The new Digital Economy Bill proposes for the first time a single UK games rating system under the control of the Video Standards Council. GamesBrief is carrying our article on it here…
We’ve previously blogged about South Australia’s (ultimately successful) attempt to cut everything popular out of Left 4 Dead 2 – bye bye gore, violence and (presumably) the more offensive zombies, on the basis that Austalia’s game classification system only goes up to 15 and L4D2 as a game goes well beyond that rating. The obvious solution would be to introduce an 18 rating (in common with many other countries), but the Austalian response ultimately was simply to refuse to admit the game into the country as it was presently constituted. So, instead, EA/Valve had to release a special Australia-only toned down version (with which some sources appear to have been less than impressed).
Now, it seems that a certain South Australian may have set his sights on Modern Warfare 2 (which, by the way, is doing rather well elsewhere in the world). MW2 at present has a 15 rating, but the South Australia Attorney General, Michael Atkinson, is set to appeal that rating – which, if successful, it seems likely would effectively mean blocking the game in Australia. L4D2 down, MW2 in the gunsights – good going so far.
But why MW2? We would wager it may have something to do with the global political outrage regarding that mission. This seems to be borne out by a quote from the man himself (thanks, GI.biz): “I worry about any game that encourages gamers to perpetrate extreme violence and cruelty on screen, but this game allows players to be virtual terrorists and gain points by massacring civilians. Expecting game designers to be responsible by not glorifying terrorism will always lead to disappointment.”
Our suggestion: perhaps Mr Atkinson should team up with the UK’s Keith Vaz (Labour MP and no fan of allegedly ‘violent’ games) and combine their individual powers to ban all games other than (i) The Sims (provided each Sim is confined to his/her house); and (ii) Flight Simulator (provided the plane does not actually leave the ground). It could happen…
The ongoing saga as to whether or not Australia will permit the full version of Left 4 Dead 2 in all its zombie-mowing-down glory (see here and here for previous instalments) appears finally to be come to an end.
Gamesindustry.biz reports that the Australian Classification Review Board has turned down publisher EA’s appeal against a previous decision of the Classification Board that L4D2 could not be given a 15+ rating, being the highest rating that Australia has. In effect, if a game does not meet the criteria of a ’15’ game, it cannot be admitted into Australia. So, Valve will instead have to sell a toned-down version of the game in Oz, which version does not contain “depictions of decapitation, dismemberment, wound detail or piles of dead bodies lying about the environment”. So that’s alright then.
As we’ve previously noted on this blog, this seems a clear case of the law simply not being up to date and certainly not up to speed with modern gaming. The practical consequences of this decision are likely to be: (i) consumer dissatisfication; (ii) relatively lower revenues for Valve; (iii) massive piracy of the full version of the game; and (iv) to a lesser extent, legally dubious parallel imports of the full version of the game into Oz. None of which stands exactly to the credit of the local of federal governments of Australia.
[Image source: Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Left_4_dead_2.jpg]
Another twist in the battle between Valve, Australia’s game classification board and the countless thousands of zombies which comprise Left 4 Dead 2 (see our first blog entry on this farce here; thanks for the update on this story are due to Slashdot).
It seems that Valve has prepared a “compromise” version of L4D2 with which the Australian game classification board feel happy enough to award it a “15+” rating. Exatly how is this a “compromise”? The most popular quote from the board’s report is that:
“The board notes that the game no longer contains depictions of decapitation, dismemberment, wound detail or piles of dead bodies lying about the environment.”
We can’t help but wonder what this compromise version will look like – flowers and daisies will replace all the dead zombies (a la Serious Sam) ? Possibly the Tellytubbies or Bob the Builder might make an appearance?
Apparently, Valve is still pushing ahead for its full version to be accepted – a hearing is scheduled for later in the month. Let’s assume that that hearing decides the “compromise” version must be released. It seems to us that that decision may well lead to an increase in (i) downloads (or attempts to download) the non-Australian version of L4D2; and/or (ii) considerable attempts to crack the Australian version; and/or (iii) an increase in parallel imports of non-Australian versions. All of which would no doubt be in breach of several Australian laws. We will leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether the board’s rating decision should still stand in those circumstances…
An eventful week in the ongoing battle between national regulators and the games industry.
