Banned Games of 2017-2018

Four games were banned in Australia between 2017 and 2018.

OUTLAST 2 (2017) was Refused Classification in March 2017.

This was followed in 2018 by OMEGA LABYRINTH Z (2017), WE HAPPY FEW (2016) and SONG OF MEMORIES (2018).


Outlast 2

Publisher Red Barrels / 2017 / MobyGames

On 23 September 2016, a demo version of OUTLAST 2 was passed with an R18+ (High impact horror violence, blood and gore) rating.

The extended classification information described:
High impact: violence
Strong impact: themes
Moderate impact: language
Very mild; nudity

Red Barrels was the applicant.

RC reasons

The full version of the game was submitted in early 2017. On March 15, it was banned because of ‘implied sexual violence’.

March 15, 2017
Decision Report

Classification decisions are made in accordance with the ‘Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995’ (the Act), the National Classification Code and the Classification Guidelines.

Production Details:

Title: OUTLAST 2
Alternate titles:
Publisher: RED BARRELS
Programmer: RED BARRELS
Production Company:
Year of Production: 2017
Duration: VARIABLE
Version: ORIGINAL
Country/ies of origin: USA
Language/s: ENGLISH
Application type: CG2
Applicant: 18POINT2

Synopsis:

OUTLAST 2 is a survival-horror game in which the player assumes the role of Blake Langermann, a cameraman working with his journalist wife, Lynn. They become separated after a helicopter crash and, while searching for her, Blake finds himself navigating a nightmarish place, home to a mysterious “End of Times” cult, led by a man named Sullivan Knoth. The game has no online interactivity.

Reasons for the Decision:

In making this decision, the Classification Board has applied the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Classification Act), the National Classification Code (the Code) and the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games 2012 (the Guidelines).

In the Board’s view this game warrants an ‘RC’ classification in accordance with item 1(a) of the computer games table of the Code:

“1. Computer games that:

(a) depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, 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 the extent that they should not be classified.

[snip]

Sexual violence is defined in the list of terms in the Board’s Guidelines as, “Sexual assault or aggression, in which the victim does not consent.”

The examples described below do not represent an exhaustive list of the content that caused the computer game to be refused classified.

In one cut-scene in the game, viewed in a first-person perspective, a female creature prepares Blake for a ritual. She says, “I want to see your true face. Your seed will burn this world.” Shortly afterwards, he objects to having psycho-active dust blown into his face, yelling, “Nope! Nope!” before he stumbles into a forest clearing. His vision blurring, he witnesses what appears to be a ritualistic orgy. His wife, Lynn, calls out for his help, saying, “It hurts! Oh god!”, as she hangs from chains on a raised platform at the front of the clearing. Humanoid creatures, their skin grey, spattered with blood and scarred, implicitly have sex as others pray, or chant, or gesticulate. One creature has another bent over a rock, thrusting as they implicitly have rear-entry sex, another sits astride the pelvic region of a creature prone on the ground, moving their hips rhythmically as they too implicitly have sex. Two other pairs of creatures in the clearing are also implicitly having sex.

As Blake yells for the creatures to “Get away from her!” a female creature, her greyish breasts bared, pushes him onto his back, holds his arms to the ground and repeatedly thrusts her crotch against him. As Blake protests, saying “No! Stop that!” the creature thrusts again, before placing its face over his midsection and then sitting up and wiping its mouth. Although much of the contact between the creature and Blake is obscured, by it taking place below screen, the sexualised surroundings and aggressive behaviour of the creature suggest that it is an assault which is sexual in nature. The Board is of the opinion that this, combined with Blake’s objections and distress, constitutes a depiction of implied sexual violence.

In the Board’s opinion, the above example constitutes a depiction of implied sexual violence and therefore cannot be accommodated within the R18+ classification category and the game is therefore Refused Classification.

OTHER MATTERS CONSIDERED OR NOTED

The Board is of the opinion that without the depiction of implied sexual violence listed above, the game can be accommodated within the R18+ classification.

– Classification Board report

Illogical, censorious bureaucrats

The game had some support in Parliament.

March 20, 2017
Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (22:16): According to a recent survey, at least 68 per cent of Australians regularly enjoy video games. Their average age is 33, and nearly as many women as men enjoy the hobby. But, by an unfortunate quirk of demographics, very few gamers are the kinds of people who make or enforce the laws.

For example, not many senators or senior public servants would know the difference between a ghoul and an alghoul, and so would find it hard to advance in the video game known as THE WITCHER.

In fact, politicians and public servants are blocked from accessing several gamer websites. If you, or we, want to access Polygon, IGN, PC Gamer or Gameplanet, ‘computer says no’. This is presumably because we might stumble across an image of something somebody disapproves of in a medium we do not understand. However, we have no such trouble accessing Neo-Nazi forums like Stormfront; and video-sharing sites like LiveLeak, where you can watch videos of real people being killed. That is not something I recommend or would choose to watch myself, but I defend the right of adults to access all kinds of internet sites, because adults should be free to choose.

It tells us something about the illogical, censorious attitude bureaucrats have about video games. Take, for example, the ban on the sale of the latest instalment of a popular video game called OUTLAST 2. This video game takes place in a fantasy world involving all kinds of creatures, both human and non-human. The mere suggestion of an out-of-screen encounter between a creature and a human character was enough to get it banned altogether by Australia’s Classification Board.

All of this operates on the false assumption that people who play video games are impressionable children who would play out anything they saw. Yet the internet is now awash with all manner of unpleasant images involving real people, not computer-generated images, while violent crime around the world is in decline. It makes me wonder: how is it that adults are not trusted to make choices about video games, yet they are allowed to vote?

Prime Minister Turnbull claims to have an innovation agenda, but every signal we send to the gaming community in this country is of censorship, disapproval and discouragement. Compare this attitude to that of former Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, who famously presented a copy of THE WITCHER to President Barack Obama—who, presumably, now has time to learn the difference between a ghoul and an alghoul. Video games do not hurt anybody, and the government Classification Board should leave video gamers alone.

