Banned Games of 2004

Five games were banned in Australia in 2004.

SHELLSHOCK: NAM ’67 (2004) was Refused Classification in June. This was followed by LEISURE SUIT LARRY: MAGNA CUM LAUDE (2004) in September, MANHUNT (2003) and SINGLES: FLIRT UP YOUR LIFE (2004) in October and THE PUNISHER (2004) in November.


Shellshock: Nam ’67

Publisher Eidos / 2004 / MobyGames

In June 2004, SHELLSHOCK: NAM ’67 was banned by the OFLC because of nudity and drug use related to incentives or rewards.

A revised version was passed with an MA (Medium level animated violence, Adult themes, Sexual violence, Drug references) in August 2004.

Atari Australia was the applicant.

Shellshock: Nam '67 (2004) - Game Cover 1
PlayStation 2 Cover

MA version: Censored or not?

Simon G. reports.
I was intending on purchasing SHELLSHOCK: NAM ’67. However after learning that it had been banned, and then passed MA I became suspicious as to what version we had in Australia. Soon after it was Refused Classification, I called the customer service of Atari Australia who denied it had ever been banned. They said it was just delayed.

I thought nothing more of it until I learnt this month that a revised version had been passed in August. I called Atari again. For a second time they denied it had ever been banned, and said it had been delayed because the title had to be changed from TOUR OF DUTY.

They obviously were not going to give anything away, so I decided to go to the source of the problem and call the OFLC. I was transferred to a man (sorry, can’t recall his name) who initially sounded like he knew what he was talking about. He said a rough unfinished version had initially been submitted for rating in June. This version was Refused Classification, though he did not give any reasons. He then said that the full game was submitted in August and passed MA. The controversial gameplay was now seen in context of the finished game, and its impact was reduced. This sounded like a fair answer and would explain why Atari are claiming that it has not been modified. However, he then went on to claim that it was before the Review Board and may have its rating raised to RC or lowered to M. I really don’t know what he was talking about as the OFLC have not announced any review for this title. I can only guess that he was getting it mixed up with MANHUNT (2003). Anyway, this statement made me question if his initial claim was indeed true.

I checked the Atari Australia website and found some message posts regarding the game at the Official Atari Australia Xbox forum. Several members were questioning what version of the game had been released. The forum administrator posted the following two answers.

September 11, 2004
The game was not refused classification and is on sale on the 23rd of September.

September 12, 2004
The game wasn’t changed at all from previous versions. It’s all the same.

– Official Atari Australia Xbox forum

A member of the forum then posted this article.

September 2004
SHELLSHOCK NAM ’67 Refused Classification by the Office of Film and Literature Classification when submitted by Eidos Interactive. This effectively leads to an Australia-wide ban. The reasons for the ban relate to the game’s depiction of drug use during the Vietnam War, specifically Temazepan (probably a typo I think its Temazepam) and Dexedrine (an amphetamine). Some concerns have also been voiced about the game’s sexual allusions.

The very latest that’s happened as of this writing is that SHELLSHOCK is being resubmitted for evaluation (a $2-4 thousand dollar fee) by the OFLC, which will determine whether the game is ‘fit’ for release in Australia after this issue goes to press. We’ll update you with the results of the appeal next issue.

– Shellshock faces the chop
– Official Australian Xbox Magazine No. 31

I am more confused than ever and am suspicious of Atari because they are not even admitting it was initially banned. Whilst the OFLC is not giving out clear reasons for the RC rating. Speaking of which, why the hell don’t they just post the reasons on their site? The result is that I’ll delay purchasing this title until I’m sure that we have the full game.

This comment added to the confusion.

September 2004
With regards to SHELLSHOCK NAM ’67, nothing has been taken out. We had to represent to the board and explain how some of the more contentious areas of the game were in fact in context and justifiable by actual history. So now Australians get to play the same game as Europe, NZ and America.

– Eidos statement to Futuregamez

September 2004
…the souveniring of enemy ears has gone by the wayside at the behest of the OFLC.

– Atomic MPC No. 45

MA version reviewed

Mick reports.
A few of the controversial moments include:

1) After your platoon bursts into a brothel, hookers are armed with shotguns and machetes. You are ordered to kill even the unarmed hookers.

2) Soon you walk into the final room on the level. It then goes into a cut scene. A member of your platoon has tied a hooker to an upright bed frame; he is punching and beating the life out of her. She is screaming and pleading for mercy. He asks her where a member of your platoon has been taken. She tells him, but then he shoves a knife into her breast before slitting her throat. She screams, and then blood flows out.

3) You can purchase speed and diazepam from a dealer at base camp. Speed allows you to run faster and get hit less easily, whilst diazepam assists you with shooting accuracy on the field.

4) You can have sex with several different hookers at base camp. Your man and the girl walk into a hut and you hear them for a while as the hut shakes. This doesn’t last for long and provides no benefits to gameplay. It’s there purely for novelty purpose and to be honest it is quite boring.

In regards to the statement in Atomic MPC No. 45 regarding the ‘souveniring of enemy ears’. The Australian version doesn’t include this; however, no version around the world includes it either. The game was lightly censored before the worldwide release. For example, the visible drug effects such as the screen going different colours and so forth was also taken out before release. It has nothing to do with the OFLC saying it’s unsuitable.

Having played the game, I believe the Australian version is the same as that released in the rest of the world.

