 2010, GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY was resubmitted by Rockstar and passed with an MA15+ (Strong violence) rating. Can anyone confirm if this was the complete version?
In October 2004, GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS was passed with an MA15+ (Medium Level Animated Violence, Medium Level Coarse Language) rating.
Both GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 and GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY had censorship problems, so there was intense speculation amongst gamers as to whether this was the complete version.
Mick managed to put the censorship rumours to bed by requesting the Classification Board's report. He writes:
When the game came out I ordered it from New Zealand, and also bought a copy from EB games here in Australia. I then wrote to the OFLC and requested a copy of their classification report for the game. It states:
"In the majority of the Board's view, this computer game warrants a consumer advice for coarse language. This game contains 'fuck' language, including the phrase 'mother fucker'. It is mainly used in naturalistic fashion. Aggressive or very strong coarse language is infrequent.
The Board notes that the player is able to pick up a prostitute and although the player's character and the hooker are seated next to each other, the car will rock back and forth in a suggestion of sexual activity. As the rocking continues the player's health will increase and the balance of the player's funds will decrease. After a short time the rocking stops and the hooker gets out of the car. The player is able to chase the hooker on foot or in the vehicle, and can strike the hooker, in much the same way the player can strike any other pedestrian character.
The ability to pick up a hooker in the game relies on a complex combination of attributes such as respect, what type of vehicle, clothing. hairstyle, tattoos, physique, wanted level, what neighbourhood the player is in and at what time, what the weather conditions are like and more. If these conditions are not met then the hookers will behave like any other pedestrian and not get in the car.
In this context, this element of the game can be accommodated within the MA15+ classification."
So why did the OFLC allow this gameplay, where it had previously caused GTA 3 to be banned, and GTA: VICE CITY to be pre-cut? I believe that this time the prostitute element was more in context. In the other games, variables such as the weather didn't make any difference.
Also the OFLC report states that they deemed the action only "implied sexual activity" and didn't contain actual simulated sex. Having played the game I can confirm that the Australian Version is 100% UNCUT & UNCENSORED!
On June 9 2005, a game mod known by the name 'Hot Coffee' became available for download. It unlocked sex mini-games hidden in the code of GRAND THEFT AUTO SAN ANDREAS.
In the U.S., it did not take long for this to come to the notice of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). They had previously awarded GTA: SAN ANDREAS an Mature 17+ (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs) rating.
Politician wants San Andreas rated Adults Only
au.gamespot.com, July 7, 2005
The game's publisher, Rockstar Games, has yet to even acknowledge the existence of the X-rated minigames, saying only that it has "no comment at this point."
ESRB investigating San Andreas sex minigames
au.gamespot.com, July 8, 2005
Patricia Vance from the ESRB said that they had:
...opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the 'Hot Coffee' modification.
The integrity of the ESRB rating system is founded on the trust of consumers who increasingly depend on it to provide complete and accurate information about what's in a game. If after a thorough and objective investigation of all the relevant facts surrounding this modification, we determine a violation of our rules has occurred, we will take appropriate action,
Rockstar Games also made a statement on the 'Hot Coffee' mod.
We can confirm the ESRB is conducting an investigation and that we will be complying fully with their enquiries,
We thoroughly support the work of the ESRB, and believe that it has an exemplary record of rating games and promoting understanding of video game content. We also feel confident that the investigation will uphold the original rating of the game, as the work of the mod community is beyond the scope of either publishers or the ESRB.
News of the mod soon reached Australian shores, and by Monday July 11 the OFLC had launched their own investigation.
Claims of hidden content in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Office of Film and Literature Classification
11 July 2005
At the request of the Australian Attorney-General, the Hon Philip Ruddock MP, the Office of Film and Literature Classification is investigating claims that the computer game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas contains a hidden section featuring sexual content, which can be unlocked using a “mod” downloaded from the internet.
The investigation is in response to United States media reports where the controversy has prompted an investigation by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), which determines the ratings on all video games sold in that country. The US distributor of the game, Rockstar Games, issued a statement last Friday, confirming the investigation.
The OFLC is endeavouring to establish whether any such content is contained in the version of the game that has been classified in Australia.
The Australian distributor of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is cooperating with the OFLC in this regard.
When a distributor applies for classification of a computer game in Australia, they are required by law to provide the Classification Board with access to all content within the game as well as particulars of contentious material and the means to gain access to such material.
Under Commonwealth Classification legislation the Classification Board is compelled to revoke a game’s classification if it is found to contain undisclosed contentious material, whether activated through use of a code or otherwise.
“Developments such as this are indicative of the increasingly complex technological world of entertainment in which we live”, said Director of the OFLC, Mr Des Clark. “Our investigations show the National Classification Scheme at work and the Classification Board will take action, if required, when all the facts are established.”
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was classified MA15+ with the consumer advice, “Medium level animated violence, medium level coarse language” on 1 October 2004.
The Classification Board is an independent statutory body responsible for the classification of films, videos, computer games and some publications. The Board has representatives drawn from communities across Australia and includes members with children.