– David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democrat)
– Senate, Parliament of Australia

Censored for R18+

On March 21, a modified version of OUTLAST 2 was passed with an R18+ (High impact horror themes, violence, blood, gore and sex) rating.

The extended classification information described:
High impact: themes, violence, sex
Strong impact: language, nudity
Moderate impact: drug use

18point2 was the applicant.

Following the rerating, the original RC entry for OUTLAST 2 was removed from the National Classification Database.

Submission was a mistake

March 27, 2017
The original submission of OUTLAST 2 sent to the Australian Classification Branch contained the final game code and a video file for reference taken from an Alpha version of the game. This video file should not have been sent along with the game code, as its content was not representative of the final game.

In the second submission, the same game code was submitted, with a video file reflecting the final game content. The game was then approved for release with an R18+ rating. There will be only one version of OUTLAST 2 available worldwide. These will be the final comments made on this release.

– Red Barrels statement
– redbarrelsgames.com

RC vs. R18+ version

April 5, 2017
Question is, what changed in the final version of the game?

In the latest [R18+] report from the board, the scene [that caused it to be banned,(See above).] is described as a segment of gameplay where the player is able to move around, rather than being bound, and the interaction with the female demonic creature is removed:

“In one section of gameplay, the player, as Blake, stumbles into a forest clearing after having psycho-active dust blown into his face. Blake’s vision blurring, he witnesses what appears to be a ritualistic orgy. Humanoid creatures, their skin grey and scarred, implicitly have sex as other pray, or chant, or gesticulate. One creature on the right side of the clearing has another bent over a rock, thrusting as they implicitly have rear-entry sex. The player can approach the couple and view the implicit sex from different perspectives, but no genital detail is viewed.”

Importantly, the Board wrote that OUTLAST 2 contained “no actual sexual violence nor does it contain implied sexual violence that is visually depicted, interactive, not justified by context or related to incentives or rewards.”

“Themes and violence are inextricably linked by the game’s narrative, in which the player’s character, Blake Langermann, finds himself navigating a hellish world when his wife, Lynn, is abducted,” the report added.

Other OUTLAST 2 scenes described focus more on their violence and gore, rather than anything of a sexual nature.

“In one section of gameplay, Blake entres a room to find a man, Josiah, chained to a spiked wheel, next to a large pile of maimed and bloody bodies. The wall behind is covered with blood spray and blood coats the floor beneath. He has the word “Judas” carved into his chest and his eyes appear to be gouged out. He begs Blake, saying, “Kill me. You have to kill me. Knoth is coming back. With MARY. He’ll hurt her and I’ll talk.”

Knoth and two of his henchmen enter the room dragging Mary, Josiah’s wife, and strap her to a rack-like torture device. She is already covered in cuts and blood. Knoth interrogates Josiah about the whereabouts of Blake’s wife, Lynn, and when he does not give a satisfactory answer Knoth commands his henchmen to wind the rack, saying, “Make the woman scream.”.

He does so, causing the woman to struggle and scream in agony as she is stretched. Josiah begs for them to stop the torture, before his will breaks and he tells Knoth of Lynn’s location. Another of Knoth’s henchmen then implicitly kills Josiah with an axe, before they leave the room, with Mary still strapped to the rack.”

What’s intriguing between the latest report and the first one appears to be a difference in perspective: the Board seemed to be much more appreciative of context and surrounding. That’s not to say implied sexual violence would be appropriate in OUTLAST 2 at all, but the note about sexual violence “not justified by context” is an indication that the Board would accept with implied sexual violence, provided it was neither interactive nor incentivised.

– Outlast 2’s new classification report s interesting reading
article @ kotaku.com.au

The modified sequence

OUTLAST 2 was released in April 2017 as part of the OUTLAST TRINITY set. It included the original game, as well as OUTLAST WHISTLEBLOWER.

Outlast Trinity (2017) - Game Cover 1
PlayStation 4 Cover

As promised by Red Barrels, the worldwide version of the game featured the modified version of the scene. The original version of the game, banned by the Australian censor, has never been released.

Classification Board comments

September 2017
The game contains high impact horror themes such as sadistic torture and ritualistic evisceration, decapitation and dismemberment. While navigating a variety of environments, various cinematic techniques (audio and visual) are used to heighten the player’s feelings of suspense, shock, fear and horror. In one scene, a campfire is viewed, surrounded by mutilated bodies, or parts of bodies impaled on stakes; many are rotted or decomposing and one, still partially clothed, is tied to a tree. Its chest cavity is exposed and the intestines have been partially pulled out and looped around the surrounding stakes. Decapitated heads are impaled on the two stakes either side of the tree. Generous blood and wound detail, as well as a swarm of large flies, complete the scene.

In one section of gameplay, the player, as Blake, stumbles into a forest clearing after having had psycho-active dust blown into his face. With his vision blurring, Blake witnesses what appears to be a ritualistic orgy. One creature on the right side of the clearing has another bent over a rock, thrusting as they implicitly have rear-entry sex. The player can approach the couple and view the implicit sex from different perspectives, but no genital detail is viewed. The game’s consumer advice was “high impact horror themes, violence, blood, gore and sex”.

The Board notes that an earlier version of OUTLAST 2 was Refused Classification because it included a depiction of implied sexual violence and therefore, according to the Guidelines, could not be accommodated within the R 18+ classification category. The applicant advised subsequently that it had sent erroneous material to the Board, thereby nullifying the RC decision

– Classification Board, Annual Report 2016-2017

Complaints

September 2017
The Classification Board made 498 classification decisions for computer games in 2016–17 and received 65 complaints about computer games.

The Classification Board received 44 complaints about the computer game OUTLAST 2 which is classified R 18+ with consumer advice of “high impact horror themes, violence, blood and gore and sex”. The game was initially classified RC based on information provided by the applicant. The applicant subsequently notified the Board that erroneous material not present in the game had been provided with the application for classification.