The OFLC comment

Atari had initially intended to appeal to the Classification Review Board, however, this was later withdrawn.

September 16, 2004
The Board classified the game SHELLSHOCK NAM 67 RC for nudity and drug use related to incentives or rewards. SHELLSHOCK NAM 67 is a multiplatform shooter game based on the Vietnam War. The distributor has indicated an intention to submit a modified version of the computer game for classification in the next reporting period.

– Classification Board, Annual Report 2003-2004

September 20, 2004
Applications withdrawn
During the course of the year, the Classification Review Board received a number of applications that were later withdrawn. A determination is not made on withdrawn applications, yet a considerable amount of time is spent by the Convenor and the secretariat on these applications.

Table 22: Applications to the Classification Review Board withdrawn
Title: SHELLSHOCK NAM ’67
Media: Computer game
Review applicant: Eidos Interactive
Reason for withdrawal: Commercial decision

– Classification Review Board, Annual Report 2003-2004

Further Reading

See the SHELLSHOCK 2: BLOOD TRAILS (2008) entry in the Game Censorship Database for more information about the banned sequel.


Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude

Publisher Sierra / 2004 / MobyGames

In September 2004, a censored version of LEISURE SUIT LARRY: MAGNA CUM LAUDE was banned by the OFLC.

It was Refused Classification because of sexual activity related to an incentive or reward, and the player’s ability to access stylised and realistic nudity, obscured and/or simulated sexual activity and sexual references.

Vivendi Universal Games was the applicant.

Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude (2004) - Game Cover 1
Xbox Cover

October 6, 2004
LEISURE SUIT LARRY is based around the bumbling journeys of a suit-clad character Larry Lovage who takes part in “extra curricular” activities at college. Larry attempts to woo and have sex with or play sexualised games with a series of female characters, an OFLC report said.

The game was officially refused classification on 9 September.

The report said the computer game contains “obscured and/or implied sexual activity and obscured and partial nudity involving stylised, animated characters.”

These depictions occur in “full-motion video sequences” and include instances such as Larry receiving below-screen fellatio from Koko. “Sucking sounds are heard,” said the OFLC.

– New Leisure Suit Larry game banned
– pcauthority.com.au [dead link]

Banned version was modified

Futuregamez reports.
Admission from Vivendi Universal Games….the version they submitted to the OFLC was the same cut-down version that America is getting, and not the uncut version which Europe is getting. They will not be releasing it here in Australia.

Richard C. reports.
This YouTube clip is part one of a walk-through of the uncut and uncensored LEISURE SUIT LARRY: MAGNA CUM LAUDE. The banned Australian version had already been modified.

Sexual content in other games

In October 2004, PLAYBOY: THE MANSION was passed with an MA (Strong sexual content, Nudity, Adult themes) rating.

This was one of the first games to have a consumer warning of ‘Strong sexual content’.

It was also passed in 2004, the same year that the OFLC banned LEISURE SUIT LARRY and SINGLES: FLIRT UP YOUR LIFE (2004) because of their sexual content.

April 9, 2005
Sex is increasingly part of video games. PLAYBOY THE MANSION with “breast nudity present but not genital” – to quote the classification office – was launched last month. The player takes on the role of Hugh Hefner and can have “sex; with a variety of women.

Not all games get passed the classification office. A version of MANHUNT, with examples of torture and plastic-bag asphyxiation was refused classification, as was the sex romp LEISURE SUIT LARRY: MAGNA CUM LAUDE. The office cited “the general rule which prohibits nudity and sexual activity related to incentives or rewards”.

Owen Hughs from the games producer Ubisoft says PLAYBOY THE MANSION doesn’t use sex as a reward and players “can’t have sex with drunk people”.

– Rated D for Dilemma
smh.com.au

David Warner reports.
Apparently, the reason this game passed is that there is no sexual violence against women. For instance in GTA: VICE CITY (2002) the OFLC deemed the ability to have sex with a prostitute and then being able to attack them to get your money back as unacceptable.

Likewise in LEISURE SUIT LARRY: MAGNA CUM LAUDE there were scenes where it was possible to spank women during sex – an act deemed as sexual violence. PLAYBOY THE MANSION (2005) contains no such violence.

Mick reports.
You can get a variety of girls drunk and have sex with them. The sex is shown, but there is only breast nudity as they are wearing a thong. You chat up the girls then take them to the couch and have sex with them. Depending on what type of couch you’re on, there are about three different sexual positions you can do it in.

The more you progress in the game, the more points you get. They allow you to unlock various things such as real photos of fully naked playmates and small cheats to get people instantly drunk and horny etc.

You can make your employees take off the top half of their clothing and so they walk around fully topless.

No more censorship

January 2005
…OFLC director Des Clark highlights the complexity of the classification guidelines when he says that simply editing out a few scenes may not get a game a new rating: ‘The problem is we deal with context and impact, so [you might edit out some material] but the overall impact may mean it doesn’t get a different rating.’

Indeed, sometimes game publishers decide against editing their games to try to get them through the classification system. Vivendi Universal Games ANZ Marketing Director Colin Brown says Vivendi has no plans to edit and resubmit LEISURE SUIT LARRY: MCL because the sheer amount of editing that would be required would have compromised the game play experience.

‘Sexual themes are woven into the very fabric of what the LEISURE SUIT LARRY brand is about,’ he says. ‘VUG feels that, by removing a significant part of the sexual content, the game would be less fun to play.’