Classification office probing video game sexual content
smh.com.au, July 11, 2005
The mod's author - Patrick Wildenborg, 36, of Deventer, Netherlands - said his code merely unlocked content that was already included in the code of each off-the-shelf game.
"If Rockstar Games denies that, then they're lying and I will be able to prove that," Mr Wildenborg wrote in an email. "My mod does not introduce anything to the game. All the content that is shown was already present on the DVD."
The author of the mod Patrick Wildenborg also released the following statement on his site.
Statement on the Hot Coffee mod
After reading various discussion about this mod around the internet, I would like to make the following statement:
All the contents of this mod was already available on the original disks. Therefor the scriptcode, the models, the animations and the dialogs by the original voice-actors were all created by RockStar. The only thing I had to do to enable the mini-games was toggling a single bit in the main.scm file. (Of course it was not easy to find the correct bit). The Nude models that are used as a bonus in the Quick action version of the mod, were also already present on the original disk.
But all this material is completely inaccesible in an unmodded version of the game. It can therefor not be considered a cheat, easter-egg or hidden feature. But is most probably just leftover material from a gameplay idea that didn't make the final release. I would really like to stress that this material is only accessible after willfully applying the hot coffee mod (or something similar) to the game.
Classification of Grand Theft Auto under review
abc.com.au, July 21, 2005
Australia's Office of Film and Literature Classification's has also been looking at the game's classification, because of that content. Paul Hunt is the office's Deputy Director.
PAUL HUNT: We've actually come to the conclusion at the same time. So we've just today determined, through advice from the game's distributor and also our own investigation, that the content is included in the game as retail but not accessible unless you break the user agreement and modify the game to get at it.
IAN TOWNSEND: So what will that mean, are you going to upgrade its classification?
PAUL HUNT: Well that means that the board… there's a provision in our legislation again. Our scheme unlike the Americans is a legislation and a regulated scheme, so there's certain procedures under law which need to be taken.
And one of the procedures is that where the applicant hasn't disclosed what's called "contentious material" to the board when they're making their decision, and it becomes apparent that there was material that should have been disclosed, as in this case, then the applicant needs to demonstrate that material to the board so the board can make a fresh decision.
IAN TOWNSEND: So the classification remains the same?
PAUL HUNT: It remains the same until the board's had another look and made a decision.
Now I don't want to pre-empt the board's decision. They may look at it and say, “It's the same”, or they may look at it and say, “Oh hang, this changes it”.
IAN TOWNSEND: If it does change it, the classification is at its highest rating in Australia. What would that mean if they said that this is too much?
PAUL HUNT: Well look we're talking hypothetically of course, but if they do make a different decision then the only place to go from MA15+ is to refuse classification. So it's essentially banned.
Computer game faces ban for sex scenes
smh.com.au, July 22, 2005
The Office of Film and Literature Classification yesterday confirmed the sexual content was present on the Australian retail version of the game.
"We've just concluded our preliminary investigation and our conclusion is that the contentious content is on the retail discs," deputy director Paul Hunt said.
The Australian distributor of the game, Take-Two Interactive Software Australia, told officials it was unaware of the content.
"They didn't know the content was on there," Mr Hunt said. "They were quite firm about that."
Publishers must disclose all "contentious material" when presenting a computer game, movie or publication for classification.
The company will have to present all the newly discovered material to the classification office.
Hidden-sex game off some shelves
smh.com.au, July 23, 2005
Coles Myer - including Myer, Target and Kmart - and David Jones said they would stop selling the game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Other retailers have said they will continue selling the game.
"We will pull it if we receive the appropriate advice from the OFLC," said Harvey Norman's Rutland Smith.
Big W and Dick Smith will also continue to stock the game.
"We're going to be abiding by the guidelines of the OFLC," said Natalie Faber-Castell, a spokeswoman for the stores.
The threat of a ban may fuel sales of the game in the short term. "This week has seen a 50 per cent increase in sales over the week before," said Games Warehouse's manager Tiffany McAdam, who will continue to sell the game. She said it was "generally young adult males" who bought the game.
The OFLC swiftly revoked the MA15+ rating of GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS following conformation that the 'Hot Coffee' mod was present in the Australian version.
Classification of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas revoked
Office of Film and Literature Classification
29 July 2005
The Classification Board has revoked the classification of the computer game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
The game is now unclassified in Australia.
The Classification Board made this decision on the basis that it contains contentious material (activated through a code or otherwise) that was not brought to the Board’s attention when it was classified.
“Contentious material” is defined in the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to mean “… material that would be likely to cause it to be classified … for a computer game – M or a higher classification”.
The Board found that the content unlocked by a third party “Hot coffee” modification contained material that could not be accommodated at the MA15+ classification .
Under section 21A of the Act, the Classification Board must revoke a classification if it is “of the opinion that:
(a) …a classified computer game contains contentious material (whether activated through use of a code or otherwise) that was not brought to the Board’s attention … before the classification was made; and
(b) if the Board had been aware of the material before the classification was made, it would have given the film or game a different classification.” Revocation of a classification means the computer game cannot be legally sold, hired, advertised or exhibited in Australia from the date the decision is made (29 July 2005).