The complainants believed the RC classification for the game was too high. These complaints were received before the applicant notified the Board of its erroneous inclusion of material not in the game, thereby invalidating the RC decision.

– Classification Board, Annual Report 2016-2017

Self-classified R18+

In January 2018, OUTLAST 2 was passed with an R18+ (High impact violence) rating under the AUTOMATED International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) system.

Red Barrels was the applicant.


Omega Labyrinth Z

Publisher D3Publisher / 2017 / MobyGames

In February 2018, OMEGA LABYRINTH Z was banned due to ‘…a simulation of sexual stimulation of a child’.

The applicant was PQube Ltd.

Omega Labyrinth Z (2017) - Game Cover 1
PS Vita Cover

The National Classification Database gave the following reason for the RC-rating.

February 2, 2018
Games 1(a)&(b) The computer game is classified RC in accordance with the National Classification Code, Computer Games Table, 1.
(a) as computer games that “depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, 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 to the extent that they should not be classified,” and
(b) “describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not).”

– Classification Board

February 2, 2018
The game features a variety of female characters with their cleavages emphasised by their overtly provocative clothing, which often reveal the sides or underside of their breasts and obscured genital region. Multiple female characters are also depicted fully nude, with genitals obscured by objects and streams of light throughout the game. Although of indeterminate age, most of these characters are adult-like, with voluptuous bosoms and large cleavages that are flaunted with a variety of skimpy outfits.

One character, Urara Rurikawa, is clearly depicted as child-like in comparison with the other female characters. She is flat-chested, physically underdeveloped (particularly visible in her hip region) and is significantly shorter than other characters in the game. She also has a child-like voice, wears a school uniform-esque outfit and appears naive in her outlook on life.

At one point in the game, Urara Rurikawa and a friend are referred to as “the younger girls” by one of the game’s main characters.

In some gameplay modes, including the “awakening” mode, the player is able to touch the breasts, buttocks, mouths and genital regions of each character, including Urara Rurikawa, while they are in sexualised poses, receiving positive verbal feedback for interactions which are implied to be pleasurable for the characters and negative verbal feedback, including lines of dialogue such as “I-It doesn’t feel good…” and “Hyah? Don’t touch there!,” for interactions which are implied to be unpleasurable, implying a potential lack of consent.

The aim of these sections is, implicity, to sexually arouse these characters to the point that a “shame break” is activated, in which some of the characters clothing is removed – with genital regions obscured by light and various objects – and the background changes colour as they implicitly orgasm.

In one “awakening” mode scenario, the player interacts with Urara Rurikawa, who is depicted lying down, clutching a teddy bear, with lines of dialogue such as “I’m turning sleepy…”, “I’m so sleepy now…” and “I might wake up…” implying that she is drifting in and out of sleep.

The player interacts with this child-like character in the same manner as they interact with adult characters, clicking her breasts, buttocks, mouth and genital regions until the “shame break” mode is activated. During this section of the game, with mis-clicks, dialogue can be triggered, in which Urara Rurikawa says, “Stop tickling…”, “Stop poking…” and “Th-that feels strange…”, implying a lack of consent.

In the Board’s opinion, the ability to interact with the character Urara Rurikawa in the manner described above constituted a simulation of sexual stimulation of a child.

– Classification Board report
article @ kotaku.com.au

Distributor comments

February 5, 2018
Regarding the situation with OMEGA LABYRINTH Z in Australia, we’re not really surprised, unfortunately. Australia has always been one of the more conservative territories and we knew it was a distinct possibility due to the contents of the game.

We’ll always try to get games through classification regardless of the possibility of it being denied, as we feel that everyone should have the right and the access to play the games they want to play. It is our opinion that disliking the content in a piece of entertainment or art, and voicing that dislike, is totally fine and even encouraged, but denying that work the right to exist in a market based on personal opinions and prejudices, is something we strongly disagree with.

Sadly, this is not the first game of that type that we’ve had similar issues with. It’s quite unfortunate and we feel for the gamers in Australia who were interested in this title, however, we will have to accept and respect the decision of the Australian Classification Board.

– PQube statement
article @ destructoid.com

More refusal detail

September 14, 2018
OMEGA LABYRINTH Z is a dungeon-crawling game with a top-down perspective, in which the player controls several students of Anberyl Girls Academy who are in search of ‘the Holy Grail of Beauty’ – an object with the ability to grant any wish – which the students wish to use to modify their breast sizes.

In the Board’s opinion, the character of Urara Rurikawa is a depiction of a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years. In the Board’s opinion, the ability to interact with the character, Urara Rurikawa, constitutes a simulation of sexual stimulation of a child. Therefore, the computer game depicts, expresses or otherwise deals with matters of sex (in this case, a fantasy of sexual stimulation of a child) that is offensive or abhorrent in such a way that it offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it should not be classified. As the fantasy involves a child-like character, the computer game also describes or depicts in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18.

– Classification Board, Annual Report 2017-2018

We Happy Few

Publisher Gearbox Software / 2016 / MobyGames

In May 2018, WE HAPPY FEW was banned by the Classification Board. because of drug use related to incentives and rewards.

The applicant was Gearbox Publishing, LLC.

May 21, 2018
Decision Report

Classification decisions are made in accordance with the ‘Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995’ (the Act), the National Classification Code and the Classification Guidelines.

