Fallout 3 has removed all references to real-world drugs, in order to appease the Australian classification boards, and in turn, the rest of the world's. Edge Online reports that Bethesda, needing to get around the decision to refuse to even rate FO3 down under, has agreed to remove names of drugs like morphine from the game.
The Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification (there's a clue in the name) had announced that they would be refusing FO3 a rating due to its content, which in turn would have meant it wouldn't be stocked and sold in Oz. The office explained, "material promoting or encouraging proscribed drug use" is refused classification. Not material in film and literature, obviously - that would be crazy! But in games it's simply too much.
With the news that the Australian version was being toned down in some ways to ensure a classification, it was then assumed that the antipodean game would be different than that released to the rest of the world. Not so says Bethesda PR man, Peter Hines. He told Edge,
"We want to make sure folks understand that the Australian version of Fallout 3 is identical to both the UK and North American versions in every way, on every platform."
Which means that, yes, all versions will lose the drug names.
"An issue was raised concerning references to real world, proscribed drugs in the game, and we subsequently removed those references and replaced them with fictional names. To avoid confusion among people in different territories, we decided to make those substitutions in all versions of the game, in all territories."
Amongst the muddle over this was the belief that the Oz board was refusing the rating over issues broader than drug use, but it seems removing these names was enough, and FO3 has now been awarded an MA15+ for the game. At the time Edge reported that they said,
"The board… found that [the] relationship between drug use and incentives and rewards is not such that it promotes or encourages the use of prescribed drugs. Therefore the game does not warrant to be Refused Classification and can be accomodated at MA15+ with a consumer advisory of 'stong drug references.'"
Fictional names of drugs now stand in, meaning the game still includes the use of liquid painkillers, presumably opium derivatives, injected intravenously to cause pain relief. But, you know, not "morphine". Carry on.
What's most stunningly peculiar about all this is that the morphine was never being used recreationally in the game. It was being used for its intended purpose - as an extremely powerful painkiller, albeit in somewhat less than pharmaceutical circumstances. I'm just dumbfounded by this. While I could not sympathise with an argument that said the depiction of drug abuse within a game was cause for adult concern (especially when declared by a body that would never think twice about awarding a rating to a film that contains the same, nor even need to rate it when it happens in a book), I can at least stumble a few steps down the train of thought that could lead to such a decision. But morphine applied with its intended use, and not, say, for chipping a methadone script... Huh?
I don't blame Bethesda for just swapping out the name of the drug. It'll clearly have no significant impact on the game, beyond unnecessarily fictionalising that which could have been a window to realism. If that's all it takes to get around such a draconian and mind-boggling ruling, then hell, whatever you need.
I can't be bothered to write out a paragraph about the duplicity of imposing such wildly different standards upon games - we all already know it. But hopefully this example will stand to exploit the immaturity and bureaucracy of certain classification boards.