“Businesses that sell or hire computer games should remove existing stocks of this game from their shelves immediately,” said Director of the OFLC, Mr Des Clark.
“Parents are strongly advised to exercise caution in allowing children continued access to the game, particularly if they might have access to the ‘Hot Coffee’ modification.”
The Classification Board originally classified Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas MA15+ with consumer advice “Medium level animated violence, Medium level coarse language” on 1 October 2004.
The Classification Board is an independent statutory body responsible for the classification of films, computer games and some publications. The Board has representatives drawn from communities across Australia.
Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. Announces that Australian
Rating Board Revokes Classification for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc
New York, NY – July 29, 2005
Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. (NASDAQ: TTWO) said today that Australia's Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), the Australian entity responsible for rating films and video games, has revoked the classification of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. As a result of this decision, the game is now unclassified in Australia, and cannot be sold, advertised or distributed in that country.
The Company stated that the OFLC decision had been expected and the financial impact will not alter the Company's recently announced guidance.
In announcing its decision, the OFLC stated that, "the content unlocked by a third party 'hot coffee' modification contained material that could not be accommodated at the (prior) MA15+ classification."
Take-Two added that the European ratings will not be affected by this decision or the recent ESRB re-rating in the U.S. The Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) has stated of the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) rating, "The application of the so-called 'hot coffee mod' to the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas does not change the 18+ rating this title has been granted by the PEGI administrator."
Red light for auto erotica
smh.com.au, August 1, 2005
The sexually-explicit content can only be unlocked by downloading and installing an unauthorised program called "Hot Coffee".
The banned segments feature interactive sex scenes between CJ and one of his six girlfriends in the game.
In each of the scenes, which vary between the girlfriends, CJ is invited into the house after the couple have gone on a date.
In one version there is a short animated scene where CJ receives oral sex from his naked girlfriend.
The next segment is interactive. CJ starts off in the missionary position with his still-naked girlfriend. The player can control the "rhythm" and position of the sex. The better the "rhythm", the more the excitement meter of CJ's girlfriend rises.
If the player fails to get the right "rhythm", the game announces that "failure to satisfy a woman is a crime" and CJ is promptly booted out onto the street. If the player gets it right, the girlfriend proposes matrimony.
For its part, the classification office says it is merely reflecting community standards.
"It's about community standards and community attitudes," says the office's deputy director, Paul Hunt. "The community is concerned about drug use and sex being related to incentives and rewards. Our role is to reflect community standards, not create them."
In September 2005, a modified version of GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS was passed with an MA15+ (Strong Violence, Strong Coarse Language) rating. This removed the 'Hot Coffee' mod from the game.
The MA15+ rating was the same as what was initially awarded in October 2004. However, the consumer advice had been changed from 'Medium Level Animated Violence, Medium Level Coarse Language', to 'Strong Violence, Strong Coarse Language'. This was a result of the OFLC introducing new consumer warning labels between the two submissions.
During debate in the South Australian Legislative Council, Family First's Dennis Hood expressed his dislike of driving games such as the GRAND THEFT AUTO series.
South Australian Parliament
Thursday 11 May 2006
The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD: I express a concern about video games, such as Driver 2 and Grand Theft Auto, which are played by many young people today. Those games portray exactly the behaviour the government is legislating against. The latter game, for instance, permits the driver to drive on the footpath, run over pedestrians and crash into other vehicles. Indeed, I am told that the strategy of the game is to get out of the vehicle before it explodes, which highlights exactly this sort of behaviour. I believe there would be great merit in conducting a study to identify any linkage between this particular offending and the playing of such video games. Examples exist in the United States of offenders telling police (or otherwise admitting) that such computer games influenced their behaviour in this regard
In their 2005 to 2006 Annual Report, the OFLC documented the GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS controversy, and the complaints they had received.
Classification Board & Classification Review Board
ANNUAL REPORT 2005–2006
The Classification Board revoked the classification of the computer game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas because it contained contentious material activated by a ‘hot coffee’ modification11 that was not disclosed during the classification process. This is the first time the Classification Board exercised its power under section 21A to revoke the classification of a film or computer game found to contain contentious material not previously disclosed. A version of the game with the undisclosed material removed was subsequently classified MA 15+.
Computer games – complaints
The OFLC received 261 complaints about computer games. Of the total, 60 complaints were about the absence of an R 18+ classification for computer games. Another 86 complaints related to the revocation decision for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas due to the inclusion of ‘hidden’ sexual content that was not disclosed at the time of its original MA 15+ classification. As a result of this decision the game became unclassified (a modified version was later submitted by the distributor and classified MA 15+ by the Classification Board).
There is some overlap between the figures quoted above as some people raised several of these issues in the one item of correspondence.
In terms of classification decisions, the revocation of the classification for the computer game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas elicited the greatest response with 86 complaints received.
This game has never had problems with the Australian censors. It is included because the distributor censored it prior to submission to the Classification Board.
