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Saints Row IV

Australia outlaws Saints Row IV by refusing to classify it by classifying it

By John Teti • June 25, 2013

Australia’s Classification Board, a quasi-governmental body that sets ratings for film, literature, and video games, has refused to classify the upcoming game Saints Row IV, essentially making it illegal for sale in Australia. Well, it’s not quite accurate to say that the Board refused to classify the game. Instead, “The Classification Board classified the game RC (Refused Classification),” according to a release written by the Board’s media relations director, Franz Kafka.

Most nations in the developed West have some sort of entertainment ratings board for video games. The Entertainment Software Rating Board holds sway in the United States and Canada, while game publishers in Europe are beholden to Pan European Game Information labeling. But because Australia’s Classification Board is more powerful than its counterparts—despite being nominally “independent from government,” it carries the force of law—and because its decisions tend to be more conservative than the norm, it is perceived as particularly villainous by game developers who want to push the limits of propriety.

This latest announcement will do nothing to dispel that perception. It’s one thing to apply the non-rating rating to Saints Row IV, but it’s another thing to relish it. And in its triumphant explanation of the decision, the Board seems to be doing the latter:

The Acting Director of the Classification Board Mr Donald McDonald announced today that Saints Row IV was the first computer game in Australia to be Refused Classification under the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games that commenced on 1 January 2013.


In the Board’s opinion, Saints Row IV, includes interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context. In addition, the game includes elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards. Such depictions are prohibited by the computer games guidelines.

Mr McDonald said the Classification Board had now been applying the new computer games guidelines for almost six months and this was the first game to be refused classification.

“Apart from today’s decision, since the beginning of the year, the Board has classified 17 games R 18+ under the new guidelines,” Mr McDonald said.

Seventeen games! Congratulations, I guess?

The director of Saints Row IV won our hearts a couple weeks ago with his marvelous answers to our E3 questionnaire. But we’ve had very little exposure to the game itself so far. Who knows, maybe it’s disgusting and pornographic. Or maybe its cutting humor is lost on the fuddy-duddies of Australia’s rating board. Whatever the case, it’s a shame that the grown adults of Australia won’t have the chance to decide for themselves.

By the way, if you’re interested in the politics of ratings boards, I recommend This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a 2006 documentary that examines the machinations of our very own film rating board, the Motion Picture Association Of America. It’s a little dry at times but fascinating overall (in a tear-your-hair-out way).

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47 Responses to “Australia outlaws Saints Row IV by refusing to classify it by classifying it”

  1. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    Ugh, I’m surprised to hear of a ratings board that makes the MPAA sound reasonable.  I still find it ridiculous that two or three curse words can make a film an R, as can pretty much any nudity or sexual content lasting more than a few seconds, but you can kill as many people as you want as long as you have little or no blood.

    I guess if you’re a member of a ratings board and a conservative Christian this makes sense, since God hates cursing and sex but is fine with genocide and murder as long as it’s in his name.

    • WarrenPeace says:

      What surprises me is that apparently Australia’s ratings board also provides ratings for “literature”. Even the written word isn’t safe from this regime!

      • Master Prudent says:

        It doesn’t actually do that although it does (did?) have the power to ban books. As far as I know the last book to feel its wrath was Philip Nitschke’s 2007 publication The Peaceful Pill; a how to guide for euthanasia.

    • Electric Dragon says:

      It’s interesting to compare the British rules with the American ones (Britain, like Australia, has a statutory, quasi-governmental, classification body.) The BBFC’s rules have become rather more tolerant of sex and nudity over the years, but less so of violence and my impression is that they always have been more in that direction anyway.

      Plus although we have an 18 certificate that might be compared to the US NC-17, it’s not at all a kiss of death. Cinemas are perfectly happy to play 18-rated movies, shops (including supermarkets) all stock 18-rated DVDs.

      • Flying_Turtle says:

        That “kiss of death” that NC-17 or AO (or the Australian “you’re not getting a rating” rating) provide is the biggest problem I have with these ratings systems. Here, the ESRB’s most restricted rating is AO (Adults Only), which retailers won’t carry. In some cases with these AO games, you may not be missing much, but there’s no reason that a game couldn’t be both a work of serious artistic merit and entirely inappropriate for children.

