Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Dropping the Ban Hammer

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Have you ever eagerly anticipated the release of a game only to find out it isn’t coming to the United States?  Imagine if the reasoning wasn’t due to licensing issues or internal policies by the ESRB and console developers.  Aside from Rapelay, a game I can barely give credit as a video game and was never intended to see a release anyway, I’ve never heard of a game that isn’t welcome in the US.  It’s one of those great freedoms that we take completely for granted in this country – we don’t have our media banned or censored federally.  This isn’t to say content isn’t stripped down, many of us remember Manhunt 2 getting an AO rating that rendered it unable to release on its intended platforms (PS2 and Wii).  As a result, developer Rockstar released a “toned down” version that was approved with an M rating and saw retail release.  The difference between this situation and the situation in other countries is that the industry self polices and decides what is allowed and what is not.  Currently the major console manufacturers refuse to  release AO titles, but that doesn’t restrict a developer from releasing on PC or an available platform.  In some other countries, you’re given a stringent refusal to release your product after you’ve created it.

Australia
Easily the most referenced source of banned video games because of the Australian Classification Board (ACB), a governmental group, that reviews and rates media.  Up until recently the R18+ rating, an equivalent to “R” or “M” in this country, was allowed to be classified for movies but video games were not a valid medium for the rating.  As a result, if you couldn’t get an R15+ rating, you were essentially banned.  Since the introduction of the R18+ rating in video games, publishers can now pay to have any banned title reclassified if they so desire.  If a title is banned in Australia and is found by customs to be attempting to enter the country, the penalty to the recipient is up to $110,000 Australian.  For this reason there have been a decent number of banned games, as you can see in the list below.  All games with an asterisk (*) were appealed and later allowed to release with no changes whereas any game with a caret (^) was censored and later re-released.

  • 50 Cent: Bulletproof^ – violence
  • Aliens vs. Predator* – violence
  • Blitz: The League – drug use and rewards for doing so
  • BMX: XXX^ – sexual references
  • Dark Sector^ – violence
  • Fallout 3* – use of the name “morphine” for a drug, renamed worldwide to “med-x” and allowed release
  • F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin* – realistic violence, later deemed violence was unrealistic and allowed release
  • Grand Theft Auto III^/* – prostitution, censored for consoles, uncensored for PC and still received MA15+
  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City^/* – prostitution, self-censored to remove prostitutes, re-released in 2010 uncensored and given MA15+
  • Grand Theft Auto IV* – prostitution, self-censored on consoles, uncensored on PC and an update patch later uncensored the title on consoles but the MA15+ held
  • House of the Dead: Overkill* – realistic violence, later appealed and allowed release due to unrealistic violence
  • Left 4 Dead 2^ – violence, German cut released as MA15+
  • Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude – sexual references
  • Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure – glorification of graffiti, allowed to release and later banned by Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock
  • Manhunt – violence and torture, allowed release and later banned by Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock
  • Mortal Kombat (2011) – mutilations and gore, reviewed by Classification board and the ban was upheld
  • NARC (2005) – perceived benefits to drug use
  • NecroVision^ – violence
  • Postal – gross content
  • Postal 2 – gross abhorrent content, originally released unrated then pulled from shelves
  • Phantasmagoria – rape/sexual violence
  • Punisher* – graphic scenes of torture, censored worldwide by developer and allowed release in new version (European version)
  • Reservoir Dogs – torture
  • Risen – incentives to drug use and sexual behavior
  • Sexy Poker* – nudity, company changed (WiiWare) content worldwide to be revealing underwear and it was allowed release
  • Shellshock: Nam ’67* – violence, later argued that in war context it’s appropriate and it was allowed release as MA15+
  • Shellshock 2: Blood Trails – intense violence
  • Silent Hill: Homecoming^ – disturbing scene involving drilling a body
  • Singles: Flirt Up Your Life – incentives to nudity and sexual behavior
  • Soldier of Fortune: Payback^ – dismemberment
  • Syndicate – violence including frequent mutilations
  • Tender Loving Care* – sexuality and nudity, since it was technically a FMV it was re-rated under guidelines of a movie and given an MA15+
  • Witcher 2 – sex as incentive, a minor contextual change was made to specific side mission and the game was allowed to release at MA15+
  • Voyeur – graphic sexual language involving incest, released but later appealed and banned

As you can see there are some interesting rules in and reasons that games can be censored or banned in Australia.  It still baffles me that Mortal Kombat couldn’t win re-classification under the “unrealistic violence” clause.   In truth, it appears they are much more lax with their teen-appropriate ratings than we are in the United States.  Unfortunately with the consequences of importing banned titles the most popular option for banned titles has been piracy.

