Friday, October 19, 2007

"Inappropriate" Video Games

If you're in the loop as far as video game news goes, you're already aware that Soldier of Fortune: Pay Back has been banned from being sold in Australia. If you haven't heard, there's a brief article about it on Gamespot that you'll want to read before continuing with this blog entry.

Being someone who disagrees with censorship at just about every level, my opinion on this is pretty predictable. Refusing to give people the option to experience a work of art is wrong. And there's no question that, on all relevant levels, and to anyone who appreciates them, video games are as much works of art as novels, songs, poems, paintings, or movies. The amount of creative energy that goes into creating a video game is tremendous, and, if any of you care to differ, I'll be happy to toss in another blog in the future outlining all of the different ways a video game qualifies as art. In fact, I'll probably do it anyways, regardless of your level of interest.

Back to the matter at hand, however, what kind of place has Australia become? Isn't that where the UK sent all their criminals? Are government officials afraid that, if the citizenry is exposed to these violent images, they'll revert to their murderous, criminal ways? I mean, the United States government does a decent job of trampling free speech rights from time to time, but just about anything that doesn't involve child pron is fair game (I intentionally use a misspelling there, "pron," to avoid the kind of Google searches I'm not looking for).

Check out this list of games that were "refused classification" in Australia, which means they cannot be sold in the country:
  • Manhunt
  • Grand Theft Auto III
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  • Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude
  • and apparently various others...
I understand the "spirit of the law," as is commonly used when talking about sports in America. The idea is to prevent people deemed incapable of compartmentalizing the game's experience (read: kids) from purchasing the game without the approval of someone with the authority to judge that capacity (read: parent/guardian). But in Australia, it's not "kids" and "parent/guardian." It's "everyone" and "the Office of Film and Literature Classification." What kind of bizarre country doesn't believe its citizens can be trusted to act responsibly in response to violent or sexual imagery in a video game, or in anything for that matter? What a shallow life those people must live.

Grand Theft Auto isn't just a game in the U.S.; it's a whole phenomenon. It's spawned countless mimics, like Saints' Row (really fun game, by the way) and Tony Hawk's Underground 2. To think that the people of Australia are playing a different, toned down version of the game is troubling. As Americans, we think all the time about how many countries in the Middle East have oppressive laws, forcing the rules of their religion on the general populace. But it's a fair bet that most people in those countries are Muslims, and take their religion seriously, so the government is implementing laws that reflect the desires of its constituency.

It seems to actually be a little bit worse in a place like Australia, where most video games are okay. It's okay to be sort of violent, or sort of sexual, but there's a point (and an arbitrary one at that) beyond which you're not allowed to venture.

As an aside, the clips I saw of the game looked really interesting, and knowing now that it's considered particularly graphically violent, I'm going add it to my list of games to wait for to drop to $20-$30 and purchase. (I never buy anything new; I'm a cheapskate, remember?)


Chip said...

There was a lot of talk about Australia. The United States is similar. I saw no mention of Manhunt 2 coming out for PS2 and the Wii. This game was also banned from being released in the United States. It has been "toned down" to get a particular rating. I am interested in getting it for the Wii, mainly for the "stabbing motion" required to kill some people. I think it comes out right before Halloween. I should check up on it.

Joe Mattingly said...

Apparently the game initially received a rating of "AO," or "Adults Only." However, while a game with said rating won't be sold in most stores, those games are still available, usually via mail order, download purchase, etc. I can understand putting age limits on games, thus keeping sales decisions in the hands of parents and out of the hands of store clerks or children.

The problem with Australia is that games that are refused classification are not allowed to be sold anywhere on any level. That's a problem for me.

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