Production Details:

Title: WE HAPPY FEW
Alternate titles:
Publisher: GEARBOX PUBLISHING, LLC
Programmer: COMPULSION GAMES INC
Production Company:
Year of Production: 2018
Duration: VARIABLE
Version: ORIGINAL
Country/ies of origin: USA
Language/s: ENGLISH
Application type: CG2
Applicant: GEARBOX PUBLISHING, LLC

Dates:

Date application received by the Classification Board: 09 May 2018
Date of decision: 21 May 2018

Decision:

Classification: RC
Consumer advice:

Synopsis:

WE HAPPY FEW is a psychedelic, single-player, action-adventure game set in 1964 after England lost World War II, where the population of the fictional dystopian town, Wellington Wells, consume a drug called “Joy”, mandated by the government, that causes memory loss. The player takes the role of three characters in an interlocking narrative: Arthur, a weedy archivist searching for his brother; Sally, a chemist who wants to escape; and Ollie, who is keen to expose the truth about the town’s dwindling food supplies. The game contains no online Interactivity.

Reasons for the Decision:

In making this decision, the Classification Board has applied the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Classification Act), the National Classification Code (the Code) and the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games 2012 (the Guidelines).

In the Board’s view this game warrants an ‘RC’ classification in accordance with item 1(a) of the computer games table of the Code:

“1. Computer games that: (a) depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, 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 to the extent that they should not be classified;” will be Refused Classification.

Computer games that exceed the R18+ classification category will be Refused Classification. Computer Games will be Refused Classification if they include or contain “drug use related to incentives and rewards”.

The examples described below do not represent an exhaustive list of the content that caused the computer game to be refused classification.

Gameplay consists of exploring the fictional English town of Wellington Wells In first-person as three separate playable characters, where non-playing characters consume the government-mandated, fictional drug “Joy” in the form of pills, which include side-effects such as euphoria and memory loss. When the player consumes Joy, surreal, psychedelic sequences including butterflies and brightly-coloured street-stapes appear. In keeping with the fantasy setting, character models and environments are brightly-coloured and stylised.

Players have the option to conform with NPCs and take Joy pills when exploring the Village or Parade District areas of the game. If a player has not taken Joy, NPCs become hostile towards the player if they perform behaviours including running, jumping and staring. An NPC character called the Doctor can detect when the player has not taken Joy and will subsequently raise an alarm. A player that takes Joy can reduce gameplay difficulty, therefore receiving an Incentive by progressing through the game quickly. Although there are alternative methods to complete the game, gameplay requires the player to take Joy to progress.

In one sequence, an NPC is viewed on the ground, convulsing owing to a reaction from taking a Joy pill, which, has subsequently turned bad. After several NPCs encourage her to take Joy and she refuses, fearing that it will have an adverse effect, they beat her with steel pots and a shovel, until she is implicitly killed.

In another sequence, the player is seen in first-person view, entering a telephone box that contains three large pill dispensers, each holding a different flavoured Joy pill. The player consumes a Joy pill and a swarm of brightly-coloured butterflies appear as well as rainbows and coloured pathways on the ground, improving speed and visibility for the player.

In the Board’s opinion, the game’s drug-use mechanic making game progression less difficult constitutes an incentive or reward for drug-use and therefore, the game exceeds the R 18+ classification that states, “drug use related to incentives and rewards is not permitted”. Therefore, the game warrants being Refused Classification.

Decision:

This game is Refused Classification.

– Classification Board report

The Developer responds

May 22, 2018
As many of you may know by now, yesterday the Australian Classification Board chose not to classify WE HAPPY FEW, effectively banning WE HAPPY FEW from sale in Australia. We are looking into it, and have asked for more information on the decision.

To our Australian fans, we share your frustration. We will work with the ACB on the classification. If the government maintains its stance, we will make sure that you can get a refund, and we will work directly with affected Kickstarter backers to figure something out. We would appreciate if you give us a little bit of time to appeal the decision before making a call.

WE HAPPY FEW is set in a dystopian society, and the first scene consists of the player character redacting material that could cause offense to “society at large”, as part of his job as a government “archivist”. It’s a society that is forcing its citizens to take Joy, and the whole point of the game is to reject this programming and fight back. In this context, our game’s overarching social commentary is no different than Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD, or Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL.

The game explores a range of modern themes, including addiction, mental health and drug abuse. We have had hundreds of messages from fans appreciating the treatment we’ve given these topics, and we believe that when players do get into the world they’ll feel the same way. We’re proud of what we’ve created.

We would like to respond to the thematic side of WE HAPPY FEW in more detail at a later date, as we believe it deserves more attention than a quick PR response. In the meantime we will be talking to the ACB to provide additional information, to discuss the issues in depth, and see whether they will change their minds.

– Compulsion Games statement

Keeping the public informed

Presumably, the Classification Board received a lot of correspondence regarding their decision as they thought it necessary to issue one of their rare media releases.

May 25, 2018
WE HAPPY FEW is a psychedelic, single-player, action-adventure game set in 1964, after England has lost World War II, where the population of the fictional dystopian town, Wellington Wells, consume a drug called ‘Joy’ that causes memory loss, mandated by the government.

On 21 May 2018, the Classification Board (the Board) classified the computer game WE HAPPY FEW RC (Refused Classification). The RC category is commonly referred to as being ‘banned’. This means that the game cannot be sold, hired, advertised, or imported into Australia.

In making this decision, the Classification Board had to apply the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the National Classification Code and the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games 2012 (the Games Guidelines).

The Games Guidelines explain the different classification categories, and the scope and limits of material suitable for each category. They are revised from time to time, with extensive community input.

The Games Guidelines state for all classification levels from G up to, and including, R 18+ that: Drug use related to incentives and rewards is not permitted. ‘Incentives’ or ‘rewards’ may include, but are not limited to: the awarding of additional points; achievement unlocks; new skills or increases in attributes such as strength; making tasks easier to accomplish; accumulating rare forms of game equipment; plot animations and pictures as rewards following an event/action.

When assessing the computer game WE HAPPY FEW the Board sought clarification from the applicant, Gearbox Publishing LLC, regarding drug use for incentives or rewards.

