A few days ago it was announced that Saints Row IV was refused classification in Australia, effectively ending its chances of being sold at retail in the country. The usual reactions followed – the US audience lapped up the idea of Australia banning something (thus granting free publicity to the title), there were cries of censorship and some wondering about why this happened despite Australia getting an R18+ classification for games. (I’ve often thought that Australia
banning refusing to classify a game is one of the best free bits of publicity a mildly controversial game can get – I think in future the Australian Classification Board (ACB) should make the offer to publishers / studios that for an extra few thousand dollars, they’ll pretend to refuse classification right up to launch day in Australia and let the title get some easy PR.)
The Australian Classification Board has released some more information about why Saints Row IV was given the heave-ho: the title contains drug use that provided the player with benefits and a weapon that is an alien anal probe. Using the anal probe weapon on another character (which can include civilians) sees “the probe [...] implicitly inserted into the victim’s anus“.
As far as the use of drugs goes as a reason for refusing classification goes, given that the ACB looks at the “use of in-game drugs provide the player with incentives, ‘quantifiable’ benefits and rewards” in a dim light, I think it sends an interesting message. Within games like the Saints Row, the vast majority of ways that incentives, benefits and rewards are earned is through violence. There’s something odd about violence leading to rewards being acceptable while drug use leading to rewards not being acceptable…
…but I also see the flip side in that we know that we don’t like violence happening to us, where drug use can be over-mystified and the real world benefits exaggerated by its proponents. Having a game where drug use is all upsides and no downsides does bring up some interesting questions: if we play games to experience things that we can’t do in the real world, what does it mean when video games show us something that we can possibly do that’s illegal and makes it look great?
So on the drug use issue, I can be convinced either way. (The way that State of Decay depicted in-game drug use has also seen it refused classification in Australia.)
But as for the Alien Anal Probe: good call there, ACB. The Saints Row series may be increasingly about how far it can push something into comedic / shock territory, but this crosses a line in terms of sexualised violence. Australia is currently seeing some widespread investigations into sexual misconduct in the military and into child sexual abuse within secular and religious institutions. The idea that, even in a fantasy / fictional setting, shoving something up an unwilling participant’s anus for entertainment value is appropriate and there are no consequences isn’t something I’d want to see take seed, especially when hearing real stories of similar things.
There were calls that the ACB were censoring the game, but – if we want to take the question around ‘what are we arguing about here?’ when it comes to sexual violence – the side saying that this content should remain in-game is asking for sexual assault to be left in Saints Row IV. Player-driven sexual assault at that.
So I’m more than happy to see Volition taking this content of the game. It’s sad to me that it got past the design phase and to the point that an external censor had to go, “OH HELL NO”.
So, That Incomplete History
I haven’t done an exhaustive search on this topic – even writing the above has added in some damn interesting search terms to my Google history and probably raised some flags with the NSA (hi there!) – but there have been some other games where there was an anus-focused weapon.
The Destroy All Humans series – where you played a grumpy alien invader in a humour themed world – contains an anal probe gun. The anal probe gun functioned like a normal weapon, but when you shot a human with it they would bleed from their now-green-glowing backside. If hit enough times, their head would explode.
You can make the argument here that this is closer to ‘normal’ video game violence than sexualised violence on the grounded that Crypto (the alien character that represents a player) is doing it because 1) it’s a way of earning resources and 2) the violence isn’t sexual. The effect of the weapon might be off-colour, but in a game where your aim is to destroy all humans, it is on similar terms to using that Disintegrator Ray.
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record has something that pulls a lot closer to what Saints Row IV is apparently offering: the alien probe. Using this weapon on a zombie flips them around and jams it into their anus, killing them.
You can argue that this got through the ACB because no-one happens what happens to zombies, but it’s still pretty icky. Dead Rising 2 did have massagers (read: dildos) in-game that could be used to attack zombies, but the attacks weren’t any different to using other in-game items you’d find lying around. Someone had to specially work on coding and animating this particular weapon so that it does what it does.
There are some anally-oriented weapons where things have gone out rather than in – Stubbs the Zombie (from Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse) can release toxic farts, while Mr Toots the Unicorn from Red Faction: Armageddon is a joke weapon where you lovingly cradle a particularly flatulent unicorn.
But both of those are really quite different in concept, even if centred around the same area.
Dear me, but this blog sometimes goes off in odd places…