Articles Blog Published

Illegal Downloads Beat Top-Down Censorship Down-Under

Published in print in The Boar, Vol. 37, Issue II, 29th April 2015.

It sucks to be Australian. Not only is life a constant battle against scorching sun, man-eating spiders, and English cricket fans, there are also seldom any decent games to play thanks to government censorship.

By ‘decent’, I of course refer to gruesomely violent and/or sexually depraved pixels. While there’s sense in shielding young children from this content, hence the lack of a crib service in nightclubs, where do we draw the line? …and now the internet is a thing, does this line even exist?

Different companies have found different approaches to the challenge of balancing creative freedom and mass-market appeal.

For the most part, the industry has woken up to the legions of Wii-mote swinging, candy crushing, Microsoft-solitaire-exile, ‘casual gamers’. This demographic extends far beyond the traditional stereotype of chubby, greasy, loners, who have rebranded themselves the ‘hardcores’.

Some developers have toned down the gore. For example, Insomniac Games has shifted from the dark apocalyptic themes of ‘Resistance’- a game-universe all about humanity being brutally converted into an alien army, to their bright, colourful new IP ‘Sunset Overdrive’- A game about humanity being converted into mindless zombies by a mishap at a soft-drink factory.

Conversely, Indie games ‘Postal’ and its creatively titled sequel ‘Postal 2’ are both a reactionary piss-takes featuring a protagonist who guns down anti-video game violence protestors in the street. Edgy stuff, but thankfully a niche.

SEGA meanwhile, have found a tactical compromise and started launching their historical strategy ‘Total War’ games gore free, and then adding a later ‘Blood and Gore’ DLC pack for purchase. How kind of them.

‘Hotline Miami’ creators Devolver Digital noticed that without an extensive splattering of 8-bit blood after a wide array of brutal encounters with bullets, lead pipes and the like, their game became Corridor Walking Simulator 2015. So they just left it how it was.

In Hotline the use of extreme violence is key in both the mechanics of the frantic gameplay, and the themes of the psychedelic plot. This is something the Australian classification board didn’t get when it banned the sequel ‘Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number’.

Fortunately for bloodthirsty koala bears, smuggling in games has become much easier than landing a pirate ship behind the Sydney Opera House. This is a fact that Devolver developer Jonatan Söderström acknowledged when he emailed a disgruntled fan, and advised them to use ‘unofficial channels’ to access the game.

Without going all #JeSuisCharlie, it’s important to defend freedom of speech, and allow game developers, as well as film-makers and writers, the capacity to explore all kinds of ‘adult’ themes. Nightmares are scary though, and so it’s also a good idea to provide parents with as much information as possible.

Australia may have the best interests of its children at heart, but censorship will only encourage piracy and damage a legitimate industry. Age-advice stickers are useful as a guide, but shouldn’t warrant a full ban. Full bans sound very North Korea. Never go full North Korea.

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