In December 2007, GRAND THEFT AUTO IV was passed with an MA15+ (Strong violence, Strong coarse language, Drug and sexual references) rating. Take 2 Interactive Software was the applicant.
Thanks to Mick for the full GRAND THEFT AUTO IV report.
Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games ) Act 1995
DETAILS OF THE COMPUTER GAME:
FILE No T07/6147
Processing Date: 06/12/07
Title: GRAND THEFT AUTO IV
Format: Multi Platform
Publisher: ROCKSTAR GAMES
Programmer: ROCKSTAR NORTH
Production Co: ROCKSTAR GAMES
Country Of Origin: UK
Application Type: Camp Game Demonstrated
Applicant: TAKE 2 INTERACTIVE SOFTWARE
The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the National Classification Code and the Classification Guidelines approved by the standing Committee of Attorneys-General, are followed when classifying films.
Item Viewed: YES
Viewing Date: 06/12107
Written submissions: NO
Oral submissions: NO
In classifying this item regard was had to the following:
(i) The Application YES
(ii) A written synopsis of the item YES
(iii) The item YES
(iv) Other NO
(1) Classification: MA 15+
(2) Consumer Advice: Strong violence Strong coarse language Drug and sexual references
(4) Ratified By: (Senior Classifier)
Grand Theft Auto IV is a third person action/shooter game where the player takes on the role of Niko Bellic, an immigrant who has found his way to Liberty City. Meeting up with his cousin Roman, Niko must undertake various missions in order to survive and protect his friends, his cousin and himself.
REASONS FOR THE DECISION:
When making decisions the Classification Board (the Board) follows the procedures set out in the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Act). The Board also applies the National Classification Code and the Classification Guidelines, while takng into account the matters set out in section 11 of the Act.
In the Board's view this computer game warrants an MA 15+ classification as, in accordance with Item 2 of the Computer Games Table of the National Classification Code, it is unsuitable for viewing or playing by persons under 15.
Pursuant to the Guidelines for thee Classification of Films and Computer Games, this computer game is classified MA 15+ as the impact of the classifiable elements is strong. Material classified MA 15+ is considered unsuitable for persons under 15 years of age. It is a legally restricted category.
The classifiable elements are violence and language which are strong in playing impact.
Violence is relatively frequent and strong in playing impact.
During the game, the player (as lead character Niko Bellic) is required to undertake various missions, mostly involving criminal activity, in order to develop contacts, make money and protect his cousin Roman. These include pick-ups and drop-offs, killing/protecting various people, stealing, racing, chasing, eating, drinking, going out and dating. A number of tasks involve drugs (for example retrieving a stash of cocaine for a dealer) and violence (for example, rescuing Roman from a kidnapper).
Violence includes hand to hand combat (basic punching and kicking) and more regularly involves use of various weapons. These include knives, baseball bats, a nightstick, pistols, machine guns, shot guns, rifles, grenades and rocket launchers. The player is able to use these weapons to inflict injury on other participants which results in frequent blood spray. Blood spray occurs as victims are attacked and is also depicted on objects such as floors and walls. Blood pooling occurs under bodies that are shot at after death however no post mortem damage (such as decapitation or dismemberment) is possible. There is also infrequent blood spatter on the camera lens as the player manoeuvres their way through missions involving killing.
A less frequent example of violence includes the ability of the player to set an enemy alight causing them to burn. The victim is shown flailing and on fire before they fall to the ground. Bodies remain as long as the player lingers in a particular scene, however after this, they disappear.
As the violence is relatively frequent, causing blood spray und injury detail, the impact is strong.
Coarse language is frequent.
Aggressive and/or strong coarse language is infrequent. During the game play the characters are heard to use "fuck" language, primarily in a naturalistic tone but occasionally in an aggressive manner. This, coupled with the infrequent use of the word "cunt" (as well as some visual use - written on a strip club wall) creates an impact which is strong.
OTHER MATTERS CONSIDERED
In the majority view of the Board, the game contains drug and sexual references, which although moderate in impact, warrant flagging at the MA 15+ classification.
These include a cut scene (with no player interaction) where a drug dealer is depicted implicitly, then explicitly, snorting lines of white powder (implied to be cocaine) from a table and the involvement of Niko in various missions dealing with drugs.
Further, there are sexual references which require flagging at the MA 15+ classification. These include a cut scene at the beginning of the game depicting a woman in lingerie whipping a man in his underwear, tied to a bed and the general ability of the player to go on 'dates' and have sex with a 'girlfriend', to pick up a prostitute and have sex with her and the ability to attend a strip club and pay for a lap dance.
While these elements present themselves randomly during the game, they mostly involve only audio cues rather than visuals (with the exception of the strip club) and sexual activity is discreetly implied. During the 'dates', the player is depicted walking into a house with his 'girlfriend' at which point the camera view will switch to a window. Audio cues denote moaning and groaning however no visuals of sexual activity are shown. When picking up a prostitute, the player is depicted in a car where he parks and honks the horn. The woman enters the car and the camera angle switches to a view of the number plate. While the car is visibly moving up and down, only audio cues are heard.