– Games, Sex, Politics, Drugs, Censorship and Rock and Roll
– pcauthority.com.au/atomic [dead link]

Uncut import

February 23, 2005
A spokesperson for the OFLC says that although games that have been refused classification do have to be removed from sale, the specific laws varied from state to state.

‘In some states it’s illegal to sell them, in other states its illegal to possess them,’ he says. While some Australian retailers are risking up to two years in jail or fines up to $24,000 for selling imported copies of banned games, online stores are another avenue for people to obtain games that have been banned from sale in Australia.

‘The internet has made it easier for people to order these things inadvertently or on purpose,’ says an Australian Customs Service spokesman. ‘There’s a reasonable degree of people assuming that what they can buy on the net is legal to import’.

Computer games were but a ‘very small fraction’ of the media being seized by Customs, he says. ‘It tends to be DVDs – standard movies and soft porn.’ Commercial quantities were not tending to be imported either, he added.

‘The bulk of what we see is personal importation of one or two items, either mailed or in luggage.’ When an OFLC Review Board refused classification to Rockstar’s MANHUNT game late last year, it released a guideline for retailers advising them that the game and all related advertising had to be withdrawn immediately. It also stipulated that the ban also applied to online stores.

However, some games stores that ship internationally may provide a loophole for Australian buyers. LEISURE SUIT LARRY: MAGNA CUM LAUDE was also recently banned in Australia, but the online store for its publishers, Vivendi Universal, has shipping options to Australia.

The website www.larryuncut.com advertises ‘full nudity and sex scene footage not seen in the original version’ to purchasers over 18 years of age. The online order form, which converts the currency into Australian dollars, is hosted by the Vivendi Universal Games store.

Vivendi Universal was unable to provide clarification on its policy about shipping the LEISURE SUIT LARRY game to Australian buyers by the time CRN went to press.

– The games conundrum
crn.com.au

Censorship, complaints and comments

October 2005
The Classification Board classified the computer game…LEISURE SUIT LARRY: MAGNA CUM LAUDE RC for sexual activity related to an incentive or reward. Additionally, in regard to the computer game LEISURE SUIT LARRY: MAGNA CUM LAUDE the classification reflected the player’s ability to access stylised and realistic nudity, obscured and/or simulated sexual activity and sexual references increasing the impact above strong.

The OFLC received 298 complaints about computer games…16 complaints protested the RC decision for the computer game LEISURE SUIT LARRY: MAGNA CUM LAUDE.

– Computer games complaints
– Classification Board, Annual Report 2004-2005

Uncut sequel

In February 2009, LEISURE SUIT LARRY: BOX OFFICE BUST (2009) was passed with an MA15+ (Frequent sexual references and Coarse language) rating. Atari Australia was the applicant.

The Classification Board attempted to explain why they had treated it more leniently than the previous game.

September 1, 2009
LEISURE SUIT LARRY: BOX OFFICE BUST was classified MA 15+ for ‘Frequent sexual references and coarse language’. The Classification Board noted that there were frequent sexual references in the game with no interactivity, which were of a strong impact. The Classification Board was of the opinion that sexualised coarse language in the computer game warranted additional consumer advice.

– Classification Board, Annual Report 2008-2009

Manhunt

Publisher Rockstar Games / 2003 / MobyGames

In October 2003, MANHUNT was passed with an MA (Medium level animated violence) rating.

Take 2 Interactive Software was the applicant.

Manhunt (2003) - Game Cover 1
PlayStation 2 Cover

Refused in New Zealand

On 11 December 2003, MANHUNT became the first game ever to be banned in New Zealand.

This was despite the availability of an 18-rating for games. This had previously allowed uncut versions of BMX: XXX (2002), GRAND THEFT AUTO III (2001) and GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY (2002) to be released when Australia had to make do with censored versions.

OFLC justify the MA rating

A week after New Zealand’s OFLC banned MANHUNT, their Australian counterpart sought to explain passing it. This was presumably a direct reaction to the New Zealand refusal as they had been silent in the two months since awarding it an MA.

December 19, 2003
The Classification Board classified the PlayStation 2 interactive computer game MA15+ on 17 October 2003.

The decision carries the consumer advice, “Medium level animated violence.”

In reaching this decision, the Board applied the National Classification Code and the Classification Guidelines. The MA15+ classification restricts sale and hire of the game to persons aged 15 years and older, unless accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.

MANHUNT is a twelve level adventure-shooter game in which an inmate on death row, who awakes to find he is trapped within a game, must follow mysterious instructions to fight his way out of a number of gang infested environments using various weapons and problem-solving skills.

The Classification Board formed the view that the content of game did not exceed a strong viewing and/or playing impact.

Des Clark, the Director of the Office of Film and Literature Classification, said “The Classification Board has strictly applied the Guidelines for the Classification of Film and Computer Games in arriving at this decision, and has found that MANHUNT t sits firmly within the MA15+ classification.”

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.

– Manhunt Classified MA15+ by Classification Board
– Classification Board

Press coverage of the controversy

Rockstar’s MANHUNT went on to be released in Australia with a MA (Medium Level Animated Violence) rating.

It soon began to attract press coverage.

In the article ‘Teens Play Deadly Game’, (Herald Sun, December 28, 2003), Jane Roberts from Young Media Australia was quoted as criticising the release. While Des Clark stated that the Australian OFLC used different classification criteria from their New Zealand counterparts.