Based on the information from the applicant, the Board noted:

“Players have the option to conform with NPCs and take Joy pills when exploring the Village or Parade District areas of the game. If a player has not taken Joy, NPCs become hostile towards the player if they perform behaviours including running, jumping and staring. An NPC character called the Doctor can detect when the player has not taken Joy and will subsequently raise an alarm. A player who takes Joy can reduce gameplay difficulty, therefore receiving an incentive by progressing through the game quickly. Although there are alternative methods to complete the game, gameplay requires the player to take Joy to progress.”

In the Board’s opinion, the game’s drug-use mechanism of making game progression less difficult, constituted an incentive or reward for drug-use. Therefore, the game exceeded the R 18+ classification because of the drug use related to incentives and rewards. The Games Guidelines state that, Computer games that exceed the R 18+ classification category will be Refused Classification. If the Games Guidelines did not contain this restriction in its current form, then WE HAPPY FEW would have received an MA 15+ classification.

– Classification of the game We Happy Few
– Margaret Anderson, Acting Director, Classification Board

Interview with the designer

June 15, 2018
Alex Epstein, WE HAPPY FEW’S narrative designer, told Polygon that the team hopes to convince the ratings board their team isn’t trying to glorify drug use.

“I think we hope to convince them that the game is not very positive on the subject of drugs, or that you know, this is a fictional drug,” Epstein said. “This is a drug that is prescribed by very nice doctor with jaunty hats and everything, so the game is not in favor of illegal drugs. In fact, it’s illegal to not take the drugs, so hopefully [the Classification Board] will change their minds.”

Epstein hopes that the Australian Classification Board realizes this, and allows people to purchase the game if they wish. When asked if he was worried people in Australia wouldn’t be able to play the game, Epstein smirked.

“Hopefully it will be available in Australia one day, but I’m sure it’ll be available in Australia one way or another,” Epstein said. “I’m sure they all have VPNs and download it from Steam — or maybe the censorship board will decide that it’s fine. Either way, people will find a way to play if they want.”

– We Happy Few dev addresses Australia ban, tackling drug glorification
article @ polygon.com

RC-rating review

June 26, 2018
The Classification Review Board has received an application to review the classification of the computer game WE HAPPY FEW.

WE HAPPY FEW was refused classification by the Classification Board on 21 May 2018.

The Classification Review Board will meet on 3 July 2018 to consider the application. The decision and reasons will later be published on www.classification.gov.au.

If an individual or organisation wishes to apply for standing as an interested party to this review, please write to the Convenor of the Review Board. The names of interested parties will be disclosed in the Review Board’s final decision report, unless requested otherwise.

The closing date to lodge your application for standing as an interested party and any submissions is 29 June 2018. Please note that the Review Board can only consider submissions about WE HAPPY FEW itself and not any other matters relating to computer game classification policy or issues generally.

Submissions should be emailed to crb@classification.gov.au or sent to:

The Convenor, Classification Review Board, Locked Bag 3, Haymarket NSW 1240

The Classification Review Board is an independent merits review body. It makes a fresh classification decision upon receipt of an application for review. The Classification Review Board decision takes the place of the original decision made by the Classification Board.

– Classification review announced for the computer game We Happy Few
– Classification Review Board

Appeal for submissions

June 27, 2018
Australia Update: The appeal for WE HAPPY FEW classification is under way, and the Classification Review Board is opening submissions from the public. If this is something that interests you, here is the link.

– Twitter‏ @CompulsionGames

RC dropped to R18+

July 3, 2018
A three-member panel of the Classification Review Board has unanimously determined that the computer game WE HAPPY FEW is classified R 18+ (Restricted) with the consumer advice ‘Fantasy violence and interactive drug use’.

The National Classification Code and Classification Guidelines requires the treatment of drug use to not exceed high at the R 18+ level. In the Classification Review Board’s opinion WE HAPPY FEW warrants an R 18+ classification because the interactive drug use is high in impact. The overall impact of the classifiable elements in the computer game was no greater than high.

Computer games classified R 18+ are legally restricted to adults. Persons aged under 18 years cannot purchase computer games classified R 18+. Some material classified R 18+ may be offensive to sections of the adult community. Consumer advice is additional information about the main content of a computer game which is intended to help consumers decide if they want to view this type of material.

The Review Board convened today in response to an application from the original applicant, Gearbox Publishing, LLC, to review the decision made by the Classification Board on 21 May 2018 to classify WE HAPPY FEW Refused Classification.

In reviewing the classification, the Review Board worked within the framework of the National Classification Scheme, applying the provisions of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the National Classification Code and the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games. This is the same framework used by the Classification Board.

The Review Board is an independent merits review body. It makes a fresh classification decision upon receipt of an application for review. This Review Board decision takes the place of the original decision made by the Classification Board.

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

– We Happy Few classified R 18+
– Classification Review Board
We Happy Few (2016) - Game Cover 1
PlayStation 4 Cover

Full report

July 3, 2018
23-33 Mary Street Surry Hills, NSW

Review of Classification Board’s decision to classify computer game WE HAPPY FEW

Members:
Fiona Jolly (Chair)
Sue Knowles
Peter Attard

Applicant:
Gearbox Publishing LLC

Interested parties:
Microsoft Pty Ltd

Business:
To review the Classification Board’s decision to classify the computer game WE HAPPY FEW which has been Refused Classification.

Decision and reasons for decision

1. Decision

The Classification Review Board (the Review Board) unanimously classified the computer game R 18+, with the consumer advice ‘Fantasy violence and interactive drug use’.

2. Legislative provisions

The Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) (the Classification Act) governs the classification of computer games and the review of classification decisions.

The Review Board

Part 5 of the Classification Act outlines the provisions relevant to the Review Board and its procedures.

Section 42 of the Classification Act sets out the persons who may apply for review of a decision:

a) the Minister

b) the applicant for classification of the film, or the likely classification of the film under section 33

c) the publisher of the computer game, or

d) a person aggrieved by the decision.

