Only six months after Australia joined the rest of the civilized world in gaining an R18+ rating for video games, the Classification Board has already deemed Volition’s latest offering unfit for even adults to play. The reasoning behind the Board’s decision was that the game included, “interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence not justified by context” and “elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards”.
The decision has caused some anger in the Australian gaming community, as it implies that even adult gamers need to be treated like children, shielded from the bad influences of mainstream media. Whether you agree with the Classification Board or not, you can hardly call their decision a surprise. Australia has a history of banning games allowed in other countries, perhaps most significantly being Fallout 3 back in 2008. A game that was intended to revive a much-loved series after a full decade of spinoffs and cancelled projects was originally refused classification because of its drug content.
Both Fallout and Saints Row series had previously included drugs that provided benefits to the player character when used, raising the question of what is so much worse about it this time. However, the drugs fitted with Fallout’s nuclear-ravaged wasteland, where hopeless and desperate individuals needed any advantage to survive, regardless of the drawbacks once they wore off. Contrast this with Saints Row’s colourful, carefree sandbox, where drugs were practically an afterthought, a harmless gameplay element that wasn’t even particularly useful.
This bold, larger-than-life approach has proven a double-edged sword for Saints Row series as it progressed through the games. First you played a gang member, then a gang leader, then the boss of a heavily commercialised criminal empire, and now the US president who fights off an alien invasion with weapons that inflate enemies’ heads and only fire in time with dubstep. Each successive game has gone bigger and bolder in every respect, and this has unfortunately and needlessly included juvenile humour that at best borders on misogyny—and at worst locks prostitutes in shipping containers with automatic fisting machines. And remember, that last example made it past the Classification Board. I shudder to think what particular crimes against humanity Volition had to commit to get Saint’s Row IV banned.
Personally, I hope Saints Row IV underwhelms both critically and commercially. I don’t want Volition to go bust, merely to realise that the direction in which they’re taking their series might not be the best one.