News emerged yesterday that Saints Row IV has become the first game to be refused classification since the introduction of an R18+ rating for games earlier this year. What happens next — and what can gamers do?
In many ways I’m not surprised at the outrage over Saints Row IV being banned, or, indeed, that it’s Saints Row that’s been banned. It’s a series that’s always pushed the envelope, especially once it got beyond its aping-GTA roots and delved out into… weirdness.
It’s always been darkly and deeply tongue in cheek, but that kind of thing (as with any humour) can balance any of a number of ways. I’ve not been offended by a Saints Row game per se, because it’s just a game, but then apparently some people found The Internship funny.
Humour is relative, in other words, but it’d be the simplest thing possible to pull together a shock jock style Saints Row clip for the evening news that would make it seem abhorrent; a few headshots, a semi-naked woman being beaten with a purple dildo and you’re done. That ignores the comedy intent of the game, but it’s undeniably part of the content itself.
It appears that type of content has been its Achilles heel in this case, to, with the classification board refusing a rating on the grounds of “visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context” and “elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards.”
There’s been a lot of ire directed at the classification board, but honestly — they’re just working within the limits of the law as it is written.
I don’t know the specifics of the “implied sexual violence”, and neither do you, but it’s exactly the type of thing that classification guidelines are there for. Many cheered when R18+ was passed (and I was amongst them) but it was never carte blanche for any and all types of game content; more a recalibration to bring it into line with the rules for films, books and other material.
I rather liked the iGEA’s response to the issue, with a statement released that points out that “Broadly speaking though, one of the key reasons an R18+ was introduced was to ensure that we strike a balance between giving adult Australians access to adult games while protecting children from inappropriate content. Under the new guidelines, we celebrate the fact that adults can now access age-appropriate games which may have otherwise been refused classification, but as we have argued, we also must accept that there will be some video games which will fall outside the scope of the R18+ guidelines.”
So what happens next?
Well, for a start, it appears that local publisher Deep Silver is going to resubmit the game with the offending material excised, which means that, presuming it only has single small issues to deal with, there’ll be an “Australian” edition of the game on store shelves later this year.
Is that a huge problem? It depends on how you look at it, and really, it still comes back to the core issue of what the offending material was, and what impact on gameplay it had. Nobody but the classification board can know that at this point; if it’s central to gameplay that’s more of an issue. I’m more concerned in one way with the secondary part of the ruling, regarding “illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards”, if only because that kind of thing has been weirdly applied in the past. If it’s how-to manual on why snorting entire kilos of cocaine will make you a better person, then I can see it, but something tells me that Saints Row’s sense of humour may have been missed there. Again, I don’t know, because the material isn’t in front of me, and it’s not in front of you either.
The other reality here is that for gamers who are seriously concerned with missing content, the same avenues are open to you as have been in the pre R18+ age, namely importing or digitally downloading the content classified for other regions. Are you breaking the law to do so? You certainly are, but from a realistic viewpoint, this kind of thing happens all the time, and being sat in the Euro region as far as most games companies are concerned means that pretty much any version of Saints Row IV for any console is likely to run here.
Update: Mark Serrels over at Kotaku has grabbed the classification report, which states that the offending content is an Alien Anal probe used as a weapon within the game; again, that strikes me very much in the tone of the Saints Row series as a whole, but I can equally see, looking at the guidelines why that (and the use of “Alien Drugs”) might tip it over into RC territory. Mark’s full report can be read here.