When the player chooses to attend the strip club, a woman in lingerie (no nudity is visible) approaches the player and asks if he would like a lap dance. If the player accepts, he is shown in a private room sitting on a couch as a woman dances in front of him. When the dance is over, the man leaves.
No actual sexual activity or nudity is depicted.
In a minority view of the Board, the impact of several scenarios within the game exceed strong in impact. These include a cut scene at the beginning of the game depicting a woman in lingerie whipping a man in underwear, tied to a bed; and later in the game, a cut scene depicting a drug dealer implicitly, then explicitly, snorting lines of white powder (implied to be cocaine) from a table. The latter scene then depicts the dealer shooting two men in the head causing blood spray. In the minority view, the impact of the cut scenes described above coupled with the ability during game play to kill innocent bystanders, pick up prostitutes and carry out missions involving drugs, exceeds strong.
In the minority view, the game is high in impact and warrants a refused classification.
In a majority view of the Board, the film contains violence and coarse language which is strong in playing impact. The game therefore warrants an MA 15+ classification for strong violence and strong coarse language with additional consumer advice of drug and sexual references.
Gamers were suspicious about the completeness of the MA15+ version of GRAND THEFT AUTO IV, and February 2008 Rockstar attempted to address those concerns.
Aussie version of GTA IV completely uncensored
palgn.com.au, February 4, 2008
A Rockstar spokesperson provided the following response to the question of whether GTA IV has been censored "No GTA has been censored since Vice City. (Grand Theft Auto) IV has been rated in its entirety, the rating is on the OFLC website"
Two months later, Jason Hill's Screenplay blog published a quote form Rockstar that contradicted their previous statement.
GTA IV edited for Australia
theage.com.au/digital-life/games/blog/screenplay, April 4, 2008
Rockstar has produced an edited version of Grand Theft Auto IV for Australia in order to obtain an MA15+ rating.
A Rockstar spokesperson confirmed to Screen Play yesterday that the company had produced a special version of GTA IV to comply with the Australian classification system, which does not currently contain an R18+ rating, but declined to reveal what material had been cut.
The following week Rockstar confirmed that GRAND THEFT AUTO IV had been toned down for the Australian market.
Grand Theft Auto IV
April 10th 2008
The Australian version of Grand Theft Auto IV was rated by the OFLC in December 2007 as MA15+.
Unlike the US and Europe, Australia still lacks an R18+ rating for video games and as a result many games are edited for release in Australia, including most previous Grand Theft Auto releases.
While there are some minor differences between the Australian and US/EU versions, they are not significant and we do not believe they take away from the level of scope and detail that make GTA IV such an incredible experience.
We would not release the game in Australia if we believed these differences compromised the quality of the game in any way.
We strongly support the OLFC and will continue to work within their guidelines; however we believe the government needs to bring games in line with other media by introducing an R18+ rating, or edits to games will continue to be necessary.
We encourage consumers to let their politicians know that they support an R18+ rating for games.
This was a case of hidden censorship that commonly occurs with hardcore X18+ DVDs. Like GRAND THEFT AUTO IV, many are pre-cut before submission, and the public are kept in the dark. The Classification Board's database lists these as 'Original Versions', because they have never previously been previously rated. Had GRAND THEFT AUTO IV not been such a high profile title then the censorship may have gone unnoticed.
Following the news that the Australian version of GRAND THEFT AUTO IV was censored, many gamers vowed to import the game from New Zealand. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that they too would be receiving the Australian version as this interview with New Zealand Chief Censor Bill Hastings shows.
GTA IV: Chief Censor talks to Gameplanet
gameplanet.co.nz, April 17, 2008
GP: Did Rockstar submit to you the Australian edited version of Grand Theft Auto IV to be rated in New Zealand, or did they submit to you the full, unedited version?
Mr Hastings: Rockstar submitted a game called Grand Theft Auto IV to us for classification. They did not tell us which version of the game they submitted, or even that there were other versions. All we know is that the version they submitted for classification was the version they intended to market in New Zealand. Because we only got one version for classification, we cannot compare it to any other version.
GP: If they submitted the edited Australian version, why was it rated R18 here instead of a rating more in line with Australia?
Mr Hastings: The game was classified R18 in New Zealand because the version we examined was sufficiently violent to warrant an R18 classification. We noted little, if any, difference between GTA IV and any of the other games in the series. Rockstar itself says in its press release that there are only “minor differences” that are “not significant” between the Australian and US/EU versions. This makes me think that if indeed there is a US/EU version and if it was to be submitted to us for classification, it too would likely attract an R18 classification.
You should also consider that Rockstar says it edited the game to comply with Australian law, not New Zealand law. In the past, US/EU versions of the Grand Theft Auto series have complied with New Zealand law without the editing required to comply with Australian law. This is because, unlike Australia, New Zealand has always had R16 and R18 classifications available for games.