Section 43 sets out the conditions regarding the manner and form of applications for review, including time limits. Under section 44, the Review Board must deal with an application for review in the same way that the Classification Board deals with an application for classification of a computer game.

Classification of computer games under the Classification Act

Section 9, subject to section 9A, provides that computer games are to be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code (the Code) and the classification guidelines. Section 9A states that a computer game that advocates the doing of a terrorist act must be classified RC.

Section 11 of the Classification 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.

The National Classification Code

Relevantly, the Computer Games Table of the Code provides that:

Computer games (except RC computer games) that are unsuitable for viewing or playing by a minor are to be classified R 18+.

The Code also sets out various principles to which classification decisions should give effect, as far as possible:

a) adults should be able to read, hear, see and play what they want

b) minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them

c) everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive

d) the need to take account of community concerns about:

(i) depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence and,

(ii) the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.

The Guidelines

Three essential principles underlie the use of the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games 2012 (the Guidelines), determined under section 12 of the Classification Act, the:

– importance of context

– assessment of impact, and

– six classifiable elements—themes, violence, sex, language, drug use and nudity.

3. Procedure

Three members of the Review Board met on 3 July 2018 in response to the receipt of an application from Gearbox Publishing LLC on 20 June 2018 to conduct the review of the computer game WE HAPPY FEW, which had previously been refused classification by the Classification Board. The Review Board determined that the application was a valid application.

The Review Board was provided a written submission from the Applicant.

The Review Board was provided written submissions from Microsoft Pty Ltd and 87 members of the general public.

The Review Board viewed a lengthy live demonstration of gameplay and viewed recorded gameplay footage.

The Review Board heard an oral submission from the Applicant.

The Review Board then considered the matter.

4. Evidence and other material taken into account In reaching its decision, the Review Board had regard to the following:

(i) Gearbox Publishing LLC’s application for review

(ii) Baker Mckenzie’s (representing Gearbox Publishing LLC) written and oral submissions

(iii) written submissions received from: a. Microsoft Pty Ltd, and b. 87 members of the general public (Appendix A)

(iv) the computer game, WE HAPPY FEW

(v) the relevant provisions in the Classification Act, the Code and the Guidelines, and

(vi) the Classification Board’s report.

5. Synopsis

WE HAPPY FEW is a single-player, action-adventure game set in an alternative-history 1964 after England lost World War II, in the population of a fictional dystopian town, Wellington Wells. It is a game of paranoia and survival, where inhabitants take happy pills to forget about the terrible things done in the war. In order to progress in the game, the player must appear to be a decent, proper, well-drugged citizen of Wellington Wells, while crafting materials needed to survive undrugged in order to escape.

The player takes on the role of a number of different townsfolk throughout the game: Arthur Hastings, an archivist who wants to escape and find his brother; Sally Boyle, a chemist tasked with synthesizing Joy (the Government mandated happy pills) for the remainder of the ‘upper crust’ of society, who is looking for a way to escape to protect her baby; and Ollie Starkey, a character who wants to expose the truth about dwindling food supplies and the impending total collapse of all remaining infrastructure.

WE HAPPY FEW contains no online interactivity.

6. Findings on material questions of fact

The Review Board found that the computer game contains aspects or scenes of importance under various classifiable elements:

(a) Themes—The primary theme is of a village drugged to forget its horrific past.

The impact of this element is no greater than high and can be accommodated at the R 18+ level.

(b) Violence—The computer game contains frequent violence where characters attack or are being attacked. There is no graphic depiction of injury and blood splatter is minimal and unrealistic.

The impact of this element is no greater than high and can be accommodated at the R 18+ level.

(c) Sex—There are no depictions of sexual activity.

(d) Language—The computer game contains strong coarse language.

The impact of this element is no greater than high and can be accommodated at the R 18+ level.

(e) Drug Use—There is frequent use of a fictitious drug called Joy, taken by the majority of the game’s characters. Use of this drug is interactive in that the main character(s) are put in scenarios where they can choose to take it. There are also incidental references to the use of other fictitious drugs.

The impact of this element is no greater than high and can be accommodated at the R 18+ level.

(f) Nudity—There are no depictions of nudity.

7. Reasons for the decision

The premise of this computer game is for the playing characters to escape a fictional town where the inhabitants are in a state of Government mandated euphoria and memory loss. Although the non-playing characters appear to be happy due to their continual use of the Joy drug, the computer game quickly establishes that this state is undesirable and the playing characters are on a quest to avoid the use of the Joy drug.

The actual use of the fictitious drug as a game progression mechanic, questions the viability of such a gameplay decision at each stage/level. The character’s action in taking the drug is usually the only viable option given and while it may enable the character to pass a stage/level of the game, the benefit is short term and is followed by a loss of memory and a reduction in health points, the depletion of the body and/or withdrawal symptoms.

In the Review Board’s opinion, the use of the drug is not presented as an incentive nor does it constitute a reward for the player in achieving the aim of the computer game.

In the Review Board’s opinion, the interactive drug use does not exceed high, therefore the computer game can be accommodated at R 18+.

8. Summary

In the Review Board’s opinion, the use of the fictional drug Joy in the game WE HAPPY FEW is not presented as an incentive nor does it constitute a reward for the player in achieving the aim of the computer game.

In the Review Board’s opinion, the interactive drug use does not exceed high, therefore the computer game can be accommodated at R 18+.

