Outlasting Their Welcome
Kotaku reported yesterday that Australia has refused classification for Outlast 2. The reasons for the decision are reportedly due to depictions of implied sexual violence towards the character of Blake during a cut-scene. After this news, it looks like Red Barrels’ horror sequel will pass by gamers Down Under.
The demo for Outlast 2, which was released last September, received an R18+ rating from the same classification board for its violence, moderate language, and mild nudity. Despite the demo earning Australia’s highest rating, it appears the final cut was too much for the censors.
If Red Barrels removes the scenes of sexual violence, they might still be able to release the game as planned in Australia. This ban highlights the scrutiny that games often come under, having to sanitize mature or violent themes even when they’re necessary.
You Shall Not Pass
This is disappointing news for Australian fans of the original Outlast, but it’s not the first time. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number was also denied classification due to an implied rape scene. The Classification Board banned Saints Row IV for similar reasons, as well as for the use of drugs as in-game rewards.
The Classification Board of Australia draws a hard line when it comes to depictions of sexual violence and drug misuse or addiction. If those images, along with the portrayal of crime, cruelty, and violence, ‘offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults,’ then they can refuse classification.
It’s only since 2013 that Australia even had a R18+ age rating. The highest classification used to be MA15+, with any content only suitable for those over 15 refused classification. Fallout 3 was originally banned under this MA15+ rating due to its ‘realistic’ drug paraphernalia. Some people might say that this is an over-the-top reaction to the game’s content, especially as movies have had higher classifications for years. This new age rating is a recent introduction. It’s easy to see why the classification process in Australia is strict.
Mindless vs. Meaningful
Some might scoff at this refusal of classification, but age ratings are there for a reason. In the same way that watching a R-rated film might be traumatizing for a child, playing a game could be just as bad or even worse. Games thrive on interactivity and players’ complicity or involvement in certain actions. That can make for purposefully disturbing or frightening experiences.
There’s also the argument that some games might include violence just for violence-sake. Does it actually have any impact on the story, or is it there for pure titillation? That’s a question a lot of games still struggle with. Sexual violence in particular is a difficult issue. It’s still unclear how the aforementioned scene will factor into Outlast 2’s story. Some players may find it offensive or a step too far. On the other hand, it could be integral to the story, themes, or character development.
Depicting sexual violence in games, a medium that’s developing as an art form, might help change the narrative around it. Used in a meaningful way, it could help remove the culture of victim-blaming and create a more positive image of survivors. Unfortunately, sexual violence is a part of our society, so games – and all art – should reflect and comment on this issue. There are lots of recent examples of games delivering socially conscious or politically engaged messages, like This War of Mine. Outlast 2 may not be trying to address this issue in a socially conscious way, but it opens the door for others. Games can be harrowing or difficult to experience, but for a reason. However, there are also examples of over-the-top and unnecessary violence or trauma in games.
Those games can breed fear and stigmas that extend to how mainstream audiences perceive all games.
Stigmas Surrounding Gaming
Australia’s classification of games may differ from other countries’, but that doesn’t mean their cautious attitude is unusual. It’s only recently that gaming has moved more firmly into the mainstream. Gaming was not so long ago a much more niche hobby. A lot of people either didn’t know much about it or dismissed it.
It might be because of this that a lot of negative stigmas have arisen around gaming. Fears of violent games influencing children, desensitizing people to things like war and conflict, and too much involvement with these virtual worlds causing people to neglect the real one are all common talking points in mainstream media. Some questionable studies, like the American Psychological Association’s 2015 study, have shown that playing violent video games may increase aggression, despite evidence to the contrary. It’s hard to predict how increased exposure to things like the internet and video games will affect this generation. But a lot of these worries come from a place of misunderstanding.
It’s easy as a spectator to watch someone play a game like Saints Row and only see the mindless violence and sexualization of characters. It’s easy to dismiss the whole industry based on a few examples. But there’s a whole spectrum of games ranging from the mindlessly banal to the thought-provoking. This is what makes modern gaming so wonderful. True, some content can be offensive or harmful. Age ratings are a good way to warn gamers about content. But gamers and non-gamers alike need to be careful about the reductive stigmas and ideas surrounding games, dismissing the industry based on a small segment of it.
Outlast 2 launches April 25th, barring any further set backs.