July 30, 2004
Des Clark, Director of the OFLC
The animated violence did not exceed a strong viewing or playing impact.

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls.
Victoria would support the inclusion of an R-rating.

– Game blamed for slaying
news.com.au

WA Liberals call for a ban

Two weeks after the ‘Game Blamed for Slaying’ story, the West Australian Liberal opposition joined the cause and released this press statement.

August 16, 2004
The West Australian opposition has appealed to the censorship committee of the Office of Film and Literature Classification to ban one of the most violent video games ever produced.

The game MAN HUNT, which is rated MA 15+, features violent and graphic murder scenes and has been blamed for the murder in February of a 14-year-old British boy.

Opposition Leader Colin Barnett said today the game encouraged the player to kill in the most gruesome manner possible.

“Players are required to viciously murder other characters even after they pleaded for their lives,” Barnett said.

“When I watched this game, I was absolutely horrified. It is not a video game that I would want any children to be exposed to,” he said.

Barnett, who has four sons, said he wanted Western Australia to follow in the footsteps of New Zealand and ban the game.

The game has been described on the internet as being an exploration of “the depths of human depravity in a vicious and sadistic tale of urban horror.”

English woman Giselle Pakeerah told reporters that she blamed the game for her son Stephan’s death after he was murdered by being repeatedly stabbed with a claw hammer in February.

She said her son’s 17-year-old killer, who was allegedly obsessed with the game, had mimicked the MAN HUNT video quest by carrying out a brutal killing.

– WA opposition wants violent video game banned
– Liberal Party of WA

The controversy begins

August 15, 2004
Western Australia’s Opposition Leader Colin Barnett says the states should have censorship powers.

“To make sure that any material like this that got through the national censorship net could be declassified and therefore removed from sale or hire in Western Australia,” he said.

Western Australia’s Justice Minister Michelle Roberts says she will investigate the matter, but the responsibility lies with the national classification body.

“The kinds of things that have been raised with me just today are of concern but classifications are done at a national level and that’s where the case will need to be taken up,” she said.

– ‘Manhunt’ sparks censorship row
article @ abc.net.au

August 16, 2004
Justice Minister Michelle Roberts accused Mr Barnett of “another cheap Sunday stunt” for making an issue of something without first raising it in appropriate channels.

The Government took the view that national censors should provide censorship for the whole country.

– Call to ban ‘killer’ video game
thewest.com.au

August 16, 2004
Mr Barnett said a national approach to classifications was preferable, but the MANHUNT game highlighted the need for Western Australia to restore its independent censorship powers as a fallback to allow it to respond to community concerns.

– Barnett urges ban on game
news.com.au

West Australian Parliament

Barbara Scott (Liberal), the Shadow Minister for Children; Culture and The Arts pushed the issue twice in the WA Legislative Council.

August 19, 2004
Hon BARBARA SCOTT (South Metropolitan)Only last week the public of Western Australia became aware – although the Opposition knew – that this Government had given away to the federal Government the ability to classify videos, films and television programs that are unacceptable and inappropriate viewing for young children. I wrote to the Minister for Justice and for Police and Emergency Services to see whether she would consider reclassifying the video game MANHUNT, which I watched last week. I was appalled to see the violence in that video game. We know that that sort of video game violence can breed violence.

I will not speak too much about that video game. It is rated MA 15+ but it could be played at home by children younger than 15. A minister of this Government has wiped her hands of it, saying that it is not the State Government’s responsibility. Any State Government can retain that ability; it does not have to be passed to the Office of Film and Literature Classification. However, this State Government is quite happy to hand over that responsibility to the federal Government.

– Children and Community Services Bill 2003
– Barbara Scott (Liberal), WA Legislative Council

August 26, 2004
Hon BARBARA SCOTT to the minister representing the Minister for Justice:

I refer to her responsibility under the State Censorship Act and to The West Australian dated 13 September 2003, with articles titled “Game linked to crime spree” and “Violence is the name of the game”.

(1) Is the minister aware of the video games titled HITMAN: CONTRACTS and MANHUNT?

(2) Is the minister aware that the nature of the games is to murder people and avoid detection?

(3) If not, will the minister make herself aware of the nature of the games?

Hon Tom Stephens: The Liberal Party has done more to promote those games than anyone else. Nobody knew about them before.

Hon BARBARA SCOTT: The member should read the hundreds of e-mails I have received in support of our move to have them banned. I have had hundreds of e-mails from Western Australians concerned about them. Several members interjected.

The PRESIDENT: Order!

Hon BARBARA SCOTT: Thank you, Mr President.

(4) Will the minister restrict access to the games by ensuring that they are not available to be played in prisons and youth detention centres?

(5) If not, why not?

(6) Is the minister aware that New Zealand has banned MANHUNT?

(7) Will the minister request the Office of Film and Literature Classification to ban both these video games?

(8) If not, why not?

Hon KIM CHANCE replied: I thank the member for some notice of this question. I provide the answer on behalf of the minister assisting the Minister for Justice. (1)-(2) Yes.

(3) Not applicable.

(4) The Department of Justice advises that the games are not permitted in prisons or detention centres.

(5) Not applicable.

(6) Yes.

