For those of you that missed the news, Saints Row IV has been banned in Australia. This is despite that country, as of January 1st this year, having an R18+ rating available - rather than the previous MA15+ top-tier option that itself was so contentious, for so long.
Publisher Deep Silver quickly went on the record to explain their plans for the game across the Tasman, which - given there's lots of people over there that want to play the game - aren't that surprising. They're going to strip out the most offensive elements of the title (well, the bits that caused it to be refused classification, anyway...) and release a version of the game in Australia that's legally allowed to be sold in the country.
What's still unknown, at the time of writing anyway, is which version we'll get; a tiny market, New Zealand is oftentimes supplied out of Australian warehouses. Despite the fact that the game has been rated (in its original form) R18 in New Zealand, allowing Deep Silver to sell the game unmodified here, that doesn't mean that they will; we're expecting to hear either way soon.
What has come to light recently, however, is why it was banned in Australia. And the why of it is interesting for a number of reasons...
According to Kotaku Australia, it all boiled down to one "key" element - and where that key is intended to be inserted:
The game includes a weapon referred to by the Applicant as an “Alien Anal Probe”. The Applicant states that this weapon can be “shoved into enemy’s backsides”. The lower half of the weapon resembles a sword hilt and the upper part contains prong-like appendages which circle around what appears to be a large dildo which runs down the centre of the weapon.
When using this weapon the player approaches a (clothed) victim from behind and thrusts the weapon between the victim’s legs and then lifts them off the ground before pulling a trigger which launches the victim into the air. After the probe has been implicitly inserted into the victim’s anus the area around their buttocks becomes pixelated highlighting that the aim of the weapon is to penetrate the victim’s anus. The weapon can be used during gameplay on enemy characters or civilians.In the Board’s opinion, a weapon designed to penetrate the anus of enemy characters and civilians constitutes a visual depiction of implied sexual violence that is interactive and not justified by context and as such the game should be Refused Classification.
That doesn't leave a lot of room for interpretation; the Alien Anal Probe is clearly the central issue and, as such, it should be fairly easy to remove (depending on how the game leverages it, of course, but removing a weapon doesn't sound like something that should result in delays.)
In the full New Zealand Office of Film & Literature Classification summary of reasons for rating the game R18 (under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 (FVPC Act)), it was noted that:
According to the distributor's logs, there is also [an] alien weapon that acts like an anal probe. This was not seen during the Office's examination.
This is because the office received a copy of the game that was “incomplete and still in a 'build' stage” along with “additional footage and detailed script logs”. This is not uncommon for when large games are being classified. Although the decision has been made, the NZ Censor’s classification can still be altered if it receives an appeal within the given timeframe.
The NZ Censor’s decision also notes many sexualised elements, but deem that these are part of the context of the game and fall within the remit of the R18 classification.
For violence, the decision notes:
In terms of s3(2)(f) [of the Act], while the game includes elements of extreme violence, it does so in a completely ludicrous and overblown manner that significantly limits the degree of impact. Therefore the game does not promote or support acts of the infliction of extreme violence.
The violence is balanced by a number of factors, such as the far-fetched and satirical nature of the game, and the lack of realism generally.
However, crime in the game is simply a means to an end, and the impact is lessened by the context of the game and the far-fetched, over-the-top manner in which it is presented. The consequences of crime are rarely dealt with by law enforcement, and despite the surface familiarity of a city setting, this is a city in which entire buildings can be destroyed, aliens roam the streets, and the player (a former leader of a gang) is now President of the United States. Civilians, too, behave in unintelligent ways and are limited in character type (for instance, the same 'old lady' or 'crazy man' are seen frequently, and often in the same time and place). The ludicrous and overblown nature of the game limits the degree of impact from the criminal activity.
So while it’s not yet known what version we'll see on store shelves come August 22nd, it is clear that this will be a ludicrous game at the very least.