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Post by Steve Farrelly @ 05:53pm 13/11/09 | 24 Comments
Another new feature from us here at AusGamers will leave you with some weekend reading pertaining to topics relative to gaming and technology, as something of a forum for intelligent dialogue and a bit of Op Ed (opinion editorial).

Kicking things off, we contacted the Classification Board after having played through Modern Warfare 2, a violent and at times shocking game in its own right, to ask how they could justify an MA 15+ rating against the RC (Refused Classification) for Left 4 Dead 2. Specifically we looked at context, and while the Board did respond, it wasn't exactly what we were looking for, but also opened up an area just as relevant as the R 18+ debacle.

Bear in mind this is an Op Ed piece, and it's based on my views and experience in the games industry - and this is a forum for discussion, not trolling. So have at it.

Click here for the full feature.

weekend discussionmodern warfare 2left 4 dead 2classification board

Latest Comments
Posted 06:27pm 13/11/09
After the recent L4D2 debarcle had left me more then annoyed and then the prospect of MW2 being subjecated to the same media sander, the final straw was broken. I contacted the EFA and paid my dues. Thought while not all of us can run out there and lobby the goverment, why not band together and actually try to enact a real change.

That's just my thoughts though, I don't mean to harp on about it or try to recruit people, but I thought it pertinant enough to bring up...

Posted 07:47pm 13/11/09
Since when is "stylised pools of blood and civilians crawling away with lengthy blood trails" not considered to exceed a strong depiciton of violence? Pretty strong in my book.

Apparently it is okay as long as you don't see what the insides of someone looks like and you're unable to hack up their body after you kill them.
Posted 09:58pm 13/11/09
I actually stopped playing the first Modern Warfare game after the level where you aim the gunship cannons at the guys around the farmhouses and stuff. For some reason that just seemed too brutal in my eyes, even though you don't actually see any blood, etc during that part of the game. Maybe I'm just a pansy but it seemed a bit too real. Or dishonorable or something, like punching a baby.

On the other hand I had no problems with, say, Aliens vs Predator 2. Even though the player was encouraged to take human trophies (or inflict 'post-mortem damage') as the predator, or 'consume' bodies as the alien to regain health. In doing the latter you see all kinds of organs. I suppose you could justify this by the fact that the player assumes the role of an alien creature and not a human, but that doesn't seem fair to me.

I wouldn't call L4D/L4D2 especially violent games. Sure there's tons of blood, but that's crucial to the whole setting and 'horror' mood of the game. If anything these games are promoting virtues of friendship and cooperation, as any good zombie movie would. Yes they may promote violence in psychopaths and ragequitters, but those groups are a worry with or without media such as film and video games.

Well, that's two cents anyway.
Posted 10:38pm 13/11/09
I studied a subject at uni a couple of years ago called "Information Science". A big chunk of the subject was about categorising and classifying bits of information (primarily so they could be stored in, and retrieved from, databases.

One thing that really stuck with me from the subject was something that my tutor mentioned on the subjection of classifying things into groups. He said, basically, "always have a group called 'Other', for things that don't fit into any of the defined categories".

This is something I've kept in my mind for a lot of other things I've worked on that involve putting things in groups, because eventually - inevitably - you stumble across something that doesn't belong in any of the groups you've created.

So, with an 'other' group, you just dump all those awkward non-fitting things into them. Maybe you can sort them later and create a new group after you identify patterns, but generally they'll just sit there and gradually accumulate - and probably rot.

The Classification Board's 'Other' category is RC - Refused Classification. Anything that doesn't fit an existing category will always, by definition, have to be tossed in that basket. By law, they simply have no other choice.

Until a new category exists for violent or otherwise "adult" game to belong to, they'll be dumped in the 'Other' basked, never to be seen or heard from again (except, as we all know, that is not the case - gamers that want an untarnished version will simply import it or find other ways to obtain it).

There's always going to be subjective judgment in the fuzzy zone between MA15+ and RC. But an R18+ rating will mean the Board has another bucket to throw things in. Realistically, I'd prefer no RC rating and consumers to make their own choice. Again, they will anyway, thanks to the power of the Internet, but that's another issue. But having an R18+ rating will simply give the Classification Board another place to put games, and it's a place they - and we - sorely need.
Posted 12:06am 14/11/09
I wouldn't call L4D/L4D2 especially violent games.

After having played the uncensored demo of L4D2, I do not fault the Classification Board for giving it RC, because it certainly doesn't belong in M15+. It really is quite violent, and while sure its not an entirely realistic setting and you're killing zombies its still REALLY graphically violent. And it seems to be a really brutal, unforgiving sort of violent. Like I played a s***load of Fallout 3, but L4D2 to me feels much more brutal and violent.