(7)-(8) The Minister for Justice advises that she has written to the commonwealth Attorney-General seeking a review of the computer game MANHUNT. The minister is seeking a copy of the classification board’s reasons for its decision on the computer game HITMAN: CONTRACTS before deciding what action to take. Several members interjected.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The parliamentary secretary bench seems to be suffering from neglect, by the sound coming from it. I hope the Leader of the Opposition will ask one of them a question.

Hon Norman Moore: I was hoping to get a copy of that game so that I could work out how to do it!

– Video Games Hitman: Contracts and Manhunt?
– Barbara Scott (Liberal), WA Legislative Council

Review of the MA rating

The controversy in West Australia resulted in MANHUNT being sent to the Classification Review Board.

August 31, 2004
An application for review of the Classification Board’s decision to classify the computer game MANHUNT, MA15+ with the consumer advice “Medium level animated violence” has been received from the Attorney-General, on the request of the Western Australian Minister with censorship responsibilities, Michelle Roberts, Minister for Justice Under the Commonwealth

The Attorney-General may make an application for review at any time. However, an application for review of a classification decision by any other party must be made within 30 days after the applicant received notice of the decision. MANHUNT was classified MA15+ by the Classification Board in October 2003.

The Classification Review Board will meet to hear this application on Monday 20 September 2004.

The Classification Review Board’s decision and reasons for its decision will appear on the OFLC website when a review has been finalised.

The Classification Review Board is an independent merits review body. It meets in camera to make a fresh classification decision when applications to review classification matters previously determined by the Classification Board are made.

– Review announced for the computer game Manhunt
– Classification Review Board

Review announced

August 2004
Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock has today asked the Classification Review Board to review the classification of the computer game MANHUNT.

On 15 October 2003 the Classification Board classified MANHUNT MA15+, with the consumer advice ‘Medium level animated violence’.

In Australia, the MA15+ category is legally restricted. Material classified MA15+ is considered unsuitable for persons under 15 years of age.

“I have asked for a review of the classification for MANHUNT, as required by the relevant legislation, following a request by the Western Australian Censorship Minister, Michelle Roberts,” Mr Ruddock said.

“The Government takes the issue of violence in films, computer games and publications very seriously.

“We will continue to ensure games with violent content are banned in this country or strictly regulated in a manner that supports informed decision-making by consumers, particularly parents,” Mr Ruddock said.

– Manhunt Computer Game Referred for Review
– Federal Attorney General, Philip Ruddock

August 31, 2004
The WA opposition appealed to the AG’s department earlier this month, seeking a review of the classification accorded to the game.

A ban has been sought on the game in the UK after it was blamed for the murder of a 14-year-old boy in the UK, allegedly by an older friend.

However, it has been pointed out by the British police themselves that the game was found in the possession of the boy who was murdered, not the one who is alleged to have committed the crime.

“The Government takes the issue of violence in films, computer games and publications very seriously,” Ruddock said. “We will continue to ensure games with violent content are banned in this country or strictly regulated in a manner that supports informed decision-making by consumers, particularly parents.”

– Ruddock seeks review of Manhunt classification
article @ smh.com.au

Banned in Australia

September 29, 2004
A four-member panel of the Classification Review Board has determined, in a majority 3 to 1 decision, that the computer game entitled MANHUNT be refused classification.

Refused Classification means the game cannot be legally sold, hired, advertised or exhibited in Australia. Any existing stocks of this game held by retailers must be removed from shelves immediately.

In the Classification Review Board’s opinion, the game warrants a refusal of classification because it contains elements beyond those set out in the classification guidelines and legislation for a computer game at the MA15+ classification.

Specifically, it contains some depictions of high impact, as well as scenes of blood and gore that go beyond strong. It also contains a high impact theme.

The Classification Review Board convened to review the MA15+ classification of the computer game in response to an application from the Attorney-General, on the request of the Western Australian Minister with censorship responsibilities, Michelle Roberts, Minister for Justice.

In reviewing the classification, the Classification Review Board worked within the framework of the National Classification Scheme, applying the provisions of the

The Classification Review Board is an independent merits review body. It meets in camera to make a fresh classification decision when applications to review classification matters previously determined by the Classification Board are made.

The Classification Review Board’s reasons for this decision will appear on the OFLC website when finalised.

– Manhunt refused classification upon review
– Classification Review Board

Full Review Board report

The ‘high-level violence’ discussed in the report can be found in this YouTube clip.

September 20 & 28, 2004
23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills, NSW

MEMBERS:
Ms Maureen Shelley (Convenor)
The Hon Trevor Griffin (Deputy Convenor)
Ms Dawn Grassick
Mr Robert Shilkin

APPLICANT:
The Australian Attorney-General
Not represented

INTERESTED PARTIES Represented by: Mr James Ellingford, Managing Director; Mr David Powell, Marketing Manager; Mr Leigh Harris, Assistant Coordinator; and Mr Simon Ramsey, Public Relations Manager, all of Take 2.

BUSINESS: To review the Classification Board’s decision to classify the computer game MANHUNT (the game) MA (15+) with the consumer advice ‘Medium level animated violence’.

DECISION AND REASONS FOR DECISION

1. Decision

The Classification Review Board (the Review Board) refused classification to MANHUNT for the reasons set forth below.

2. Legislative provisions

The Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Act) governs the classification of computer games and the review of classification decisions. Section 9 of the Act provides that computer games are to be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code (the Code) and the classification guidelines.

Relevantly, the Code in paragraph 1 of the Table under the heading ‘Computer Games’ provides that computer games that are unsuitable for a minor to see or play, are to be RC (refused classification).