Brazil
Brazil hasn’t banned too many video games, but some have been blocked over the test of time.  In 1999, a mass killing spree where a man injured eight people and killed three more caused the ban of six of these games.  Any store selling these games after the decree was fined $11,000 a day.

  • Cat in the Hat: The Game – copywrite issues
  • Blood – high impact violence
  • Bully – school-based violence and harassment
  • Carmageddon – pedestrian attacks
  • Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now – pedestrian attacks
  • Counter-Strike – high impact violence
  • Doom – high impact violence
  • Duke Nukem 3D – high impact violence
  • EverQuest – references
  • Grand Theft Auto – high impact violence, only applies to first game and has since been reversed
  • Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes from Liberty City – banned in Barueri, a city in Brazil, due to using music by a composer without permission, ban also applies to related DLC however the main game doesn’t use the music and is not banned
  • Mortal Kombat – high impact violence
  • Requiem: Avenging Angel – high impact violence
  • Postal – high impact violence

This all makes sense except that I thought Brazil was known best for its releases of Doom and Duke Nukem 3D on the Mega Drive/Genesis, but I don’t know if these are legal copies.  Also unsure if Mortal Kombat refers to the original or the newest one, but I’m pretty sure it’s the original.

China

  • Command and Conquer Generals – “smearing image of China and Chinese army” including the bombing of targets in China (Three Gorges Dam and Honk Kong Convention and Exhibition Center)
  • Football Manager 2005 – recognizes Tibet as an independent country, it was later changed worldwide and allowed release
  • Hearts of Iron – portrays Tibet, Sinkiang and Manchuria as independent countries and puts Taiwan under Japanese control
  • I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike – “intentionally blackening China and Chinese army’s image”

See, not all bans are related to violent or sexual content.

Cuba
Although video games as a whole were hard to find until 2007 and the recent Castro assassination mission in Call of Duty: Black Ops caused some controversy, no game has been currently banned in Cuba.

Denmark
This is an interesting one because they only ban one recent game: EA Sports MMA.  The reason for the ban is the heavy use of energy drinks and energy drink promotion, which are outlawed in Denmark.

Germany
Theres a lot of controversy surrounding Germany, especially thanks to the Nazi party and gaming’s love with killing Nazis.  Basically if you are caught with this material under 18 it is illegal, as is it illegal to sell (the buyer is held responsible) but they don’t seem to prosecute for only single item sales.  Any game with Nazi propaganda or the Nazi party is held in the same regard as racist material.

  • Mortyr – Nazi references
  • Soldier of Fortune: Payback – graphic violence (including dismemberment)
  • KZ Manager – Nazi references
  • Condemned: Criminal Origins – high impact violence
  • Condemned 2: Bloodshot – high impact violence
  • Manhunt – high impact violence and cruelty
  • Manhunt 2 – high impact violence and cruelty
  • Dead Rising – high impact violence and cruelty
  • Silent Hill: Homecoming – high impact violence and cruelty (uncut)
  • Wolfenstein (2009) – Nazi references
  • Scarface: The World is Yours – high impact violence and cruelty
  • Left 4 Dead 2 – high impact violence and cruelty
  • The Darkness – Nazi references in included comic book
  • Bulletstorm – high impact violence and cruelty
  • Dead Island – graphic violence

Sega decided simply not to distribute Aliens vs. Predator, MadWorld, and House of the Dead: Overkill in Germany, presumably because they knew it would be banned.

After 10 years in Germany the ban is lifted unless appealed and re-instated.  The following games were banned but no longer are:

  • Wolfenstein 3D – Nazi references
  • Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines – Nazi references
  • Mortal Kombat (1993) – high impact violence and cruelty, only on Mega Drive, Mega-CD, and GameGear (Nintendo self-censored this title on SNES and Gameboy)
  • Mortal Kombat II – high impact violence and cruelty, the Gameboy version was allowed
  • Mortal Kombat 3 – high impact violence and cruelty

Italy and Ireland
Only in terms of video game bans are Italy and Ireland the same – both banned Manhunt 2 for obscene acts of violence and torture and later lifted the ban.

Japan
Nothing has been banned in Japan, although for social reasons the “fat man” weapon in Fallout 3 was changed to the “nuka launcher” because of its references to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.  References to North Korea and Kim Jong-il were removed from Homefront by Japanese publisher Spike.