Its not really the Classification Board's fault, I think they made the right choice not letting L4D2 be M15+, but like trog said, by law they didn't have any other choice but to make it RC, and thats the bit that needs work.

MW2 is a tricky thing for me, because yeah, it does have some disturbing content that can have a pretty big impact, but its more a psychological impact, the game itself isn't really *that* graphically violent, like you shoot people, and theres a little puff of blood, and they die. Its violence, sure, but I bet theres plenty of M rated movies out there with as much violence. Getting to actually play the level as the the terrorist killing the civilians, yeah, that probably ups the ante a bit, but I dunno if it ups it enough to warrant an R rating.
Posted 12:20am 14/11/09
not going to give an opinion, but well done on this piece of writing. good direction for the website.
Posted 08:05am 14/11/09
imo This is a much better direction then reviews, rehashing news and how-to/indestructibles. Love it. (I'd even switch to that homoerotic non qgl forum to read it)

Khel and trog make valid points.

I mean to be honest I am surprised even games like borderlands or Dragon Age: Origins are MA.

One of the starting quests in Dragon Age is saving your sister from a prostitution and blackmail ring, by murdering a guy then druging another to rig a gambling circle. I guess it gets by, by being completely and obviously in a fantasy setting.

Posted 09:42am 14/11/09
but its more a psychological impact

this in my books is worse which should be more reason to RC this game instead of l4d2.. L4D2 is just blood and guts, whoopdeef*****gdoo, it's those mentally disturbing games that need more attention.. eg Silent Hill Homecoming (has been RC'ed for good reason), not so much blood and guts but a very disturbing game in the sense of psychological impact. So disturbing that I won't play it. There is another game where you use pipes and wrenches and other things to block attacks and beat people to death with, forgot the name but this hasn't been RC'ed and it really surprises me. Again very dark and disturbing game and refuse to play it.

Fear2 (I f*****g love this game), the blood and guts is there (not really bad though) but that Alma b**** was continuously f*****g scaring me amongst other things that kept me jumping in my seat.. How is this suitable for kids with all the anxiety it produces?

So when I classify games from my perspective for example, I don't look at things like blood and guts, this doesn't worry me the slightest. To me it's more deeper than that, it's the story, it's the directing of the story, it's the characters and how all these things engage you.. When I say characters, I'm talking about people, aliens, demonic creatures, zombies etc etc zombies and alends don't phase me the slightest, we are so desensitised to them it's not funny.. Demonic creatures and certain human characters, can be disturbing and detrimental to a developing childs psychological development.. Games are becoming visually more realistic everyday which helps "psychological" games maximise their impact.

I don't know, I'm kinda brainstorming here whilst typing..

just my 2c

last edited by Martz at 09:42:53 14/Nov/09
Posted 10:18am 14/11/09
but its more a psychological impact

So, what do people think about this argument that games are more involving (higher psychological impact) than films, and accordingly need to be classified differently? Is it more disturbing to murder civilians in MW2 than to watch someone else do it in, say Schindler's List?

If so, should we then be more careful about what we classify as available to minors (MA15+ and below) than with films?
Posted 10:24am 14/11/09
Well currently games don't look real so it is a bit dumbed down, movies however are made to look real with good cgi and special effects that it can impact the viewer more.. So it could for argument sake balance out?
Posted 10:31am 14/11/09
to me it seems that games can be a lot more involving and quite possibly do need to classified differently. but, I wish all the idiot emotionally-driven people would just get the f*** out of the way and let some rational scientists make a conclusion that can be heard and used so we can move on and structure things accordingly

I also wish the same type of idiots would get the f*** out of the way and allow an R and even an X classification for games be put in place so we don't have some tiny group of prude douchebags deciding what games other adults can and can't buy on the australian market
Posted 10:34am 14/11/09

Is it more disturbing to murder civilians in MW2 than to watch someone else do it in, say Schindler's List?

I think it may be the first person aspect of these games, rather than the actual content itself.

Also, shouldn't you be marking lwb486 papers? :)
Posted 10:43am 14/11/09
what games other adults can and can't buy on the australian market

I think this is largely the problem: there's two main discussions going on here - what material is suitable for children, and whether or not we should (or can) prevent Adults from accessing certain material. The lack of an R18+ rating, while it's designed to prevent access by minors, really muddies the issue.

I think it may be the first person aspect of these games, rather than the actual content itself.

