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We Happy Few dodges Australian censor's ban

Australian censors have lifted an effective ban on We Happy Few, deciding after an appeal that its depiction of a fictional drug does warrant an adults-only ‘R18+’ rating but isn’t so bad that the game should be illegal to sell in the country. Australia’s Classification Board had objected to its drug ‘Joy’, which keeps the dystopian survival game’s city in hallucinatory bliss so residents don’t realise e.g. the ‘sweeties’ they’re eating from a ‘piñata’ are actually a rat’s guts. But popping Joy can help players at times, letting them pass for ‘normal’, and Australia does not like beneficial gamedrugs.

In May, the Classification Board gave We Happy Few a rating of RC (Refused Classification), which meant it would be illegal to sell, import, hire, or advertise in Australia. Developers Compulsion Games appealed that ruling, unsurprisingly. Yesterday, a review panel announced they would give it an R18+ rating, meaning only adults can buy it, and slapped on a warning for “Fantasy violence and interactive drug use.” Ooh, chilling!

“We are extremely pleased with the decision of the board and excited that our Australian fans and new players will be able to experience We Happy Few without modification,” Compulsion said in a statement yesterday.

The Classification Board originally said on May 25th that, in their opinion, “the game’s drug-use mechanism of making game progression less difficult, constituted an incentive or reward for drug-use” – something explicitly forbidden by their Games Guidelines. They explained:

“Players have the option to conform with NPCs and take Joy pills when exploring the Village or Parade District areas of the game. If a player has not taken Joy, NPCs become hostile towards the player if they perform behaviours including running, jumping and staring. An NPC character called the Doctor can detect when the player has not taken Joy and will subsequently raise an alarm. A player who takes Joy can reduce gameplay difficulty, therefore receiving an incentive by progressing through the game quickly. Although there are alternative methods to complete the game, gameplay requires the player to take Joy to progress.”

Naughty naughty. Yes, even though We Happy Few makes clear that Joy has helped make Wellington Wells a dystopian drughell, its benefits were originally deemed sufficient to ban the game. And drugs were very much the problem – the Board noted that, without the drug rules in their guidelines, it would otherwise be rated 15+.

This isn’t the first gamedrug to cause problems in Australia. Fallout 3 and onwards have renamed morphine to ‘Med-X’, because promoting or encouraging taking prescription drugs was a no-no. And it’s not just drugs. In 2009, Australia only let Valve release Left 4 Dead 2 down under with its gore cut down – a restriction not lifted until 2014. The country only decided to create an adults-only rating for games in 2012, despite having a film one for decades, so before then any game which couldn’t make a 15+ rating was banned. The tide is perhaps turning down under, very slowly. And the country’s Senate do plan to investigate loot box problems too.

We Happy Few is due to finally launch via Steam and GOG on August 10th, following a bumpy journey through early access. Oh, and hey, did you see Microsoft announce during E3 that they own Complusion now? Busy busy.

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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