        That said, I can’t really fault retailers for making the blanket decision not to carry AO games. They could make decisions to carry those games on a game-by-game basis, but they’d probably just have to deal with a big PR headache for their trouble.

        • dreadguacamole says:

           Oh, wow. That list describes Leisure Suit Larry as containing “Mature Humor”. Got to be the first time that adjective was ever applied to that game….

        • zerocrates says:

          The retailers are one thing, but Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all refuse licenses/certification for AO games.

          You lose basically all the non-PC platforms, and almost all the retail outlets. NC-17 is a cakewalk by comparison.

        • Flying_Turtle says:

          @zerocrates:disqus That’s an important point, and I’m glad you added it.

    • zebbart says:

      Wellll… I hear this kind of thing a lot but I don’t think it has anything to do with religion. Rather, it has to do with parenthood and child rearing. I don’t know quite how to put it into words as a logical principal, but imagine as a parent finding your kid pretending to shoot the neighbor boy while playing cops and robbers. Now imagine him pretending to fuck the neighbor boy while playing house. One of those seems waaaaaay worse right? Even though in real life the other is actually way worse. Even if we’re talking about 15 year olds, a sensitive peacenik parent (like me) might have some qualms about a teenage daughter playing paintball and talking about how many kills she got, but thank God there is not equivalent for getting together and pretending to have sex with a lot of people where the goal is how many scores you get at that (you just have to worry about the real life versions of it). My point is, having more of a problem with simulated sex than simulated killing does not equal having more of a problem with real sex than real killing, especially when it comes to exposing children to the simulation.

      • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

         Here’s what you do, as a parent, in that case:

        Don’t let your child play video games that are marked “adults only”, “18+”, “Rated R”, “NC-17”, or whatever other mark regulatory bodies have to denote such things.

        What the ACB has done here is basically play parent to a bunch of people who are, in all other ways, adults, and should be allowed to make the decision for themselves as to whether or not the media is appropriate for them.

        • zebbart says:

          Absolutely. I was replying to @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus comment about how movies receive R ratings in the US.

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

           Yeah, probably should have stressed that as the “non-specific you” rather than meaning “you, zebbart, right there, yeah, you”.

  2. CNightwing says:

    Whose parents call their child Donald McDonald? I feel like he’s a character from a Monty Python sketch. Probably about bureaucracy.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I went to high school with a David Davidson, Yousif Yousif, and (I think) John Johnson.

      • PaganPoet says:

        Aye, I went to school with a Christen Christensen as well.

        Yousif Yousif doesn’t surprise me, though. Many muslim cultures use a patronymic naming system. When they move to western countries, their father’s name becomes the middle name, and their grandfather’s name becomes the last name.

      • lokimotive says:

        Apparently you went to Redundancy High School of Secondary Education.

      • Citric says:

        My mom knew a man named Peter Peterson, he lived in Peterson, Sk.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        I have a cousin whose name is Patrick Fitzpatrick II, which means, yes, his father was also Patrick Fitzpatrick.

        • Logoboros says:

          There’s a double-whammy there, since “Fitz” also means “son of” — Patrick Fitzpatrick is Patrick the son of Patrick, so the Junior add an exponent to the whole equation.

    • Andy Tuttle says:

      My girlfriend went to school with a girl named Jackie Knopf. Say it a few times fast, you’ll get it.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        Can’t, busy jacking… Ooooooh I get it.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        If she lives in the Sacramento area, she won a radio station contest for “most embarrassing name” a year or so ago.  Otherwise, there’s another Jackie Knopf around here.

  3. PaganPoet says:

    Is it wrong that I ignored the rest of the article after reading “Franz Kafka” and started singing “HE. IS. FRANZ. KAFKA. FRANZKAFKA!”

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Oh man, i love this bit so much. 

      “I got little tiny bug feet, I don’t really know what bugs eat” is something that I’ve found to be remarkably easy to work into everyday conversation.

  4. George_Liquor says:

    Jeez. They could have at least rated it ‘Defies Classification.’