Also, shouldn't you be marking lwb486 papers? :)

Quite possibly, but I've been marking since 6am. Mind if I take a break? ;)

Also, it appears you have me at a disadvantage. Will I be marking your paper?
Posted 10:49am 14/11/09
Break well deserved, even more so being a Saturday. Yes, you will.

I think this is largely the problem: there's two main discussions going on here - what material is suitable for children, and whether or not we should (or can) prevent Adults from accessing certain material. The lack of an R18+ rating, while it's designed to prevent access by minors, really muddies the issue.

I agree. I don't think anyone is advocating material which is graphically violent or otherwise inappropriate should be available to minors. But By not having a R18+ classification, the gov't is effectively removing the choice of adults. Paternalism blows.
Posted 10:59am 14/11/09
what really sucks is the sheer ARROGANCE of the South Australian AG. he knows the facts, knows that the average age of a gamer is slowly reaching 35. Knows that there is HUGE support in the community for an r18+ classification. But because it doesn't fit in with his perfect "must protect the children" view of the world he ignores it.

excuse me while i go play the uncensored l4d2 demo.

last edited by Merky007 at 10:59:54 14/Nov/09
Posted 11:22am 14/11/09
So, what do people think about this argument that games are more involving (higher psychological impact) than films, and accordingly need to be classified differently? Is it more disturbing to murder civilians in MW2 than to watch someone else do it in, say Schindler's List?

If anything, I think actually participating in the slaughter in that level in MW2 lessens the impact. That was my experience anyway, like when the level starts, and the elevator doors open and all your heavily armed companions step out and just unleash on the civilians and start slaughtering them all it was a pretty hard hitting moment. And then how they just slowly, casually walk through the terminal killing anyone they see with with complete and utter callous disregard, I thought that definitely got accross the message Infinity Ward said they were trying to get accross, driving home the pure evil of these terrorists.

But once I stopped watching, and actually shot at stuff myself, it just became a game again, it just became pointing my crosshairs at targets and shooting them to advance to the next checkpoint. Maybe I'm just a bit desensitized, I dunno, but I think watching something like that had a much bigger impact for me than playing it did. Does that mean I would go out in the streets with a gun and kill innocent civilians in a remorseless rampage? Of course not, because I can draw the line between reality, and what is a game. And I think thats what took away the impact for me, because once I started playing it myself and shooting people myself, my mind clicked over to game playing mode and it became just a game.

last edited by Khel at 11:22:23 14/Nov/09
Posted 11:27am 14/11/09
Just picked up mw2 this morning, that level was halarious
Posted 11:35am 14/11/09
There is a study out there that seemingly showed a link between improved memory recall of the environment while playing a violent game.

"Those who played a violent version of the game [...] demonstrated significantly better recall of advertised brands than those who played the regular version."

Taken from, Here.

Too me this suggests that there is a little more going on with violent media then what we take at face value.

So who knows just how playing a violent game impacts us.
I honestly believe it wont make anyone any more violent then they already are, I think the violence in games manifests in other ways, not necessarily bad.

All Humans easily have the capacity of imagining violent situations. You give a man an object, he can make a weapon out of it if nothing else.

Steve Farrelly
Posted 12:38pm 14/11/09
I still disagree there's a correlation between violent games and violent behaviour given the amount of 'questionable' content found across a variety of mediums. Mainstream news, tabloid magazines and sensationalist right wing views, for example, are far more harmful in my eyes as they tend to enrage and misinform, and are often more believable because of their station in life. Fox News, A Current Affair, Today Tonight etc - all worse than games.

Gaming is still a selectively interactive medium, though in saying interactive, you're really only pressing buttons or moving a mouse. By and large, you might as well assume weekend warriors, or laser-tag/paintball enthusiasts are as equally likely to allow their "interactive activity" to influence their irrational violent self to enact the actions of their fantasy in the real world.

Everyone here is right in that there needs to be a stronger, my authoritative look (sans political agenda) into the long-term psychological effects of games.

On the other topic of review methods for classification here in Australia, the sheer fact the board point us on the direction of their "review guidelines" yet cite that each review is on a "case by case basis" shows just how imbalanced the whole thing is. You can't have guidelines and then decide how to look at each game individually - that in itself is a contradiction. It's also unfair on consumers to not allow the idea of a precedent, because we as consumers look for a benchmark, and given there are bloodier, more impactful games doing the retail rounds right now and Left 4 Dead 2 isn't, is proof of this. I argue that Dead Rising is far more bloody (especiially because half way through you encounter humans more f***ed up than the zombies), and having played that game's sequel, it's even more gory and ferocious.