Appendix A—General public submissions received for WE HAPPY FEW

Curtis Williams, Jeremy Noonan, Tom Vuckovic, Lee Smith, Matthew Thomson, Phillip Hunt, Matt Cawston, Frank Erdogan, Thomas Brown, Aidan Clout, Eoghan Barry, Mark Gambino, Nicholas Cowell, Jonathon Wills, Alex Martin, Jamison Morris, Joseph Barker, Tanya Cumpston, William Lyon, Kieron Stoff, Kieron Verbrugge , Gavin Awyzio, Tim Biggs, James Paton, Daniel Griffin, Joshua Apter, Lauren Jones, Cameron, Christina Liddle, Austacker, Jesse Powell, Dean Walshe, Al Nairn, Kyle Jamieson, Aaron Floky, Sean Nichols, Joshua Alan Warnock, Jordan Mace, Ian Hendry, Jayden King, Patrick Clifford, Andrew Blankley, Thomas Morgan, Michael Brock, Ben Byron, Justin Butler, William Murphy, Josh Chandler, Chris Lawn, Von Meerman, Tony Besselink, Jamie Smeets, Craig Swallow, Marc Catania, John Grayson, Kyle Brown, Michael Nicolson, Erin Sayers, Megan Charlton, Kain Eckford-Harders, Joel Tunbridge , Steven Gadd, Patrick Hanrahan, Luke, Samuel Giannakakos, Jake. Gregory Hager, Matt Geary, Christopher Baker, Thomas King, Peter Bohning, Andrew Boisen, Anthony Evans, Demkraty, Triston S, Corey Unwin, Mitchell Solomon, Michael Barnett, Donna Barker.

– Classification Review Board report

How to challenge a rating

Baker McKenzie was hired by Gearbox Publishing to represent them before the Classification Review Board.

Sebastian Schwiddessen, a Senior Associate at the company, wrote of their experiences with defending the game.

July 10, 2018
Recently the Australian Classification Board (“ACB”) overturned the previous RC decision of the dystopian video game WE HAPPY FEW. This is the first time that an RC decision based on drug use related to incentives and rewards was overturned.

This article describes the procedure to challenge Australian rating decisions through the example of WE HAPPY FEW.

We Happy Few: An example for appealing Australian classification decisions
article @ linkedin.com

Compulsion Games on the win

July 3, 2018
Hi all, After considering our appeal to get WE HAPPY FEW reviewed for classification, the Australian Classification Review Board has decided to allow the release of WE HAPPY FEW in Australia!

We went to a great deal of effort to get this decision overturned. WE HAPPY FEW will be rated R18+ in Australia.

We are extremely pleased with the decision of the board and excited that our Australian fans and new players will be able to experience WE HAPPY FEW without modification.

We want to thank everybody who got involved in the discussion, contacted the board and sent us countless messages of support. Your involvement made a huge difference.

– We Happy Few coming to Australia
– Compulsion Games statement

July 4, 2018
In an email with Kotaku Australia, Compulsion Games chief operating officer and producer Sam Abbott said he wasn’t sure that the Classification Board had any room to move, given the constraints of the rating guidelines.

“I think originally the board made the best decision they could given (a) the guidelines they work within, and (b) the information we provided them,” Abbott said. “I’m not sure I’d make a different original decision given those constraints.”

Abbott went on to explain that Compulsion Games could have outlined more information about Joy — the drug that is a centrepiece of the dystopian society in which WE HAPPY FEW is set — including the positive and negative aspects of its consumption.

“If I was going to provide suggestions to other developers who are concerned about running into these issues, it would be to make sure that any drug related stuff is couched in the appropriate context inside your game, and making that context very clear in your submission materials.”

The producer noted that the Classification Board guidelines are reviewed every couple of years, and he expressed sympathy for the complexity of the framework that the Board operates under. “Ratings decisions are a complicated subject, because I think we can all agree that some things should be banned, but beyond the obvious ‘Illegal’ baseline, few people can agree on what those things should be.”

Abbott went on to stress that while addiction to legal medicinal drugs is a genuine problem, being able to talk about it openly is a crucial element in combating that problem too. “Drugs aren’t just lsd and cocaine, they’re also antibiotics, ibuprofen and your dad’s blood pressure medication,” he said.

“Preventing the discussion of drugs generally for having ‘positive gameplay effects’ deprives people of debate (eg. how do you deal with topics of addiction if you can’t talk about how drugs make you feel). It’s also a bit unfair to video games, as other mediums are free to discuss these subjects. But, maybe some people won’t agree with that.”

I asked if it was possible for Compulsion Games’ submission to be publicised, but it was explained that the developer provided substantial plot and lore spoilers in their appeal to the Board and weren’t ready for that information to be public as of yet. Abbott revealed, however, that their appeal was about 20 pages and had a video approximately 30 minutes long.

“Other than the issues about content, reviewing the cost of the appeal process might be worth it, because indie teams will simply not be able to afford the $10,000 entry fee, nor the resources to find legal support to write a formal response. Without Gearbox on our side, we may not have been able to do it.”

Abbott also wanted to thank everyone who made a submission, as well as the Australian gaming public. “That’s cool of you guys, and we’re very glad to have been successful.”

– We Happy Few developers: The Classification Board ‘made the best decision they could’
article @ kotaku.com.au

Banned under the IARC system

In August 2018, WE HAPPY FEW was again listed as being Refused Classification. This time it had been submitted under the automated International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) system.

Presumably, the decision was manually reviewed, as it was subsequently removed from the National Classification Database.

Criticism of RC-rating

September 14, 2018
In a decision that attracted high media coverage, the Board classified the computer game WE HAPPY FEW as Refused Classification (RC), owing to the game’s drug use mechanism of making game progression less difficult, which thereby constituted an incentive or reward for drug use. ‘Incentives’ or ‘rewards’ may include, but are not limited to: the awarding of additional points; achievement unlocks; new skills or increases in attributes such as strength; making tasks easier to accomplish; accumulating rare forms of game equipment; and plot animations and pictures as rewards following an event/action.

As noted in the media release that accompanied the Board’s decision, the Board formed the opinion (at the time of classification) that if the Games Guidelines did not contain the restriction in its current form pertaining to drug use related to incentives and rewards, then WE HAPPY FEW would have received an MA 15+ classification.

Classification Board, Annual Report 2017 to 2018

September 9, 2019
The Classification Board received 79 complaints about computer games, of which 76 were about WE HAPPY FEW being Refused Classification (RC).

