Right to Know is an amazing web resource through which people can lodge FOI requests in a public, visible and almost version controlled manner. Through it I was able to read into the history of the Australian Classification Board, the Classification Review Board and the game Saints Row IV.
For those unfamiliar with Australian censorship law, video games and movies are required in Australia to be preauthorised before they can be legally sold, imported or in some cases owned. This is done by the government filling the function performed by industry associations elsewhere and providing a rating that imparts information about who the title is suitable for. In the US the ESRB may rate a game as suitable for 17 years or over, in the UK it's PEGI advising that something is violent, in Australia it's a government appointed board. That board rates games as generally suitable or suitable only for those older than fifteen years, but there are three ratings which actually have legal enforcement and prohibit some people from buying or owning the game in some or all circumstances. MA15+ rated titles may not be sold to those under 15, R18+ titles to those under 18, and RC rated games may simply not be sold, imported or in some states and territories owned at all. By this mechanism the government bans computer games that it has moral objections to. The fee for the government to evaluate a title is about $700, reviews of a decision cost $10,000. All titles must be evaluated by law.
Saints Row IV was banned by the classification board on the 29th of July and the review into the banning completed in August. Which three members of the five member board reviewed it is unclear, but the board whose website tells us are chosen for their diversity to represent all Australians, are in their entirety;
- Victoria Rubensohn - a triple degreed in the arts and law professional board member with a history of being involved in media regulation
- Fiona Jolly - two degrees, one in law and one in arts, and earns a crust as a member of various other boards including the Advertising Standards Bureau which does media regulation too
- Melissa de Zwart - is a professor of law at UoA, she has an arts degree too
- Jane Smith - has a bachelor of arts and has served on lots of other media boards and organisations like Ausfilm and the AFTRS
- Peter Attard provides diversity to the board by not being an arts or law degree holder who serves on other media or technology focused boards but doesn't rock the boat too much by being a degree qualified, Caucasian Australian who serves with a wide range of other community groups
Imagining the review process gives me a giggle. The board has no diversity whatsoever, being almost entirely mature similar-looking women with (the same) degree qualifications and similar lives. I have no real reason I suppose to imagine their facial expressions being any particular way, but the exposed documents make me visualise what they looked like reviewing them. The main driver for my giggle is that Saints Row IV was banned for two reasons, drugs (the board has its own very specific and unique approach to drugs which I won't go into today) and the appearance in the game of... well, maybe it's best to read what the original classification board wrote;
The game includes a weapon referred to by the Applicant as an “Alien Anal Probe”. The Applicant states that this weapon can be “shoved into enemy’s backsides”. The lower half of the weapon resembles a sword hilt and the upper part contains prong-like appendages which circle around what appears to be a large dildo which runs down the centre of the weapon.
You don't need to be as immature as me to be laughing right now at the government appointed panel that discussed the depiction of a large dildo on a handle, but it helps. Australian taxpayers then funded the paragraph;
When using this weapon the player approaches a (clothed) victim from behind and thrusts the weapon between the victim’s legs and then lifts them off the ground before pulling a trigger which launches the victim into the air.
Ok. So the attorney general selected a group of people whose job includes considering the artistic merit of someone being shot into the air by their anus. Not laughing yet? The review board considered that the original classification board had overcooked this a bit, writing;
The description is partially accurate. The centre of the weapon can conceivably be described as looking like a large dildo, but it could also be described as looking like a missile, a tongue, a fence post or a thermos flask.
So a taxpayer funded review board considered that the bottom weapon described by the original censors may look like a sex toy but also a hot drink so some context is required. I own neither a sex toy nor a thermos flask but from what I understand this is a reasonable assertion.
In this assessment the Board has missed the fact that the Rectifier probe weapon is not explicitly described in the game as an anal probe. However, it is clearly meant to parody the anal probes described in science fiction and related comedy – contextualising and justifying the use of the weapon.
The government has spoken; shooting someone into the air by their anus is given context and can no longer be considered to cause national-level offence because there is science fiction and related comedy. Good o. The game was still banned for the drug thing though.
And people wonder why the Australian software and technology industry isn't taking off.
Image: Grannies Kitchen