The Code also states various principles for classifications, including that ‘adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want’ and that ‘minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them’.

Three essential principles underlie the use of the 2003

• The importance of context

• Assessing impact (which includes making an assessment regarding whether

the material encourages interactivity)

• Six classifiable elements – themes, violence, sex, language, drug use and nudity.

Section 11 of the Act requires that the matters to be taken into account in making a decision on the classification of a computer game include the:

(a) standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults; and

(b) literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the computer game; and

(c) general character of the computer game, including whether it is of a medical, legal or scientific character; and

(d) persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it is published or is intended or likely to be published.

3. Procedure

On receipt of a valid application for review from the Attorney General of Australia, prompted by a request from the Western Australian Attorney General, the Review Board met to consider the application.

The Review Board watched a video of what the original applicant stated was the contentious material of the game MANHUNT. The Review Board then observed a demonstration of the game through the interactive game play of the original applicant’s assistant coordinator Mr Leigh Harris. The original applicant made oral and written submission to the Review Board. The Review Board then met in camera to consider the application.

Finding that it had viewed insufficient game play to reach a decision, the Review Board then obtained copies of the game in PC and console format. Individual members then played or had demonstrated to them the game at their own homes over some several days. The Review Board reconvened on 28 September 2004 and, after discussion and consideration of the issues, determined in a 3-1 majority decision that the game should be refused classification as it contained material that was unsuitable for minors to play.

4. Evidence and other material taken into account

In reaching its decision the Review Board had regard to the following:

(i) The Australian Attorney-General’s application for review;

(ii) The written and oral submissions of Take 2;

(iii) The demonstration of the game by Take 2;

(iv) The demonstration of a video of contentious material presented by Take 2 at the review hearing;

(v) The playing of the game by Review Board members;

(vi) The relevant provisions in the Act;

(vii) The relevant provisions in the Code, as amended in accordance with s.6 of the Act; and

(viii) The Guidelines.

5 Synopsis

The game is a stealth game where the central figure is condemned to death but is “saved” by a director, of what is said to be a snuff movie, so that he can kill a variety of gang members, which is the subject matter of the film.

The central figure has to kill gang members using a variety of implements including a plastic bag, a shard of glass, a variety of guns, a baseball bat, a chainsaw, a nail gun and other implements. The weapons become available, not necessarily in the above stated order, as the central figure “progresses” through the level of kills. The action culminates where the central figure has to kill the director with the chain saw to escape from the set of the snuff movie. In the course of the game the central figure has to save a homeless person and some family members from the gang members.

6 Findings on material questions of fact

The Review Board found in the majority that the game contains aspects or scenes particularly worthy of mention under various classifiable elements:

The game contains interactive game play of high level violence. Particular interactions of high-level violence include the dismemberment of the character Piggsy by the removal of his “trotters” when he was hanging suspended and the killing of the director with the chainsaw and the prolonged and detailed visual depictions of his internal organs at his death.

The ability to continue “killing” any victim for an unlimited period of time including the ability to continue smashing the heads of victims until they shattered into pieces and were depicted spread on the floor was of high impact. Further, the ability to allow gang members to “kill” the central figure (the role of which is assumed by the game player) continuously and without limit is of high impact. This impact is increased by the “view” of the “kill”, which is shown with the “camera” focusing onto the character who is prone on the floor. The gang members can – without limit – continue to “kill” the central character (game player).

The Convenor of the Review Board played the game up to Level 4 – which took several hours to achieve – and allowed the gang members to “kill” the central character for five minutes. The “kill” was continuous and was continuously “refreshed”. Further the Convenor of the Review Board played the game and “killed” gang members and allowed the interactivity to continue for five minutes 30 seconds. The “kill” was continuous and was continuously “refreshed”.

It was the minority view that the impact of the scenes and the interactivity outlined above were of strong impact and could be accommodated by a MA15+ classification.

7 Reasons for the decision

Based on the information contained in sections two to six the Review Board determined, in the majority, that the impact of specific interactive game play scenes mentioned above and the ability to “kill” characters in the game for an unlimited period with the accompanying detail of gore of smashed heads, blood spatter and in some scenes dismemberment was of high impact. As such, the material was beyond that which minors should be able to play. As no classification is available restricting games to adults, as in the case of film and videos, the Review Board determined in the majority that the game should be refused classification

It was noted the Review Board members were of low-level skill in game play and that these interactions of high impact were available as part of the game play for inexperienced and low-level users.

It was a submission of the original applicant that game players did not play games in this way and that they concentrate on achieving the challenges of each level rather than dwelling on the details of “kills”. However, the Review Board is concerned with what a game enables players to achieve, and cannot make a determination based on what a game player may do or how game players may choose to play.

It was the minority view that the scenes and interactivity of the game were no more than strong and that the game could be accommodated within the classification MA15+

– Classification Review Board report

WA Liberals celebrate the ban

September 29, 2004
Opposition Leader Colin Barnett has welcomed news that the violent video game MANHUNT has been banned after he and Shadow Children’s Minister Barbara Scott raised concerns about its content in early August.

Mrs Scott wrote to the Commonwealth Office of Film and Literature Classification and Justice Minister Michelle Roberts requesting the game be banned in Western Australia and also brought the matter to public attention through the media.