The Board was of the view that the content of this game exceeded the R 18+ classification, as per the Computer Games Guidelines which state that: ‘Drug use related to incentives or rewards is not permitted.’ The complainants believed that the RC classification for the game was too high. This decision was reviewed by the Classification Review Board on 3 July 2018.

Classification Board, Annual Report 2018 to 2019

Song of Memories

Developed by Future Tech Lab Co., Ltd. / 2018 / MobyGames

In August 2018, SONG OF MEMORIES was banned due to ‘sexual violence’.

The applicant was PQube Ltd.

Song of Memories (2018) - Game Cover 1
PlayStation 4 Cover

September 9, 2019
SONG OF MEMORIES is an interactive visual novel with rhythm game elements, in which the player attempts to find their soulmate in the midst of a monster apocalypse. In the Board’s view this game warranted a Refused Classification (RC) classification in accordance with item 1(a) of the computer games table of the Code, which states,

‘Computer games that: (a) depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, 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 to the extent that they should not be classified’

will be Refused Classification.

Further, the Games Guidelines state that computer games that exceed the R18+ classification category will be RC. In the R18+ classification category,’actual sexual violence is not permitted. Implied sexual violence that is visually depicted, interactive, not justified by context or related to incentives or rewards is not permitted.’

Sexual violence is defined in the list of terms in the Games Guidelines as, ‘Sexual assault or aggression, in which the victim does not consent.’ In one section of the game, the player controls Minato Kamishiro as he goes to get rations, warning his female housemates they will be ‘at risk’ if they go outside owing to events which occurred the previous day. The game then flashes back to the previous day, as Minato meets Yuno Wakatsuki on his way to collect rations. Minato accompanies Yuno to the rations tent, where they encounter a group of boys – led by Makoto Asukaya – who decide to kill Yuno, as she is female and can therefore spread a deadly infection. Yuno and Minato protest, as the boys identify themselves as students at the school who were big supporters of Yuno’s gymnastic endeavours, noting ‘[they] only watched [her] because [she] made [them] hard.’ One of the boys then asks Makoto, ‘Can I borrow Yuno for a bit before we kill her? I’ve always wanted to get to know her better, if you know what I mean…’ Yuno protests, saying ‘N-no… but you… were my fans…’ Makoto tells his fellow gang member, ‘You have weird fetishes, too, man. Don’t blame me if she gets you infected… do with her as you wish.’ The man laughs in reply, then states, ‘Oh, I will definitely do with her as I wish! Okay, hand over Yuno!’ Minato refuses, and the player is prompted with a choice tree labelled ‘My only choice is…’ If the player selects ‘Make an opening and burst through’, the gang strikes Minato and grabs Yuno, triggering a non-interactive cut-scene containing a visual depiction of implied sexual violence.

During the cut-scene, Yuno is restrained by two grinning men, framed from the ground up and in a state of distress. As the sequence progresses, her large breasts jiggle and her skirt rises, revealing her underpants in an upskirt shot. Minato reaches for help, however, only his hand is framed, appearing to be reaching for Yuno’s crotch region. The cut-scene continues and Minato is implicitly struck repeatedly, as Yuno squeals with a look of discomfort on her face. The gang members reiterate their plans to murder Yuno and Minato after the assault. The sequence finishes as Minato transforms into an idol and sings an extremely loud song, dispersing the gang. A portion of this sexual assault sequence, depicting an upskirt view of Yuno as she is restrained by two grinning men with Minato’s hand appearing to reach for her crotch region, is also featured in the game’s gallery mode.

In the Board’s opinion, the above examples constituted a depiction of implied sexual violence and therefore the game could not be accommodated within the R18+ classification category and the game was Refused Classification. The Board was of the opinion that without the depiction of implied sexual violence, the game was able to be accommodated within the R18+ classification.

– Classification Board, Annual Report 2018-2019

Helping keep Australia safe

Despite the ban, SONG OF MEMORIES remained available on Steam.

The following article indicates that the journalist altered the Classification Board to the situation, who then requested it to be removed.

October 20, 2019
Despite being banned for sale in Australia during 2018, SONG OF MEMORIES is still available on Steam for Australian players. But it won’t be for long.

Classification Board confirmed it had asked Steam to make the content unavailable for Australian audiences but as of writing, it still remains available.

‘The Department has advised Steam that the computer game, SONG OF MEMORIES, has been Refused Classification in Australia and has requested that it be removed from sale for Australian audiences,’ a spokesperson confirmed.

So, how come it’s on Steam?

Since Valve axed its Greenlight program back in 2017, it’s been much easier for indie developers to upload their creations. This is generally a good thing but it makes it harder for government bodies like the Classification Board to ensure all the content available on the site has been properly vetted.

This is likely what happened with SONG OF MEMORIES, which despite being specifically mentioned in their annual report, was still available for digital sales for Australians for more than a year. While censorship might not always be celebrated, it’s important that all platforms are treated with the same rulings.

– Another game is getting pulled from Steam for Aussies
article @ kotaku.com.au

Steam complied with the Classification Board’s request, and by mid-November, a search was showing the following.

November 15, 2019
Oops, sorry!
An error was encountered while processing your request:
This item is currently unavailable in your region.

– store.steampowered.com

Games journalists often use this angle to write their articles. Just find a banned game, search Steam for availability then ask the Classification Board their opinion. They know the answer they will receive. The Board will contact Steam, or whatever digital platform, the title will be dropped and their article will receive lots of engagement.

This piece regarding DISCO ELYSIUM: THE FINAL CUT (2021) is a great example. One of the comments perfectly sums it up.

April 14, 2021
I guess Kotaku is going to need to go into government themselves and file a complaint… I mean why else would you write endless news articles about this if not trying to get the game removed.

– Comment by The_Riddick
– Steam is still selling Disco Elysium and the Government doesn’t seem to care
article @ kotaku.com.au

back to top of page arrow