The Australian Classification Board's refusal to grant Outlast 2 a certificate has sparked a response from the country's politicians, with Senator David Leyonhjelm advising the censors to "leave gamers alone."
Leyonhjelm, a senator for the Liberal Democratic Party in New South Wales, addressed the Senate this week on the matter of censorship of video games - a longstanding issue in Australia. He cited survey results indicating that 68% of Australians played games regularly, with an average age of 33 and a roughly equal gender split.
Despite such broad popularity, though, Leyonhjelm asserted that the country's laws are made and enforced by people who lack knowledge of the medium. "For example, not many senators or senior public servants would know the difference between a ghoul and an alghoul, and so would find it hard to advance in the video game known as The Witcher."
"Video games do not hurt anybody, and the government Classification Board should leave gamers alone"
Leyonhjelm offered the striking revelation that "politicians and public servants" are blocked from accessing a host of the most popular game websites, including Polygon, IGN and PC Gamer. "The computer says no," Leyonhjelm deadpanned. "This is presumably because we might stumble across an image of something somebody disapproves of from a medium we don't understand."
However, more problematic sites remain open to them, including the Neo-Nazi forum Stormfront and the video platform LiveLeak, where footage of "real people being killed" can be found. Leyonhjelm's position is grounded in freedom of choice: the freedom to visit Stormfront or read Polygon, regardless of whether he is personally interested in doing either. The fact that one is possible and the other is not, he said, "tells us something about the illogical, censorious attitude bureaucrats have about video games."
Leyonhjelm's speech was inspired by the Australian Classification Board's recent decision to deny Outlast 2 a rating, leaving its developer, Red Barrels Studio, in the position of having to make cuts or be prevented from selling the game on the Australian market. This is despite a new rating, R18+, being introduced in June 2011 with video games firmly in mind.
At first, the Board's reasoning wasn't clear, as the Outlast 2 demo had been granted an R18+ certificate. Shortly after, though, it sent documents to Kotaku Australia explaining that the decision turned on a sequence involving implied sexual assault. According to the Board, such content "cannot be accommodated within the R18+ classification category."
Saints Row 4 was denied a certificate on the same grounds, while South Park: The Stick of Truth was deemed to feature scenes of actual sexual violence. State of Decay ran aground for what was regarded as a mechnic that incentivised drug use - another problem area for game content in Australia. There is a more detailed list of banned games in Australia on Wikipedia.
"How is it that adults are not trusted to make choices about video games, and yet they are allowed to vote?"
Speaking in the Senate, Leyonhjelm stressed that Outlast 2 is set "in a fantasy world, full of all kinds of creatures, both human and non-human." However, "the mere suggestion of an out-of-screen encounter between a creature and a human character was enough to get it banned altogether by the Australian Classification Board.
"All of this operates on the assumption that people who play video games are impressionable children who would play out anything they saw. Yet the internet is now awash with all manner of unpleasant images involving real people, not computer generated [characters], while violent crime around the world is in decline.
"It makes me wonder: how is it that adults are not trusted to make choices about video games, and yet they are allowed to vote?"
He closed by drawing a comparison between Poland, where the Prime Minister made a gift of The Witcher 2 to US President Barack Obama, and Australia, where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull lays claim to an "innovation agenda," but where "every signal we send to the gaming community...is of censorship, disapproval and discouragement.
"Video games do not hurt anybody," Leyonhjelm said, "and the government Classification Board should leave gamers alone."