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 ‘piƱata’ 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.

25 Comments

  1. The Librarian With No Name says:

    I actually didn’t know that Med-X was a stand-in for morphine. That makes Vera Keyes from Dead Money, along with a number of other minor storylines and setpieces, make a lot more sense.

    • Chaz says:

      Same here. That’ll make the whole chems related sides of the stories a bit more relatable. I’m guessing stuff like Jet then is the analogue for speed and Psycho is something like PSP. Buffout is supposed to be like steroids, but as for Mentats I don’t know, I’m guessing they’re like caffeine pills or something.

      • Shinard says:

        Jet’s 100% speed – in Fallout 2, it was specifically developed as a stand in for amphetamines that could be developed with what’s lying around the radioactive wasteland (brahmin shit, if you’re curious). Mentats, I guess they’re Adderall or Ritalin?

  2. Kitsunin says:

    So dumb. Joy is entirely presented as a bad thing within the game. You need to take it due to social pressure, but the only benefit it serves is effectively to convince the insane NPCs that you are also insane. Aside from that, it comes with a plethora of downsides which make survival more difficult. It helps you to progress in the game, true, but the idea that it in any way, shape, or form encourages, or hell, doesn’t actively discourage drug use is ludicrous.

    It should be considered an anti-drug PSA! If you do drugs, you need to eat more food and drink more water, or you’ll die! How awful!

    • Bull0 says:

      It might encourage popping pills in the sense of, cool, the characters in this game I like pop pills, I shall also do that. Like on the most juvenile, monkey see monkey do kind of level. But like, I don’t think that’s a reasonable justification for censoring the game. It’s for grownups.

      • airmikee99 says:

        Since when has an item being for grownups prevented it from falling into the hands of children?

        • Shinard says:

          Since when has the possibility of an item being owned by children been justification for censorship? OK, bad question, when has it been a justification for censorship that made sense? That’s the reason we have game ratings. At some point, somebody apart from the government has to take responsibility for what children see.

          • airmikee99 says:

            That’s a nice lofty goal you’ve got for humanity, sure, maybe one day parents can take responsibility for their kids alone without any outside assistance. Pigs can also maybe fly one day, that’s another lofty goal.

            Wishful thinking =/= reality.

    • airmikee99 says:

      The depiction may be negative, but the use provides a positive to gameplay.

      • Kitsunin says:

        In the same way an undercover cop taking drugs to fit in gives them a benefit to catching drug dealers.

        • airmikee99 says:

          A few police officers disagree with you:

          link to quora.com

          You watch too much TV.

          • Shinard says:

            Right, but in the game that’s literally the benefit it gives. It just helps you blend in.

          • airmikee99 says:

            RE: Shinard

            The justification as to why that positive benefit from a drug is needed is irrelevant. They use positive drug benefits as a game mechanic, hence it didn’t get past the censors.

  3. pookie191 says:

    I have to say I’m glad they made the change with Morphine to Med-x with Fallout. It fits better in my opinion

  4. Aetylus says:

    Given the Aussie government’s regulations have led to better refund policies for everyone, I’ll cut them some slack for heavily handed censorship. Hopefully they might even deal with regional price fixing one day.

  5. Chorltonwheelie says:

    Sealife, spiders, crocs and snakes that can kill you to actual death or pretend drugs?
    Hmmmmmmm.

    • daztec says:

      You don’t want to be distracted from the constant wild-life inflicted carnage by pretend drugs, I guess

      Death rates could shoot up from 99% to 100%

  6. Dean478 says:

    Just another case of out of touch beaurocrats failing to classify it correctly the first time. There are so many games with MA15+ ratings yet feature dismemberment of humans or rape, which are automatic R18 if not outright banned, yet nothing was ever said. Why? Because they probably play the first 5 minutes and make their decision.

    BUT, at least they had a second go.

    • mitrovarr says:

      Wow, dismemberment would make it a ton of games. Any game with gibs, really.

    • airmikee99 says:

      What game has an actual rape that wasn’t banned in Australia? There are plenty examples proving the opposite of your claim.
      Hotline Miami 2 was denied classification and shouldn’t be sold in the country. RapeLay banned. The Guy Game banned. Plenty of other games that don’t include rape but have sexual content have also been banned. Do you have an example of a game that includes rape or sexual violence that wasn’t banned in Australia that is currently available in the country?

      Dismemberment is not one of the major criteria the ACB looks at in violent games. Their guidelines all deal with the realistic aspects of violence and sexual violence. If the dismemberment is sufficiently cruel and realistic, it will probably result in a ban, if it’s just regular old video game comic style violence it’s not going to face a ban.

  7. zombiewarrior07 says:

    So glad that we have the “Ministry of Truth” to act as the vanguard of our morals (not).
    Really, this is getting a bit embarrassing for us Aussies.

    • airmikee99 says:

      How many elections have happened since the ACB was founded in 1970? Or since it was reauthorized in 1995? Or since video games were added to its list of responsibilities in 2005?

      If it’s so embarrassing try electing a government that will change it.

      • Kitsunin says:

        God, tell an American to “try electing a better government” before complaining about the current one. What a dumb thing to say.

        • airmikee99 says:

          You don’t think that Trump’s election, and the many, many, many regulations he’s undone is proof that a new election can dramatically change legislation that was signed into law under a previous administration?

          You don’t think that America is currently a perfect example of how political tides can shift and bring about massive government policy shifts?

          Whenever an American complains about Trump I do say, “Remember to vote.” That’s, you know, how democracy and representative governments work. If you don’t like government policy, vote in a new government. Are you really not aware of this basic fact?

          You’re right, your comment is a dumb thing to say. Maybe try thinking about your comments next time? That way you can put your language poop into the toilet where it belongs, and not on a public messageboard for the entire world to see. Or are you proud of your shitty cognitive skills?

  8. MazokuRanma says:

    “Oh, and hey, did you see Microsoft announce during E3 that they own Complusion now? Busy busy.”

    Believe that should be Compulsion.

    #corrections

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