The Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) has refused to give a rating to an updated edition of a game you can already buy because its mature themes.
It said Disco Elysium, which is available to buy on Steam, “offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults”, despite a long-running campaign eventually succeeding in establishing an adult rating for video games.
The game has been available to buy for close to two years – but a new version called Disco Elysium The Final Cut was set to launch on consoles soon, complete with new voice acting and some expanded quests.
Its listing on the Steam store describes the title as “a groundbreaking role playing game”.
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“You’re a detective with a unique skill system at your disposal and a whole city block to carve your path across. Interrogate unforgettable characters, crack murders or take bribes.”
The game gives the players scope to “become a hero or an absolute disaster of a human being”, somewhat reminiscent of the old True Crime games if you can remember back that far.
The news that it would be refused classification was not welcomed.
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People appear to like the game itself – it has close to 30,000 reviews on Steam and the sentiment is “very positive”.
“Disco Elysium is the game you should play if you can only play one game,” one reviewer said.
Another described the detective character you play as “a drug addict and a drunk, but it turns out you’re also a pretty good detective”, similar to the eponymous character explored in Rockstar’s Max Payne franchise.
The game lets you choose whether you want to be a good cop or a bad one, or somewhere in between.
As a largely click-based role-playing game there isn’t much violence or combat in the game, with many likening it more to a good book than a video game, but the game explores – in the words of one reviewer – the more abstract but still relatable concept of “f***ing up” through its amnesiac, drug-addled detective.
The Steam listing does note the game contains “mature content”, which the developer ZA/UM describes as “instances of substance abuse and exploration of crime scenes”.
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The OFLC had harsher words when The Final Cut of the game was submitted for review so it could be released on consoles.
While denying it any classification, including the adults-only R18+ classification campaigners fought so hard to force the board to introduce, the censor’s office described it as a computer game that “depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified”.
It hasn’t provided any further information on what that material is on its website, announcing the game would be refused classification.
It’s believed it’s been banned over its depiction of drug use; the board takes a generally unfavourable view of drug use when it references real-world drugs and they provide a benefit to the character (Max Payne popping generic “painkillers” to restore health doesn’t count but if a game like Euro Truck Simulator made you drive better on amphetamines it would probably be refused classification).
The National Classification Code, in effect since 2005, begins by saying that “adults should be able to read, hear, see and play what they want”, but it took until 2013 for video games to get an adult classification. Before then, anything in a video game that was unsuitable for children under the age of 15 would be “refused classification”.
By refusing classification to Disco Elysium, the OFLC has ruled that it “cannot be sold, hired, advertised or legally imported in Australia. RC-classified material contains content that is very high in impact and falls outside generally-accepted community standards”.
Fans who were waiting for the game have been left disappointed.
“As an Aussie who has been waiting for this to come out, I am absolutely furious,” one angry Aussie gamer said on Reddit.
“It was only in recent years that the Australian Classification Board introduced an R18+ rating to games. We all stupidly thought that would be the end of the board prohibiting games with adult content. But no, the board hasn’t changed at all. It’s still made up of the same old people that believe only kids play games,” the commenter claimed.
Others have used the case to highlight their concerns about the Online Safety Bill the government has recently been trying to push through the Senate.
Many opponents to the bill have questioned its broad scope and potential unintended consequences, as well as expressed concerns it gives Australia’s unelected “internet cop” at the Office of the eSafety Commissioner too much power.
The current eSafety Commissioner is Julie Inman Grant but if the bill goes through, the powers would be held by whoever is picked to replace her in the future.
Digital rights advocacy group Electric Frontiers Australia has said the refusal of classification is concerning but, “if the Online Safety Bill passes, the eSafetyOffice will be able to ban games all by themselves and order Steam to remove them”.
The board has a review process but it’s not clear whether the developers will appeal at this stage.