Mr Barnett said he was pleased Justice Minister Michelle Roberts had decided to take the matter seriously and act on the concerns, after initially describing the Opposition’s raising the matter in public as a stunt.

Western Australia has to ask the Commonwealth body to ban material because the Gallop Labor Government gave away the State’s powers to declassify (ban) material after coming to power in 2001.

MANHUNT encourages the player to kill its characters in the most gruesome manner possible.

Parents of a murdered 14-year-old British boy blamed the MANHUNT game for their son’s violent death. He was killed by a 17-year-old youth with a claw hammer and a knife.

The game had already been banned in New Zealand.

“When I watched this game I was absolutely horrified. It is not a video game that I would want any young person exposed to,” Mr Barnett said.

“As parents and as law-makers, we have an obligation to make the protection of children a priority.

“Research has shown that over time, violent video games, films and electronic games desensitise children and increase the incidence of violent behaviour.

“There is no place in today’s society for a video game that devalues human life.”

Mr Barnett said that if elected the Coalition would reinstate the power to declassify video games and other material where there was concern in the community.

– Opposition welcomes ban on ‘Manhunt’
– Liberal Party of WA

Labor warns of $10,000 fine for possession

Here is the statement from Michelle Roberts (Labor) who complained about the game to the Federal Attorney General.

September 29, 2004
A controversial and violent computer game has now been banned nationally following concerns raised by Justice Minister Michelle Roberts.

Mrs Roberts said the national Classification Review Board had ruled that the game MANHUNT could not be legally sold, hired, advertised or exhibited anywhere in Australia.

The Minister said it was the responsibility of Western Australian retailers to remove all games from the shelves immediately.

“This decision is a big win for the Australian community,” she said.

“There is no need for a game which is so disturbingly violent to be available.

“As a mother of teenage children, I was appalled at the sickening level of violence contained in the game and that its rating made it accessible to many young people.”

Mrs Roberts wrote to Attorney General Philip Ruddock last month raising concerns about the classification of the computer game.

The Minister asked for the MA15+ classification to be reviewed immediately.

“I urge anybody who has a copy of this game to dispose of this game at once, rather than face any penalties,” she said.

“Anybody found in possession faces a fine of up to $10,000.”

– WA Minister instigates national ban on violent computer game
– Michelle Roberts (Labor), WA Minister for Justice

At the time, the warning of a $10,000 fine applied only to those people in West Australia.

2004
The WA Censorship Act 1996 holds one important difference to most other state Acts. Part 7 Div 3 s.81 states that:
Possession or copying of certain films.
A person must not possess or copy an unclassified film that would, if classified be classified RC, or a film classified RC Penalty: $10,000.

– Possession of RC Films in WA Illegal
– The Eros Journal, Vol. 5 No. 3

Importing it into Australia

February 23, 2005
‘The internet has made it easier for people to order these things inadvertently or on purpose,’ says an Australian Customs Service spokesman. ‘There’s a reasonable degree of people assuming that what they can buy on the net is legal to import’.

Computer games were but a ‘very small fraction’ of the media being seized by Customs, he says. ‘It tends to be DVDs – standard movies and soft porn.’ Commercial quantities were not tending to be imported either, he added.

‘The bulk of what we see is personal importation of one or two items, either mailed or in luggage.’ When an OFLC Review Board refused classification to Rockstar’s MANHUNT game late last year, it released a guideline for retailers advising them that the game and all related advertising had to be withdrawn immediately. It also stipulated that the ban also applied to online stores.

– The games conundrum
crn.com.au

Review Board comments

October 17, 2005
The year’s controversies have centred on the computer game MANHUNT (mainly in Western Australia)…

The computer game MANHUNT was referred to the Classification Review Board for review by the Attorney-General following a request from the Western Australian Censorship Minister. Computer games present particular challenges to the Classification Review Board due to the extensive nature of play. Some games can provide more than 100 hours of game play. Given that membership of the Classification Review Board is part-time and its members are residents in Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales (and previously have been based in Western Australia and Queensland), the logistics of ensuring that the Classification Review Board considers all the relevant material in computer games are challenging.

Requests from the Attorney-General for review of computer game classification decisions present specific challenges as the Attorney-General is not the original applicant. The Classification Review Board relies on the cooperation of industry in demonstrating the titles for review and any contentious material contained therein. However, the Classification Review Board must satisfy itself that it has considered all relevant material before reaching a decision, which means that it must be confident that it has viewed all contentious material.

In the case of MANHUNT, individual members of the Classification Review Board spent up to 20 hours playing the game to reach the ‘levels’ where more graphic and prolonged depictions of violence were contained.

The Western Australian Censorship Minister expressed concern regarding the classification of computer games containing violence generally and MANHUNT in particular. In providing additional expertise in regard to computer games, the appointment to the Classification Review Board of expert gamer Mr Anthony Hetrih (aka Game Guru) is particularly welcomed.

– Maureen Shelley, Convenor
– Classification Review Board, Annual Report 2004-2005

Complaints to the OFLC

October 17, 2005
While 15 complaints were received about the Classification Review Board’s RC decision for the computer game MANHUNT, nine letters in support of the decision were received.

-Complaints
– Classification Review Board, Annual Report 2004-2005

October 6, 2006
…two complaints were received about the Classification Review Board’s RC decision for the computer game MANHUNT although it was classified during the previous reporting period.

