Dear Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment,
I have noted with interest your reactions to the recent news that Mortal Kombat has been refused classification in Australia. It probably wasn’t a surprise to you in the slightest; there was a pretty high potential for a game with slo-mo bone breaking and a focus on brutal finishing moves (from about 11:10) to get knocked back. The cynic in me suggests that for the paltry few thousand dollars (maximum) it costs to have a game classified in Australia, you’ve managed to generate 20x that free publicity around the new Mortal Kombat game.
Being banned in Australia is a bit of a badge of honour, isn’t it? So much so some titles have announced they are banned without even bothering to go through the process. Gets the player base wound up, makes people a bit more excited for a game so EXTREME that it is banned somewhere. The press release had a nice condescending tone to it as well:
“We are extremely disappointed that Mortal Kombat, one of the world’s oldest and most successful video games franchises, will not be available to mature Australian gamers. WBIE would not market mature content where it is not appropriate for the audience. We understand that not all content is for every audience, but there is an audience for mature gaming content and it would make more sense to have the R18+ classification in Australia.”
How nice of you to push for an R18+ rating in such a way! Some organisations just lobby the Federal Government for change, but WBIE went through the entire process of making a AAA title and looking to release it in Australia just to make a point.
Although I think you overdid it with the repetition of the word “mature”. Face it – you are releasing a simulated fantasy pit fight, not something with some kind of subtext to balance out the violence ala A Clockwork Orange (although WB owns the rights to A Clockwork Orange, so that can be another project for you to work on).
In fact, that’s probably what I find most offensive in this situation. One reason that I’d like to see an R18+ games classification in Australia is the argument that it will let game designers tell more ‘adult’ stories. Those stories might contain sex, violence, horror or worse (British folk singing, for example) but that there will be something deeper to them than just surface thrills. Something that stops and makes gamers think. Something that pushes games closer to capital-A Art.
… but what we get instead is increasingly graphic depictions of the best ways to mutilate the human body. It’s hardly the greatest advertisement for why there should be an R18+ rating, is it? “Let Australia sell adult games and extreme close-ups on bloody stumps is what you’ll get! Remember: mature!”
And then we have those who want to Stand Up To The Man by comparing games that have passed classification, but doing an awful job of it:
“The decision to ban Mortal Kombat while giving the risqué We Dare a PG rating has revealed some interesting details about the federal government’s morality on censorship. Judging by the decisions, it appears that games promoting spanking, stripping and sexual partner swapping are acceptable for children while hardcore simulated on-screen violence is strictly off-limits.”
Actually, the ‘PG’ rating means ‘Parental Guidance’, not ‘Acceptable for Children’. Children who aren’t going to play a dull game like We Dare anyway. And when you put it like that, I think a relaxed attitude to sex is probably better than a relaxed attitude towards violence.
But I digress.
I say this as a long-time player of Mortal Kombat – from Midway’s arcade game onwards to about MK: Deception. It’s not about the violence of the game, it’s about the way that this process is being stage managed and what impact it has on how R18+ ratings for video games are considered. There might be a community demand for such a move, but it is very hard to point at a title that offers any substance for that R18+ grade – it’s all pretty much overdone gore (or drug use, with the odd smattering of sex… but mostly gore). If that is all there is – gore for gore’s sake – do gamers actually deserve an R18+ rating?
That said, I’m sure the new Mortal Kombat will appear on shelves in Australia in one form or another. I see that you are appealing the rating, which usually sees some kind of reclassification, or at worst I’m sure some re-editing of particular fatalities can see the title on shelves with an MA15+ rating.
And after all that, let’s hope the game is actually fun.