The banning of Saints Row 4 and the problem with government standards of morality

by Gaetano 'Xbot' Prestia Featured 12 Comments 37 Votes 3011 Views 26/06/2013 Back to Articles

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!

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The banning of Saints Row 4 and the problem with government standards of morality Comments

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Its a load of toss, that's all i've got to say.
Just because the board haven't realised that games aren't real, and if you're the age to play 18+ games then you've probably worked out you shouldn't re-enact the events in said game, doesn't mean WE all haven't either.

We really need to get some actual mature gamers in that office to get some first hand opinion, rather then relying on people who obviously still think playing FPS games means you're murdering people. Or likely to in the coming future.

Kaogen said: Its a load of toss, that's all i've got to say.
Just because the board haven't realised that games aren't real, and if you're the age to play 18+ games then you've probably worked out you shouldn't re-enact the events in said game, doesn't mean WE all haven't either.
We really need to get some actual mature gamers in that office to get some first hand opinion, rather then relying on people who obviously still think playing FPS games means you're murdering people. Or likely to in the coming future.



I see the problem as being akin to the climate change debate.

You have scientists caught in the middle of political bickering.

On one side there are alarmists, the other side, denialists.

Both sides turn to scientists, but they throw their hands up and say, "Look, this is what the science says, it's not my opinion, I'm just going by what I know."

In this case you simply have people applying a set of guidelines to a game. And it all comes down to how we perceive morality, and how we approach morality, when judging whether or not society is prepared for something.

Even if you or I were on the Classification Board, as gamers it shouldn't skew how we apply the guidelines. We'd still ban it, but the government has determined how we apply morality to media.
ah just put a jackass style disclaimer in it and be done with it
Lol New Zealand's cooler than AU now~

jfctakeme said: Lol New Zealand's cooler than AU now~

NZ and AUS have linked classification boards for most things, not saying you guy's won't get it but they haven't responded on it.

Flooper said:

jfctakeme said: Lol New Zealand's cooler than AU now~

NZ and AUS have linked classification boards for most things, not saying you guy's won't get it but they haven't responded on it.


NZ had an R rating before Australia.

Gryllis said:

Flooper said:

jfctakeme said: Lol New Zealand's cooler than AU now~

NZ and AUS have linked classification boards for most things, not saying you guy's won't get it but they haven't responded on it.


NZ had an R rating before Australia.



Hmm I'll have to tell my mate he is wrong then. However I was told aus/nz xbla is connected is that true? or false as well?
So the point of the R18+ rating bill lay year was? ?
It's absolute bullshit. [MOG]

Cheesypoof said: ah just put a jackass style disclaimer in it and be done with it


Comment of the week.

Tano said:

Kaogen said: Its a load of toss, that's all i've got to say.
Just because the board haven't realised that games aren't real, and if you're the age to play 18+ games then you've probably worked out you shouldn't re-enact the events in said game, doesn't mean WE all haven't either.
We really need to get some actual mature gamers in that office to get some first hand opinion, rather then relying on people who obviously still think playing FPS games means you're murdering people. Or likely to in the coming future.


I see the problem as being akin to the climate change debate.
You have scientists caught in the middle of political bickering.
On one side there are alarmists, the other side, denialists.
Both sides turn to scientists, but they throw their hands up and say, "Look, this is what the science says, it's not my opinion, I'm just going by what I know."
In this case you simply have people applying a set of guidelines to a game. And it all comes down to how we perceive morality, and how we approach morality, when judging whether or not society is prepared for something.
Even if you or I were on the Classification Board, as gamers it shouldn't skew how we apply the guidelines. We'd still ban it, but the government has determined how we apply morality to media.



Except the guidelines themselves are almost dependant entirely upon the opinions of the Board themselves as they are on the content itself.
They're actually quite ambiguous in themselves. they don't really explain WHAT defines 'too much violence' or at what point sexual violence 'loses its context'.
Its really all boiled down to relying on the Board's judgement as to what's right and wrong. which is fine most of the time, but a board of 60 year old knitting men and women are going to have a different view of things then a group of off duty military soldiers. (bit of a odd analogy, I know, but I need to make a point)
Id agree that the Board is sensible at times. but they blocked L4D2 then let Dead island through perfectly fine, so hey lost all my faith in their abilities, which is why we need an even mix of people in their group. not just people who experience says they know what they're doing, but in truth, KNEW what they were doing.
what is the point with this R18+ then.

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