– Complaints
– Classification Review Board, Annual Report 2005-2006

Available on Steam

In January 2011, it was reported that MANHUNT could be purchased from Steam. Following the story, the game was soon removed from sale to Australian residents.

January 7, 2011
Overnight, Steam has updated its Australian store offerings and has now removed MANHUNT from sale, with the game no longer appearing on searches. Those who bought the game during its brief window of availability are also out of luck, with refunds now being sent out to purchasers.

– Steam stops Manhunt sales Down Under
article @ gamespot.com

Steam sent this refund notice to their customers.

January 2011
Dear Steam Customer,

Your recent purchase of MANHUNT from the Steam Store has been refunded and the game removed from your account. In your country, the game was briefly offered for sale. This has since been corrected.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. If you have any questions please create a support ticket at https://support.steampowered.com/.

– Steam Support
– store.steampowered.com

Further Reading

See the MANHUNT 2 (2007) entry in the Game Censorship Database for more information about the unreleased sequel.


Singles: Flirt Up Your Life

Publisher Eidos / 2004 / MobyGames

In October 2004, SINGLES: FLIRT UP YOUR LIFE was banned by the OFLC because of sexual activity related to an incentive or reward.

Eidos Interactive was the applicant.

Singles: Flirt Up Your Life (2004) - Game Cover 1
PC Cover

October 17, 2005
The Classification Board classified the computer game…SINGLES FLIRT UP YOUR LIFE…RC for sexual activity related to an incentive or reward.

– Classification Board, Annual Report 2004-2005

The Punisher

Publisher THQ Asia Pacific / 2004 / MobyGames

In November 2004, THE PUNISHER was banned by the OFLC due to high impact violence.

THQ Asia Pacific was the applicant.

OFLC violence report

This YouTube clip contains all of the scenes listed below.

November 2004
1) The Punisher is able to literally use guns to blast off victims limbs. Blood, bone & skin fragments are shown.

2) The Punisher can knife people in the face. Some blood is shown.

3) The Punisher holds a man’s face on a grinding wheel in a repair shops. Despite the fact, the camera zooms out while the climax of the scene takes place, it is still of high impact.

4) The Punisher dunks a man’s head in a bath of acid.

5) The Punisher lowers a drill into a man’s eyeball, blood is evident.

6) The Punisher kicks a man’s head a dozen times, on a curb until his head explodes.

7) A blow torch is applied to a man’s face several times. The victim says “fuck off & die asshole” before he dies.

8) A man is thrown into a tree mulcher screaming & blood spray is evident.

9) A man is placed inside a coffin incinerator, which has glass walls. The player watches the victim burn to death. The victim is on fire & is screaming, trying to escape.

10) A man’s head is stomped on 16 times by The Punisher, before a metal crate falls & crushes the victim, creating blood spray.

11) A man is pushed into a ceiling fan; the man resists but then loses his grip. His limbs & head are cut off in a shower of blood when he is pushed into the fan.

In scenarios 1 to 11 listed above, the violence takes place over a prolonged period accompanied by the sound of an accelerated heartbeat & protests of victims. Despite the scenes turning black & white just as the “coupe de grace” is delivered, the impact of the episodes is high.

– Classification Board report

MA version

In December 2004, a censored version was passed with an MA (High level animated violence, Medium level coarse language) rating.

The Punisher (2004) - Game Cover 1
Xbox Cover

Mick reports.
The following two scenes, as listed in the OFLC report, were removed from the game before its worldwide release. ‘The Punisher dunks a man’s head in a bath of acid’ and ‘A blow torch is applied to a man’s face several times. The victim says “fuck off and die asshole” before he dies’.

Having played the whole game, I would say that it looks like we have the same edited worldwide version. The removal of the above two scenes was enough for the OFLC to grant it an MA.

Censored release and fan patches

In the US, UK and Europe, a modified version was released. It did not take long for fans to make unofficial patches that restored much of the censored violence.

A patch was made available on a Geocities site in 2005.

It corrected the camera positions and stopped it from zooming in on the Punisher during the environmental interrogations. It also added the additional quick kills that were cut from the game and made the nastier quick kills happen more frequently. The camera patch also enabled the censored blood and gore during the interrogations and quick kills.

An updated patch improved a number of camera positions during the quick kills and added a little extra gore. It enabled the blood damage effects for the item quick kills, special kills and a large number of environmental interrogations. It also corrected the grinder and nail gun interrogations. Both now functioned in the game as they were intended.

July 13, 2005
Along with the interrogation scenes being censored in black and white and zoomed in when you killed a criminal, the PC version had blood removed from the interrogations as well (most notably in the face smashing and punching interrogations).

Also, THQ cut some rather disturbing quick kills. One involved The Punisher using his knife and plowing it into the side of a criminal’s head from behind (you had to have had a shotgun or rifle selected as your current weapon to get it). Another involved The Punisher coming up from behind and giving the criminal a bullet enema (i.e. shooting the criminal up the butthole with his gun).

Fanmade patches were created to restore some of these interrogations, along with the gore missing from interrogations.

– The Punisher Trivia
– mobygames.com

OFLC comments

October 17, 2005
The Classification Board classified THE PUNISHER RC for violence of a high impact that could not be accommodated within the MA15+ classification. A modified version of THE PUNISHER was subsequently submitted and classified MA15+ with the consumer advice ‘High level animated violence, medium level coarse language’.

– Classification Board, Annual Report 2004-2005

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