Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll have heard that Saints Row IV was given the big red stamp of disapproval from the Australian Government Classification Board. Unsurprisingly the game’s banning has to do with one of its many gratuitous weapons — in this case an anal probe — and the use of drugs, incentivised through reward.
The Refused Classification verdict has caused quite the furor among gamers and media commentators alike, although the response seems mixed as it treads the backwater of political pestering and the historical context of censorship in Australia.
Its banning from sale in all states — and complete illegality in a few — is representative of a far reaching reliance on government that, for better or worse, has helped shape this great (at times) country’s expectations on the stage of morality.
Yet I am grossly uncomfortable with the decision, as I have been with every RC verdict for games we’ve seen. There is a dangerous standard of expectation leveled at video games, which has far reaching implications on perceptions of society and the rights and wrongs we live by individually, as well as collectively in our communities.
NEWS: Saints Row IV refused classification in Australia
Some have argued that the game’s “sexualised violence”, as determined in line with the “Board’s view” — remember, the Classification Board determines how the standard Australian approaches morality — is justification for the game’s banning … based on their own guidelines.
It’s one thing to support the Board’s decision based on its consistency in applying the guidelines it’s set, and another to support the Board on the basis that you think the content shouldn’t be accessed in Australia.
I support that the Board has made this decision within its guidelines. I don’t, however, support the guidelines.
“In the Board’s view the game warrants an ‘RC’ classification in accordance with item 1(a) of the computer games table of the National Classification Code:
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 will receive a RC classification.”
We apply a similar standard of generalisation in a court of law: would a “reasonable adult” have acted in such a way and committed the crime? This can make or break a case. But since when did things that “offend against the standards of morality” eradicate potential individual perceptions of morality, and why exactly is someone else determining these “standards” and applying them to forms of entertainment?
This actually goes well beyond freedom of speech, and is actually firmly embedded in historical interpretations of government control and oppression. This is not to say that the content in Saints Row 4 isn’t inappropriate, because it is, but it’s hardly so outrageous as to initiate, say, media that purposely seeks out to offend specific individuals directly influenced by the context of the material.
The biggest problem with the verdict is that it still disregards the games medium for what it actually is: a mature form of entertainment for a mature audience. No, gamers don’t rush out to buy Saints Row 4 so they can anally probe an NPC. There’s context there the Classification Board either disregards, or there is a major communication issue between publisher and classification body.
DISCUSSION: What do you think of the Saints Row IV banning?
Someone responded to my concerns about the verdict, suggesting I was against governmental banning of violent pornography, which is an abhorrent accusation to take in the discussion of such a grossly dysfunctional level of censorship. I expect the government to instill certain standards of censorship on content, speech and individuals that purposely seek out to negatively affect others. What we have here, though, is concentrated power on a medium that is struggling to find its feet in this country.
Liberty, by nature, is disobedient. Saints Row 4 is disobedient. When we instill standards of morality in a single group of people, we are eradicating this liberty and becoming slaves to a level of morality somehow defined by the restrictions it places on society. Immorality does not need to equate to censorship. Only in some cases. But all cases? It’s a slippery slope.
We feel that we must maintain our morality — or this determined standard of it — to maintain our liberty, but the disobedience is liberty’s safeguard, and only through education will we understand the wrongs of content like Saints Row 4. You can’t educate if you have a standing army blocking you access.
You don’t need to disagree with the Classification’s Board’s interpretation of morality to be against this ruling. I do, believe it or not, entrust our government with the responsibility in this case to rely on loose expectations of morality, because I feel a vast majority of us know what’s right and what’s wrong.
But when we’re limiting these standards down to a few individuals’ own perceptions and expectations, we struggle as an industry, and nation, to find our own identity.
"Censorship always defeats it own purpose, for it creates in the end the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion." - Henry Steele Commager
How do you feel about the banning of Saints Row IV? Do you feel the decision was right? Why? Sound off below!