I leave it to you to surmise what pressure there must be on the Australian MA15+ classification to absorb games that would otherwise have to be banned in Australia because they have no R classifications. I also leave it to you to ponder (because I have no answer) why Take-Two Interactive appears to have submitted the Australian version to us for classification instead of the usual US/EU version of the GTA games that have always passed muster here in the past.
GRAND THEFT AUTO IV was released on April 29, 2008.
Mick played the modified Australian version and uncut UK version and took some screen grabs to illustrate the differences.
Firstly, when picking up a hooker in the Australian version you’ll notice that you’re unable to select your sexual services (i.e. hand job, fellatio or standard intercourse) and the animations for these services have been completely removed. You’ll merely see the car bounce from a locked rear-view.
Although there are glitches one can perform to get a front view of the action the animations are still non-existent. Therefore as in previous GTA games you’re only able to see the hooker and Niko sitting side by side doing absolutely nothing. In the uncut version you’re able to select your services after driving a hooker to a secluded location by cycling through the three different services. For which ever you choose the hooker will begin performing the act on Niko and you’re able to rotate the camera to see the action.
Secondly, in the Australian version no blood pools appear beneath a dead person after shooting or stabbing them to death. Although there are blood splatters, there are no blood pools. In the uncut version blood will slowly ooze out from under a body and you’re able to create bloody footprints by walking through it...
...or bloody tyre-tracks by driving through it. In the censored version I was not able to get this to happen contrary to what others have reported. I can only conclude that I may have been experiencing a glitch or perhaps these elements maybe more difficult to initiate in the Australian release. However, I have put over 80 hours into the game since its release so it’s highly likely I would have encountered these elements by now in the Australian version. So for now bloody tyre tracks and footprints remain unconfirmed in the Australian version. Whether or not it differs between the Xbox360 & PS3 versions is also unconfirmed.
Finally, when Niko or other NPCs are injured in the uncut version light blood patches appear on their bodies which broadly represent bruises/bullet wounds. After having played through both versions of the game I can confirm that no other alterations have been made. Although the changes to the sex scenes come as no surprise one must wonder why Rockstar censored blood pools and body injuries. These elements are present in numerous other games which have been released totally uncut in Australia. It’s also worth noting that there is absolutely no dismemberment in any version of the game despite what some have reported. Rumours such as the alleged “anal insertion scene” were also never in the game.
Movie-Censorship also has a comparison between the censored MA15+ rated version, and the uncut version.
Grand Theft Auto 4 prompts call for adults-only game rating
news.com.au, May 6, 2008
A spokesperson for the board of Classification said GTA 4 was edited and modified by the makers before it was offered for a censorship rating in Australia.
"The board did not make any changes," the spokesperson said.
"There's always debate on whether there should be an R 18+ category and the way it's (GTA) has been linked is because the makers admitted they modified it for Australia."
In July 2008, South Australian Independent Ann Bressington spoke about GRAND THEFT AUTO IV during an anti- R18+ games speech.
Wednesday 22 July 2008
CLASSIFICATION (PUBLICATIONS, FILMS AND COMPUTER GAMES) (CLASSIFICATION PROCESS) AMENDMENT BILL
Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 3 July 2008. Page 2820.
The Hon. A. BRESSINGTON (17:15): In April this year, and with much fanfare, Grand Theft Auto IV, the latest instalment of Rockstar Games' popular console games was officially released world wide on the Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3. In Adelaide, and right across the world, games shops were packed with excited gamers, and many shops sold out within hours. In this game, players control the actions of Niko Bellic, a war veteran from Eastern Europe who comes to the US in search of the American dream.
However, Niko turns to crime to survive on the mean streets of Liberty City, a thinly-veiled copy of New York. They are able to make him steal vehicles, commit violent crimes and engage in high-speed chases with police, running over pedestrians and crashing into other vehicles in order to escape police. Despite condemnation from 'morals campaigners', Grand Theft Auto IV has been a major commercial success. It broke sales records by selling about 3.6 million units world wide on its first day of release and grossing more than $500 million worldwide in its first week. The game received overwhelmingly positive reviews, becoming the number one rated video game of all time on numerous websites shortly after it was released.
I would just like to make the point too that, based on years in drug rehab, we all know that methamphetamine users tweak, which means that they get caught in a particular cycle of action, and that tweak can last days. The feedback that I have received from drug users in rehab who play these games continuously for days and days is that they then become quite confused as to whether it really happened or whether it was a dream or whether they were actually playing a video game. They do express concerns that, over a period of time, they actually were quite tempted to act out what they were playing on these games.
Now, I know that maybe most average older teenage kids would be able to tell the difference, but we are talking about people who are already in an altered state anyway. If they are confessing that these games were so real to them and that they played them for days on end to the point where they could not tell the difference between reality and a video game, then that is anecdotal evidence that there is a serious problem that we need to consider.
The version of Grand Theft Auto IV that was released in Australia was slightly different to other versions as it was edited to remove content to allow the game to meet the requirements of the Australian classification system, which is stricter than in many other jurisdictions. The game had to be modified to meet Australia's classification standards because South Australia's Attorney-General thwarted attempts to create a national R-rating for video games.
The Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification gave Grand Theft Auto IV an MA 15+ rating. Despite the adjustments made (which many gamers attacked), Grand Theft Auto IV remains an extremely violent game, and I can actually back up that statement because my oldest son who is 28 now has a copy of this. I sat down and watched him play this game the first time that he put it on his Xbox about 18 months ago and I was absolutely horrified.
There are actually extra points for running over pedestrians, and the graphics on it are amazing. Although my son is older than 18, I took the liberty of taking the game and stepping on it because it was really quite disturbing to see that somebody could sit there and play this game for hours with the realistic graphics and the fact that purposely aiming for pedestrians and hitting them in a high-speed chase for more points was the aim of the game.
This includes hand-to-hand combat, the use of various weapons including knives, baseball bats, a night stick, pistols, machineguns, shotguns, rifles, grenades, and rocket launchers. Enthusiasts can buy cocaine, visit strip clubs, beat up prostitutes, shoot police, fire rocket launchers, create widespread carnage and set fire to enemies. The question is, then: how much more sex and gratuitous violence do these gamers need? I think that if this kind of game is classified as MA 15+, then our laws are certainly not too tight. On the contrary, one could say that they do not go far enough. We live in a dynamic society, critics say, and our laws should reflect changes in technology. If books, films, music and so on are classified under an 18+ classification, they say, why should video games be exempt? Because, as the act currently recognises, computer games are in a class of their own. They are not passive but are highly interactive. Indeed, this is the view taken by ministers responsible for classification 10 years ago, and it has increased dramatically in that time.
As I said earlier, gaming has progressed to the level of virtually stabbing someone via the technology of the Wii, and that interactivity is likely to exacerbate the impact of extreme violence, sexual aggression and cruelty on game players. Above all, the point is that technology is progressing at such a rate that, although at present you can still tell it is a game, what is to say that in 18 months it may look and seem totally realistic. Already games such as Grand Theft Auto 4 are amazingly realistic, as I have said. What does the future hold? As these games become cheaper to produce and it is reasonably foreseeable that manufacturers will start to produce games for niche audiences rather than the broad market as it does at present, this could lead to games targeting those with particular sexual deviances or specific violent fantasies, for example.
In July 2008, Family First's Dennis Hood spoke against GRAND THEFT AUTO IV in the South Australian Legislative Council.
Tuesday 29 July 2008
The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD (17:10): As computer games become more realistic and immersive, then, no doubt, they would have an equal or even greater effect than indicated by these studies that dealt with television and movies—somewhat simple media of the past. A lot of people have told me in the past that Big Brother or sexualised music videos, for example, during children's TV times, The Gordon Ramsay Show, Grand Theft Auto IV etc., all cause no harm. Family First disagrees, and will continue to be vocal opponents of any inappropriate content that finds a way into the media, especially where viewed and undertaken by children.
I was one of the most vocal critics in this place against the Grand Theft Auto IV game when it was released earlier this year. The game includes blood and gore, drug-running, assassinations—this is a game, remember—and the ability to choose body parts of enemies that you want to shoot at or shoot off. One version of the game enabled the player to pick up a prostitute and then run her over after he had sex with her. As one reviewer of Grand Theft Auto IV put it:
"...in-game sex [is] offered up and drunk down like flavoured water"
Another reviewer said:
"If you grow tired of running around town executing fellow crooks, you can spend some much-needed R&R bashing cars into pedestrians."
The terrible shooting massacre at Virginia Tech in the US in which 32 people died involved a mentally ill student who, by his own admission, was obsessed with violent computer games like Counter-Strike. I think my concerns in this regard are well justified.
Thanks to Raven for this information regarding a customs confiscation of an uncut GTA IV.
I thought you may be interested in this post at forums. whirlpool.net.au on July 29th 2008. A guy from Perth says that he had a copy of GTA IV confiscated by customs. It was taken because:
"...the following goods were seized under subsection 203B (2) of the Customs Act 1901 by an authorised person being goods suspected on reasonable grounds to be special forfeited goods.
- Grand Theft Auto 4 (containing images that describe, depict, express or otherwise deal with matter of sex, crime, cruelty and violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults)
Items were forfeited pursuant to Sub Regulation 4(A) of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations the items are prohibited imports and are therefore forfeited under Section 229(1)(b) of the Customs Act 1901"
I have heard of is heaps of people receiving their uncut imported copies. I've read just about all the Aussie gamer forums and this is the first copy that I have heard of being taken by customs.
In their 2007 to 2008 Annual Report, the Classification Board mentioned the rating of GRAND THEFT AUTO IV.
Classification Board Annual Report 2007-08
In December 2007, the Board classified Grand Theft Auto IV MA 15+ with the consumer advice 'Strong violence, strong coarse language, drug and sexual references'. The Board can only classify a computer game in the form in which it is submitted. The Classification Act does not give the Board the power to direct a distributor to modify computer games.