  5. Did they release Saints Row the Third in Australia?  I don’t see how IV could be any more juvenile or crass (in a good way, of course).

  6. Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

    “You call that a giant purple dildo-bat? *This* is a giant purple dildo-bat.”

  7. His_Space_Holiness says:

    Someone just got “Land Down Under” pulled from the in-game ’80s radio station.

    • Mr_Propellerhead says:

       ‘Banned Down Under’.

    • TaumpyTearrs says:

      That became one of the songs I would load up Saint’s Row 2 just to listen to when I was chilling, along with the Hot Chip song and a few more.

      3 had some great music too, I’m excited for what 4 will bring. I hope the [adult swim] station with Jon from Delocated as DJ returns (especially since the show is gone and it would give us more of the character).

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I’m still kinda ticked that Men At Work got hit with a copyright lawsuit over the whistling in the song, taken from a folk song about the Kookaburra.

      I agree that people shouldn’t take melodies from other songs without permission…but I also feel like a court handing down a decision 29 YEARS LATER is too late, like there should be a statute of limitations on that sort of thing.

  8. Electric Dragon says:

    “Seventeen games! Congratulations, I guess?”
    The context to this is that until a change in guidelines at the beginning of 2013, Australia didn’t even have an 18 cert for games – so those 17 games would have been effectively banned under the old rules. So any game that was too “mature” for an MA15+ cert couldn’t get certified at all. The industry had been pushing for an 18 for a long while, but the NSW attorney general had vetoed it several times – only the threat of a federal government overrule got him to back down.

  9. RyanTheBold says:

    Maybe the dingo ate your liberty.

  10. Merve says:

    According to a report obtained by Kotaku, the game contained a weapon that functioned as a sort of “alien anal probe.” I can sort of see the Australian Classification Board’s point now.

    • Andy Tuttle says:

      Thank god I live in America, where you anally probe anything and everything you want (in a video game).

    • Roswulf says:

      Yeah, the notion that allowing players to semi-graphically rape random civilians in a game is beyond the pale is not an insane position.

      Of course, as someone who very recently bought Saints Row the Third and is entirely in the Saints Row mindset, that kind of idiotic and id-iotic excess has me even more excited for the blisteringly lewd insanity of Saints Row 4 COMING TO AMERICA!

  11. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

     The Australian Classification Board isn’t the problem.  Little of what
    they do is *completely*  unjustifiable.  The problem is the notion of
    any unaccountable ratings board having the legal ability to keep
    citizens from having access to media.  Future speech concerns are going
    to be tied up in interactive mediums more, not less, as time goes on and
    the precedent that is being set by saying it is ok to make these kind
    of judgment calls on behalf of the entire populace is a very dangerous one.

  12. JamesJournal says:

    What is so hard about giving the game where you beat people to death with giant dildo’s the “This is not for kids” rating and moving on with your life!

    That’s your job.

    Mario Kart = OK for kids

    Uncharted = OK for teenagers

    Saints Row = 17 and older

    This isn’t hard!

    • Tom Jackson says:

      The problem mostly stems from the ratings board not really being the target demographic for video games and misinterpreting the context in which the games are presented. Their decisions are mostly based on reports given to them and not from hands on experience with the game and as such there are plenty of inconsistencies.
      A good example was back when Silent Hill: Homecoming was released, the game was refused classification due to the graphic violence with specific examples being a man being torn limb from limb and a torture scene involving a hand drill. The game was eventually released in a highly censored format and received an MA15+ rating (the highest rating at the time).
      As a contrast, none of the Dead Space or Resident Evil games have ever been censored in Australia, both series are known for extreme violence and gore and all games were given the ok with an MA15+ rating….go figure.

  13. Davis Seecamp says:

    From my understanding basically having a rape button is going too far by Australian standards, with sexual elements being treated especially harsh. Metro Last Light was given an R rating for references to sexual violence, ignore the violence, the language, the sexual content, the box says it’s rated R for the rape scene.

    I’m not one to have much of an issue with the content of games in comparison to what’s in movies, but seeing what’s in these R rated games is truly that dark and depressing that in my view if anyone allows someone under 18 access to them then someone should call the police.