Sunday, July 31, 2005

Should Second Life be banned Down Under?



"New York, NY – July 29, 2005 – Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. (NASDAQ: TTWO) said today that Australia's Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), the Australian entity responsible for rating films and video games, has revoked the classification of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. As a result of this decision, the game is now unclassified in Australia, and cannot be sold, advertised or distributed in that country." -- Take Two Interactive Press Release

I've always been fond of the last words spoken by Brian Piccolo, an American football player. When I die, I hope someone will llSetTexture these words onto my Second Life tombstone. They resonate with me as some sort of profound Philip Dickian ontology enquiry.

On June 16 1970 Brian Piccolo died of cancer. Apparently his last words, the last thing he said to his girlfriend was...

"Can you believe this shit?"

When Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released in Australia, shelves were only stocked with a special crippled version of the game where, among other restrictions, you could no longer pick up prostitutes. I understand that this is because it was seen as some sort of endorsement of real life sexual violence, ie. in the uncensored game it was possible to pay a hooker your $50, bump uglies (for the health boost), and then kill her to get your $50 back. In the version we ended up with, hookers would under no circumstances get into your car. This meant you could still murder them for cash but you just weren't allowed to avail them of their services beforehand. Nonetheless a good number of hardcore fans ordered uncensored copies of the game online from our New Zealand brethren over the water. And even though it was apparently illegal, Australian sellers could make a good $20 or $30 profit on Ebay.com.au.

The sequel Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas however - until now - seemed to have slipped under the radar. Censors apparently left it untouched and the Australian version of the game saw humpable-hookers back in force. I have no idea why. And yet you're still only allowed to buy the moderated version of Vice City. With San Andreas now banned entirely, New Zealand games websites are reporting that their own classification office may also follow suit. So Australian gamers will have to click further than ever before to get their illegal copies. For some gamers with only small mouse-pads, it may be a bridge too far.

It seems well-established that Australia's conservative censorship laws err on the side of Draconian. Nonetheless, a few corkers still get approved. Last weekend I rented a terrible sub-titled R-rated French movie that, to my suprise, featured a scene where a gay man, with prior consent, sodomized a sleeping woman with the handle of a wooden pitch-fork.

Afterwards he returned the pitch-fork to its' previous place in the garden outside her house.

Um... fair enough.

And yet San Andreas' hilarious, cheeky, chunky-pixellated, cartoon sex-scene - featuring an 'excitement meter' - bangs its' head against the rating ceiling for computer games and is banned clean off the Australian map. When you play San Andreas you can routinely decapitate innocent bystanders with a samurai sword. With a sniper rifle it's like the Mark Wahlberg scene in Three Kings, their head pops off 'like a champagne cork atop a gusher of blood'. The Office of Film and Literature Classification signed off on these violent aspects of the game. But comical, consensual sex-scenes involving a girlfriend that you have to ply for hours beforehand with dating and dancing, is apparently a no-no.

Can you believe this shit?

As 'Maddox' writes: "I'll be the first person to download and patch my PC version of Grand Theft Auto. I want to shoot people in the face, bang prostitutes, traffic drugs, steal cars, and terrorize police officers without this filthy smut in my game..."

The highest rating a computer game can physically get in Australia is MA15+. Films can get R18+. There is no Adult rating for games in Australia. 'Adult' games are illegal. Apparently there are no adult gamers.

Suppose I take Oliver Stone's R18+ Scarface and import it into a Macromedia Flash project. Suppose I edit it so you can unlock a Tony Montana shotgun-scene only if you double-click fast enough at the right moment. Does this film get banned now because it's a 'game'? If not, at what point does it become too interactive?

It's funny. The implications for Second Life have only just dawned on me. Under current internet censorship legislation in Australia, if Second Life were to be classified R - which I imagine it would - it would not be banned. However, should the Australian government ever consider Second Life to be a 'computer game' - even an adult one - it would get the chop. Banned. In-world there are genitals, bodily secretions (“She makes my penis sneeze") and animations far more mature than those unlocked by the Hot Coffee mod for San Andreas.

I mean...

Can you believe this shit! :)

See also:

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Censorship in Second Life


Image Source: Elvert Xavier Barnes

Richard Bartle at Terra Nova asks "Is there any subject matter that can appear in a virtual world which should always be banned by real-world authorities?" [LINK]

I'm primarily interested in the question in terms of how it relates to Linden Lab and Second Life today.

My position is unpopular. I would like Linden Lab to enforce a set of community standards that is as liberal as possible. A 'hands off' approach. I would like them to censor only the bare minimum that would be required to avoid breaking the law or being exposed to serious legal challenges.

That is not their current position. I have no legal background but to my mind Linden Lab's current community standards and recent policing decisions are legally conservative. Images of swastikas are banned in-world. You can be permanently banned from the game for harassing residents or for being a serious asshat. Certain topics of conversation are off-limits - for example, speculation about a resident's real life identity and details.

The other half of my vision for SL, is for Linden Labs to reduce their police presence in SL and give you, the resident, more fine-grained options and controls about things like group-organization, what other residents can do to you, and what other residents can do on your land.

This will effectively make residents the police of their own spaces and experiences in Second Life.