Classification Board Annual Report 2007-08
The issue attracting the highest number of complaints to the Board related to the publishers of Grand Theft Auto IV reportedly modifying the game to ensure an MA 15+ classification in Australia. The complainants about Grand Theft Auto IV also requested the introduction of an R 18+ for computer games.
The Classification Board received 169 complaints in relation to the classification of computer games. 136 complaints were received in response to reports that the publisher of Grand Theft Auto IV modified the game for classification in Australia in order to gain an MA 15+ classification. These complaints also referred to the absence of an R 18+ classification for computer games.
The Classification Board also received 553 complaints that were specifically in regard to an R 18+ classification for computer games. 550 complaints were concerned about the absence of an R 18+ classification for computer games in Australia and called for its introduction. Three complaints did not support the introduction of this classification category for computer games.
In November 2008, the uncut PC version of GRAND THEFT AUTO IV was passed with an MA15+ (Strong violence, sex scenes, coarse language and drug references) rating. Rockstar Games was the applicant.
This compares with the MA15+ (Strong violence, Strong coarse language, Drug and sexual references) rating that the censored console version received in December 2007.
Grand Theft Auto IV for PC - Uncut version heading Down Under
games.on.net, December 2, 2008
We're not quite sure what happened in the twelve months since the initial submission, but it appears that somehow, Rockstar Games changed their mind and submitted an 'uncut' version of the game to the Australian censors - with the report going into some detail on the twenty, fifty and seventy dollar services that are available in the game. The camera is no longer stuck outside for these interactions, but even staying inside the car, you won't get to see too much excitement.
They quote the Classification Board's report as saying.
"This revised version of the game for the PC contains additional scenes related to the classifiable element of sex."
"The Board notes that the player can change the angles of the scenes and can zoom in. However, the player does not interact with the sexual activity other than choosing which service from a menu. The characters also remained fully clothed and no depictions of genitals are visible."
A simple, official statement from Rockstar Games reiterates that:
"Grand Theft Auto IV PC has been rated MA15+ Strong Violence, Sex Scenes, Coarse Language and Drug References by the Australian Classification Office. The PC game is unedited in any way and identical in content to the international version."
Annual Report 2008-2009
The Classification Board also classified the original version of the computer game Grand Theft Auto IV . The Classification Board noted that this version of the game contained more sexual content than the modified version, however this content could still be accommodated within the MA 15+ classification. The computer game was classified MA 15+ with the consumer advice 'Strong violence, sex scenes, coarse language and drug references'.
In January 2009, an expansion pack titled GRAND THEFT AUTO IV: THE LOST AND DAMNED was passed with an MA15+ (Strong violence, sex scenes, coarse language, nudity and drug references) rating. This consumer advice was the same as the uncut version of the game.
In October and November 2011, the Australian Law Reform Commission conducted a study to gauge community attitudes to 'high-level material'. It was carried out as part of their research for the Classification: Content Regulation and Convergent Media Final Report that was released in March 2012.The study, which includes an explanation of the methodology, and the final report, can be found at alrc.gov.au
One of the topics examined was sex in video games. A scene from the MA15+ (Strong violence, sex scenes, drug use and coarse language) rated GRAND THEFT AUTO: THE BALLAD OF GAY TONY (2009) was shown.
Community attitudes to higher level media content
Community and Reference Group Forums conducted for the Australian Law Reform Commission
Final Report: 7 December 2011
CG = Community Groups
RG = Reference Groups
18. Sexual Activity in a Computer Game
In this game, Grand Theft Auto: the Ballad of Gay Tony, the player is a bodyguard who protects a nightclub owner. The footage, depicting sexual activity, is a non-interactive part of the game, included to develop the plot. Participants were shown one minute of footage.
Each participant’s immediate personal response was indicated by raising one of three cards immediately after the viewing of the footage and then recording this response in the questionnaire. Based on the metaphor of the traffic light, a red card implies 'yes, this content is offensive to me', a yellow card implies 'I’m unsure whether the content is offensive or not to me’ and a green card implies 'no, the content is not offensive to me'.
Night club – body guard
5: Yes, offensive
16: No, not offensive
6: Yes, offensive
18: No, not offensive
Sexual Activity in a Computer Game– Detailed Analysis
Was the material offensive?
There was a wide spread of responses as to the offensiveness of the material, but with a trend amongst CG and RG respondents for it to be regarded as not offensive.
Some CG participants commented that they were not expecting to see sexual acts in the game.
Some RG participants felt the idea of 'powerful men versus women as sex objects and gratuitous sex’ was offensive.
Was the material impactful?
The material was generally regarded as not impactful.
Should the material be banned or restricted?
Most would not ban, but restrict the games to18+ with a few indicating a 15+ would be appropriate.
There was the concern about ‘what happens once a game leaves a shop – it can go anywhere – it’s an unrealistic boundary’.
Discussion by CG participants on this footage ranged widely on issues such as whether the woman had given her consent to the sexual activity, possible racial stereotyping, that the footage was "a non-event", and that it was badly animated. The view was expressed that there was possibly not enough concrete evidence regarding the impact of computer games on children to draw firm conclusions around what to do with material such as this.