Australia vs Left 4 Dead 2
Australia has banned Left 4 Dead 2 on the basis that it is, well, just too violent. Apparently the Australia game classification system simply does not contain an 18+ rating and, L4D2 being what is is, they decided it was not appropriate to rate it as 15+. Therefore, they felt they had no choice but to ban it.
Of course, one has to wonder whether, if that kind of logic was evenly applied across games and other media products entering Australia, just how much entertainment would be able to enter Australia. More generally, query whether this was really an appropriate response – isn’t the real issue that there needs to be some modernisation of the classification system there?
[30/09/09: UPDATE: Gamesindustry.biz has a follow-up piece here, which confirms that (at least in South Australia) the Attorney-General continues to oppose implementing an 18+ rating in Australia’s rating system.]
Germany finds out Wolfenstein apparently contains some Nazi symbols (shock! horror!)
Gamesindustry.biz reports that Activision has removed all copies of the new Wolfenstein game from Germany after it was discovered that one small Nazi flag had been left in the game. It is, of course, culturally very insensitive to display or in any way glorify the Swastika in Germany. Perhaps more relevant for Activision though is the fact that it is also an offence to display the Swastika in Germany (other than in a historical/artistic context). Presumably Activision decided not to plead the historic/artistic exception, so the game had to go.
Again though, was this the appropriate response? Presumably Activision was comfortable with the fact that, looking past the flag matter, there are no legal issues raised by publishing in Germany a game which consists of blasting away Nazis in Nazi strongholds which are literally dripping with with Nazi iconography (and blood). Does that not raise issues in and of itself?
This week saw us fascinated by news that the much-loved Video Recordings Act 1984 was never officially enacted and therefore cannot be enforced.
Passed amid a moral panic over “video nasties”, the act regulates the classification of both films and games in the UK and creates an offence where a work is sold to an individual of less than the relevant classification age.
It has now been discovered that the Act is unenforceable, on the basis that the European Commission were not notified of its existence, as required by Directive 98/34. It has also emerged that the Home Office failed to spot the oversight on two subsequent occasions, in 1993 and 1994.
Until the situation is rectified (which we understand will take 3 months) it will be legal to sell and supply unclassified films and games, although numerous retailers have already pledged to continue to observe the regulations on a voluntary basis.
In celebration of the above, we thought we’d take a moment to run down (in reverse order) our three favourite things to arise out of the media storm which followed the government’s announcement.
BBFC: One thing after another
Let’s take a moment to imagine the reaction at the British Board of Film Classification.
It’s already been a rough year at the BBFC, what with the government having announced in June that PEGI will become the sole classification system for videogames and software in the UK.
How the organisation has greeted the news that a significant slice of the work it’s been doing since 1984 has been conducted without the benefit of statutory authority we can only speculate, although we like to think that there may have been a quiver of a censorious lip somewhere along the line.
The fact that the error was spotted while the government prepared to amend the VRA to reflect the new PEGI classifications presumably did little to lift the mood and it seems a fair bet that jelly and ice cream have not been on the menu at Soho Square this week.
DCMS: Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough
We are big fans of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s hurried announcement that it has received legal advice to the effect that people who have previously been found guilty under the act (1,659 of the blighters between 1995 and 2007) will be unable to seek compensation or overturn their convictions.
While we’re glad to see the DCMS fully embracing the whole “1984” spirit, the suggestion that convictions under a non-existent statute are water-tight feels a little bit undercooked to us, especially given the lack of supporting detail provided.
Of course, we won’t know for sure whether this is genuine legal advice or mere spin (heaven forbid) until someone actually challenges a conviction, but we’re definitely watching this space with interest.
Vaz: Spokesman for common sense
There could only really be one contender for top spot.
The sight of ever-vigilant friend to the games industry Keith Vaz MP riding to the rescue, and spouting common sense to boot.
“If the act has never been brought into force, prosecutions under it are void” said Mr Vaz. “You cannot prosecute someone and convict them on the basis of legislation that has never been in force”.
Wise words, we’re sure you’ll agree.
And a refreshing change of pace for a man whose most recent substantive contribution to the ongoing debate over standards of decency in games was to petition for a ban on Bully/Canis Canem Edit without (by his own admission) ever having actually played it.