After all of this, I really think the way in which games are reviewed for classification needs to be broached...
Posted 01:39pm 14/11/09
After all of this, I really think the way in which games are reviewed for classification needs to be broached...

It's an interesting point, but I'm not really sure that a doctrine of precedent would really improve the process. I think that fundamentally, these are subtle issues of context that amount to a relatively subjective evaluation of the impact of a particular game. Two games that share identical physics and mechanics, with a comparable level of gore, but have a different atmosphere ought to be dealt with differently.

I don't think that it's as simple as saying that Dead Rising is more bloody than L4D2, as there may be other factors that influence the decision. I think it's probably legitimate to say that one classification was incorrect, and to review that decision on its merits, but trying to fit all games on a big continuum of precedent is likely to be pretty difficult, if not impossible.

In short, I think that each review must be on a case-by-case basis - context is everything. (Take the Bill Henson images controversy, for example.) Classification is always going to be a somewhat inexact science; I think we can disagree with the results, but I'm not sure that we can easily say that one game is objectively more or less offensive than another - a doctrine of precedent may well be more trouble than it's worth.

I personally think the answer lies in a more open discussion of the standards that games are held to. We need a better discussion about what goals the classification policy is trying to achieve; and perhaps, if the aim really is to enable adults to make informed decisions for themselves and those minors in their care, then we need something more subtle than 5 general categories.

I guess the other point is that if these classifications really are advisory only (i.e., not resulting in a lot of prohibited content), then it doesn't matter so much if the Classification Board makes some mistakes, because consumers still have the power to decide for themselves.
Posted 10:05am 15/11/09
I think L4D2 does look a bit more gorey then MW2 but I havent played either yet. However, it still does not excuse why we have to neuter games because we dont have an 18+ game rating considering the average age of the gamer in Aus is over 18 its just plain rediculous to dumb down games as they are ruining for the majority of the gaming market (which are over 18)

Its like taking away the "full drivers licence" and keeping the P plater restrictions for ALL drivers, then saying oh hang on they cant drive high powered vehicles - so all high performance cars must be banned in australia unless modified with low performance parts. How rediculous would this be?

It makes no sense, unless of cause your board is full of very old volvo drivers... I would be really interested to see each member of the classifications board and their background both in up bringing, groups they belong to and religion, im without doubt there would be a conflict of interest in there which is behind this absolutely stupid decision.

I honestly dont think the classification board even know what the majority of australians want.

BTW im 29
Posted 11:30am 15/11/09
As an adult, i have the right to purchase alcohol, R rated and even X rated films. So why is this any different? Also, funny isnt it we dont ban say... alcohol or porn because maybe it contributes to a very high portion of income for Australia...
Iv'e played the MW2 no russians mission. You know what i did, i mowed down those civies. Why? because it's not real.
How i enjoy my past time is irrelevent to anyone BAR myself. If the classification board can not see that, there is something wrong with the notion of 'free choice'
Posted 03:37pm 15/11/09
I have to agree with Steve's comments, actually, I think he really hit the nail on the head with his first paragraph.

I will add that while I also don't think violent games instigate violence in people generally, however I think if an individual is mentally unbalanced already, a violent game can potentially provide a focus point, but it's certainly not a black & white case of cause and effect.

Also Steve's comment on sensationalised media being more harmful than a game is very true in my opinion also - if little Billy wandered in to the lounge room while Mummy and Daddy are being deeply disturbed by current affairs - Billy is at a high risk of being scarred for life by what he might see, much more so than peaking a look at his older brother playing Left4Dead in the study.

What constitutes mature content in a game is rather glorified by the superficialness of stylised blood & gore violence. I am certainly no authority on the Australian ratings advisory board, but I get the distinct feeling the individual(s) who review these games prior to release don't play or fully understand video games themselves, and are judging content on personal biasses sans overly conservative attitudes in an industry that has grown and matured over the years even if the Australian ESRB hasn't.

I think a pertinent question is - does say, COD Modern Warfare 2, have tractors loads more impact on the end players' mental disposition than say, Wolfenstein 3D, simply for the fact the former game is obviously more sophisticated? At the end of the day do you not sit in front of some video display pressing keys or buttons to point and shoot at the alleged 'bad guys' in both titles? Maybe I present an oversimplification with my example, but I think it presents some food for thought anyway.
Posted 12:16am 17/11/09
A bizarre situation on the even of the Australian/Steam launch of Left 4 Dead 2. Have just been playing Dragon Age: Origins and cut of a blokes head in a pretty graphic manner. And don't get me started on Fallout 3. There is no consistency and at nearly 41 years of age I am not happy about it!
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