Malaysia
Malaysia tends to ban anything that is overtly cruel, sexual or anti-muslim.  Most notable are the Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt series and recently demonic and cruel depictions in Dante’s Inferno got it banned as well.

New Zealand
Games are classified by the Office of Film and Literature, a government agency, in New Zealand and thus all banned titles are illegal to sell, buy, own, possess or import.

  • Manhunt – high impact scary violence and cruelty
  • Manhunt 2 – high impact scary violence and cruelty
  • Postal 2 – gross, abhorrent content including high impact violence, urination, animal cruelty, homophobia, racial/ethnic stereotypes
  • Reservoir Dogs – high impact scary violence and cruelty

Russia
Thanks to the Constitution of Russia, no games are banned in the country.  Media across the world falsely claimed that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was banned because of the controversial optional mission “No Russian”, where you invade an airport and shoot innocent bystanders.  The game was released in Russia, however that particular mission was removed by Activision for release within the country.

Saudi Arabia
There is a list of banned games, however it appears the government doesn’t enforce the sale of these titles save for Pokemon titles due to links to gambling.

Singapore
No current bans.  Originally Mass Effect was banned due to a sexual encounter between an alien and a human and The Darkness was banned for excessive violence, but both bans have since been lifted.

South Korea
Typically South Korea banned anything that dealt with the conflict between North and South Korea to avoid tension.  Those have been lifted thanks to the principle of free expression, but the following games are still banned:

  • Grand Theft Auto III – violence and cruelty
  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – violence and cruelty
  • Kira Hara – several sensitive subjects
  • Mahunt – violence and cruelty
  • Manhunt 2 – violence and cruelty
  • Homefront – although most diplomatic games were unbanned, this one stuck, probably because of the major issue with North Korea if it released

Thailand
Thailand has a ban on pornography, therefore games of that type are automatically banned as is the Grand Theft Auto series because of an 18-year-old who killed a taxi driver in a similar fashion.  Having said that, there is very little police and government breakdown for the sale, trade, and illegal downloads of such titles.

United Arab Emirates

  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – banned for violence, possibly toward Muslims
  • Darksiders – contradicting customs and traditions
  • Dead Rising 2 – violence, gambling, nudity
  • Dragon Age: Origins – sexual themes including homosexuality
  • Dragon Age II – sexual themes including homosexuality
  • Fallout: New Vegas – sexual themes and gambling
  • Godfather II – nudity
  • God of War series – violence, gore, sexuality
  • Grand Theft Auto series – cruelty and violence
  • Heavy Rain – seduction scene in the night club
  • Mafia II – excessive violence and nudity (Playboy magazine)
  • Mass Effect 2 – potential for lesbian relationships
  • Red Dead Redemption – nudity, ban lifted about two months after release
  • Dead Island – extreme depictions of scantily clad game characters

United Kingdom
Although this may someday change, currently the United Kingdom follows the ratings set by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and Pan European Game Information (PEGI) that provides guidelines to content in Europe.  Only a few games were threatened classification, but most were resolved.

  • Carmageddon – violence against pedestrians, it was updated to make the humans into zombies and later patched to restore the original content
  • Manhunt 2 – extreme violence and torture, both the regular and later censored versions were refused classification initially but the censored version was later reclassified and allowed release
  • Punisher – torture scenes during interrogation was seen as questionable to the public, even the US toned-down version was refused but the publisher worked closely with BBFC and an updated version was later allowed classification

Venezuela
While I initially thought that Mercenaries 2 would make this list, it’s a much larger one thanks to the government calling for a complete ban of any violent video game where the goal is to shoot people.  This began in November, 2009, due to massive amounts of violence across the country and some 13,000 pieces have been confiscated or destroyed.  To date this ban remains, which includes buying, selling, manufacturing, distributing, exhibiting, rental and even use illegal.

So when you consider how frustrating it is that you haven’t seen the unedited version of Manhunt 2 or how stupid it is that the terrorist act scenes in Call of Duty come under scrutiny, remember that this content is regarded under much harsher terms elsewhere.  Besides, I can personally attest to you missing out on nothing by not having played Manhunt 2 or Rapelay.  I have personally played both games, Manhunt 2 for pre-release review before it was given an AO and Rapelay for an investigative article.  They were both pieces of trash in every regard, and this is from someone who doesn’t mind graphic content in any medium.

Written by Fred Rojas

December 30, 2011 at 12:53 pm

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