On January 1, 2013, Australia’s new R18+ classification for games goes into effect. In theory this means that video games can be classified as for those aged 18 and above and now sold in local stores, but in reality it hasn’t been smooth sailing for all states and territories to pass the appropriate complementary legislation (as I predicted). I-am-not-a-lawyer, but the complementary legislation is needed so that each state and territory can accept the amendment and enforce penalties if the law is violated.
- The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) passed their legislation in August.
- New South Wales passed their legislation in September.
- South Australia passed their legislation in November.
- Western Australia looked like they’d hold things up, but passed their legislation in November.
- Tasmania passed their legislation in November.
- Victoria passed their legislation in December.
- The Northern Territory looks like they’ve also passed their legislation in December, but I’m not 100% clear if this bill has been through its third and final reading.
- Queensland (which is having a whole host of other political issues to deal with) doesn’t look like it will be able to pass their legislation until some time after Parliament returns in February 2013.
So, outside of Queensland, all the states and territories managed to get things in place, even if it was pretty much in the final days of Parliament for 2012.
I bring this up because having an R18+ classification may have avoided an odd bit of censorship I recently experienced in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.
You’ve Changed, Geralt
Just in case: ***PLOT SPOILERS*** for The Witcher 2 below.
Back before The Witcher 2 launched in Australia, there was a brief flurry of controversy when it was announced that some content that had sex as a reward was cut in order to see the title pass the MA15+ requirement. Then CD Projekt announced that they were no longer looking at IP for region purposes when The Witcher 2 was bought online, meaning that those particular edits were only in Australian retail copies.
I’d forgotten this when I picked up the Xbox 360 version cheaply recently, but my memory was jogged when I reached a certain part of the game. At the end of Chapter 1, you are given the option of chasing down the corrupt town leader or saving some Elven women from being burned alive due in a fire. I chose to save the women (which leaves the corrupt official in charge, but that’s kind of the tone of The Witcher – even your good choices don’t end up with things turning out well).
Then in Chapter 2, you can come across an Elven woman called Mottle who is someone you saved from the fire. She says that she’d like to thank you for saving her life by giving you “a bit of joy”. Having played through the first Witcher – where Geralt bedded various women, including a milk maid, a witch, an aristocrat, royalty, a dryad and a minor goddess – I was pretty sure where this was going, up to the point where Geralt said, “No thanks” and Mottle replied, “Your call, but I’ll not ask again.” It was then I remembered the censorship. Here is a YouTube clip of the full encounter if it was available in-game (but the clip itself is censored to remove nudity thus meeting YouTube’s requirements):
It struck me as an odd thing to cut. The Witcher 2 contains blood splatter, decapitations, torture and also sexual situations (including the opening scene, which contains more nudity than the entirety of BioWare’s RPG output), but this sexual situation was apparently a bridge too far. When I originally read the censorship decision, I thought that perhaps sex was an explicit reward – a “go off and kill ten rotfiends and then we’ll roll in the hay” – but it wasn’t. It was an unexpected reward, and one that you could miss if you didn’t find Mottle in Chapter 2.
The Witcher 2 also lets you pay for sex with prostitutes, which isn’t an act that is legal across Australia. If you go down that path, you’ll see a very similar sex scene to the one shown for Mottle above. It’s interesting to me that an offer of sex that is plausible – you saved my life and I’d like to repay you when we next meet – is considered less acceptable than sex acts that are illegal in a number of states.
(The other censored sex scene in the Australian version comes – or doesn’t come, tish-boom – with the Succubus. If you elect to investigate things in her quest thoroughly and say she isn’t responsible for a slate of murders, she thanks you and gives you some items, plus the offer of sex. In the Australian version, Geralt turns her down flat but takes the items.)
It’s just another example of the weird attitude that games have to sex. The Witcher approaches the topic more maturely than most – well, as maturely as a series where you can have a foursome with three female vampire prostitutes allows – but current attitudes see that it is more acceptable for Geralt to cut through his enemies with a sword than have a semi-realistic sexual encounter.
To be completely honest, not including those sex scenes in the game did not impact on my enjoyment of the title at all. The Witcher 2 is a great title and if you like action RPGs, you should try it out. But it was interesting to see the censors in action and where the line was drawn.
You’ve Got Some Feminism in Your Fantasy
I’m not going to spend long on this issue, but I do feel that The Witcher 2 is actually a step backwards from The Witcher in its depiction of women. In The Witcher, there were a number of powerful, capable women, including Geralt’s on-off-partner, the sorceress Triss Merigold. In The Witcher 2, Triss Merigold is captured for a large part of the game and you spend most of your time trying to rescue her. The sequel has a tendency to show powerful women – pretty much all sorceresses – as being manipulative liars. In contrast, powerful men are generally selfish and brutish, but they at least appear to be achieving things and have a purpose beyond making people their puppets.
The Witcher is a dark fantasy world, where politics plays a big part of Geralt’s experiences, even if he doesn’t want to get involved. Monster hunting ain’t easy. Part of this darkness is that the people in it are rarely either completely good or evil – if someone is being manipulative, it is because they believe in their end goal and its better outcome. However, it felt to me that where The Witcher had women and men more evenly matched overall, while The Witcher 2 tends to put women in positions where they appear to be weak and in need of rescuing, or are powerful and lying to you.
Hopefully this doesn’t continue into The Witcher 3 – I’d like to see characters outside of Geralt or a small smattering of males (like Roche and Iorveth) who are capable and trustworthy.