Censorship and Technology

In recent months the Australian Government Classification Review Board has refused classification for the computer game Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents under Pressure and withdrawn classification for Grand Theft Auto III: San Andreas. In effect both games are banned in Australia.

This is not totally unexpected although Australia seems to be the only country to ban these particular games. Another Rockstar Games product Manhunt has been banned in New Zealand, and is also banned in Australia. While the Swedish designed and built game Hearts of Iron was banned in China in 2004 (there are quite a few games banned in China: The Sims 2, Manhunt, FIFA 2005, Painkiller: Battle out of Hell, Age of Mythology: The Titans, Battlefield Vietnam, Conflict Vietnam, Vietcong: Fist Alpha and Devastation are some of the 50 or so). New Zealand banned Postal 2 in 2004. In 2002 the Greek government banned all computer games. As far as I can see it is still in place, although the Greek authorities even admit it is difficult to consistently enforce such a position (think mobile phone games).

An approach taken by the Japanese Government has been to ban certain types of hardware making the playing of retro games impossible:

“On April 1 [2006], Japan’s Product Safety of Electrical Appliances and Materials Law (PSE), designed to prevent electrical fires, will prohibit the resale of 259 types of electrical goods made before April 2001—including some of the most coveted video-game machines.”
Time Asia

According to the same Time article the PSE Law “serves as a sop to Japan’s large electronics manufacturers” and is in affect banning an entire important genre of computer games.

From this list of sorrows I would like to take one rare example of those doing the banning providing a detailed text outlining why and how the banning took place. This month the governing body for media classification in Australia refused classification for the graffiti themed computer game Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents under Pressure. The Australian Government Classification Review Board has made available online the document explaining the process. Rarely is an act of censorship explained and clarified in such detail. Fourteen pages of process and two appendices of graffiti terms (why??). It was a close call with a split two to two vote only being passed as to refuse classification after the intervention of the Conveyor of the Board. A quick close reading of the text provides for interesting analysis. Of primary concern to the Board of Review was the possibility for “transfer of game world knowledge to the real world” (12). This is a basic assumption of the entire text, that the line between reality and fiction is very thin in computer games. This is reinforced by such statements as “During the course of game play the player meets five ‘legends’…who are real life graffiti artists” (7). The word “real” is used 29 times in the 14 main pages of the report. I would argue the assigning of the classification “real” is difficult in any media. But the reality is the problem with Getting Up. According to the Review Board document it is a simulation and:

It is a matter of common knowledge that simulations are used by educators and industry to instruct in matters from learning the rules of the road, to touch typing, through to flying jumbo jets and military aircraft. Conditions are reproduced that simulate what the learner may face when undertaking a task in the real world in a safe, re-created environment. (11)

Extreme realism is the thing. It is not about violence or sex as it so often is with game classifications. Rather if you can learn how to do it in a computer game then it is easily done in the real world. Those who play Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents under Pressure are apparently being trained to be graffiti artists. I am very uncertain about this connection. As a rational for banning games it has the logical potential to become more common as games become more realistic with the development of faster and more immersive platforms. If Moby Dick becomes a high rez game in the future, it could be banned because whaling is illegal.