On Saints Row IV and Classification

I shouldn’t have to, but I’m going to establish my bonafides here. I loved the last two Saints Row games. I played two on a mate’s Xbox, to completion, and I even got the Platinum trophy in Saints Row The Third on PS3. Like many fans, I look forward to the release of Saints Row IV.

I guess it can seem a little hypocritical of me to like a game like this- I’ve railed here in the past against immaturity in games. Why I enjoyed the game is that it has no pretensions to maturity- it’s a silly and puerile game. It’s basically well made junk food in videogame form.

So, like many gamers, I was disappointed that Saints Row IV was refused classification here. That said, I totally understand it.

The R18+ classification struggle was a long fight- I wrote about the R18 movement for assignments in high school a decade ago. When the R18+ law was passed, it seemed like an acceptance that games were to be treated like any other medium with regards to classification- a sign of an entertainment form that had finally “arrived.”

There are many valid criticisms of media classification- it violates free speech, it’s nanny state, it’s arbitrary, the material is available readily anyway, it’s poorly administered, it’s not transparent, it should be an advisory more than a legal framework. They’re all good arguments, and they’re all worth continuing to rail against through the proper channels.

All that said, it’s what Australia as a society has agreed to. As a society (and by this, I mean gamers and non-gamers) we have agreed that certain standards should be put in place in our media, and that anything that breaches those standards should be refused classification and disallowed from sale. No standards system is ever going to be perfect or cover all cases, but there are a set of guidelines of what we see as appropriate material to be present in the community.

And I struggle to see how what amounts to forcible weaponised sodomy of civilians is really acceptable.

I don’t see it as a bad thing that we say “hang on, depictions of anal rape aren’t acceptable,” even if like most of the game it’ll be played for laughs (which i find incredibly troublesome as a concept). I’m not going to lash out at the Australian Classification Board over banning something that’s actually quite unpleasant. Australian society has deemed depictions like this as unacceptable, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. This is actually the classification system performing the task it was established for, and like it or not that’s what we’ve got to contend with.

As I commented over at Kotaku, this isn’t an issue I’m going to jump on the battlements for. The fact is, this is a minor part of the game, and Volition will cut it in about ten minutes and resubmit. We’re still going to get Saints Row IV, with all of its goofy superpowers and over the top dub-step guns. If you want (though I’m really not sure why), I’m sure it’s the work of ten more minutes to find a way to get the sodomy-sword back in.

We’re still going to rail against the classification system in the future, over many issues and some which may have the strongest of cases for reform, but we should pick our battles. Fight for State of Decay- that’s got a much more contentious reason for banning.

I’m sure as hell not going to fight for my right to bugger someone in a game. Do you really want to fight for the right to anally rape someone for laughs?

PS: Saying the Australian Classification Board is just being “anal” is not an original or creative joke.

3 comments

  1. Very well said. Some things just can’t be justified, and “it’s only a joke” is one of the weakest justifications for anything. If we want to be treated like reasonable adults, then we should behave like them.

    I just wonder at what sort of Dev team puts this in a game, and leaves it there to the point of release. Surely someone at some point must have thought that it wasn’t right.

  2. Payka_B · · Reply

    So you’re saying that you feel the censorship is justified because “depictions of anal rape aren’t acceptable.” I find the idea of this weapon disgusting, idiotic, and I don’t really ever want to play the game. However, I still support the developer’s right to artistically express anything they want that doesn’t directly harm somebody and I support the consumer’s right to decide what they want to enjoy (or play for any reason they choose). If your argument is truly that the depiction is just too unpleasant then why do you think it’s okay to allow consumers to shoot people in the face, mow them down on the sidewalk, or repeatedly stomp their head into the ground?
    Of course, the contribution of this game to rape culture for example is a much more important talking point. If that is your argument, then this would be an entirely different line of argument.
    Quite honestly, to say that Australian society has decided on ANYTHING because it is enforced is just ridiculous. It is ancient federal law that hasn’t had a chance (and maybe never will have a chance) to be overturned, no matter how strong the public consensus is. Of course the majority of Australians support a ratings board because we believe that children are much more impressionable than adults. Just because I support a minimum drinking age, does not mean I support prohibition.
    After this article though, I’m not actually sure if you support the censorship of this game. This isn’t our only chance to talk about censorship. With something as controversial as a “rape gun” I would argue that this is an excellent opportunity to decide where we really stand on censorship. We do NOT need to pick our battles, we SHOULD fight them all. I believe that any artistic expression, no matter how disgusting I find it should be expressed unless it infringes upon the rights of others.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I didn’t really want to address the whole “rape culture” debate, because that is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish that I didn’t want to open.

      My main point is that there are valid criticisms of a censorship regime, which I touch upon, but in opposing it we have to pick our battles. I really don’t want to fight a battle on those grounds on the idea of anal rape being an acceptable action or something I desire in a game- it’s a losing battle and an unpleasant one.

      I’m happy to oppose censorship, I just don’t need to be a fundamentalist about it. Fight it on the grounds of drug use in State of Decay, absolutely. I just can’t muster the will or enthusiasm to fight about a handheld rape device, so I’ll let that one through to the keeper.

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