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Dangerous Games?

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This information ceased to be updated on 1 January 1998.
For current general information concerning computer games censorship in Australia,
please consult my Games Censorship Collection Web site.

Please note that the
Roberta Williams Anthology
Site 1    Site 2
and
Postal
(similar to Carmageddon in terms of displaying human carnage)
have also been officially banned in Australia.

See also my
Games Censorship Collection - Computer Games Resources
page.


[Banned symbol]


Phantasmagoria and Phantasmagoria 2 are not the only electronic games to have been banned and/or to have caused considerable controversy in Australia (and elsewhere in the world). Other computer and video game titles also hold such dubious distinctions. This page presents accurate information on: all the computer and video games that are currently officially banned in Australia other than Phantasmagoria (this excludes games sold illegally that would probably be banned if submitted for classification, games sold as "publications" or "films", and games given special classification exemptions), and some other highly controversial titles (all either legally available for sale or currently unclassified) that I feel are worthy of special mention. The heading "Dangerous Games?" recalls the title of a short video produced by the makers of Night Trap that shows just how prejudiced some people in positions of influence can be against a gaming title or indeed against an entertainment medium they really know nothing about.

According to Australian law, all computer and video games that are intended for sale in my country must first be officially examined and rated by the government Office of Film and Literature Classification (censors) before being released to the public. To do this, the censors follow special guidelines that are based on the principles outlined in the National Classification Code. These regulations currently do not recognise the fact that many adults play computer and video games and, as such, have the right to access titles that contain material unsuitable for children. They are truly based on appalling levels of ignorance and hysteria that I hope this page will play some part in trying to correct.

Yes, the games presented below do contain mature, potentially disturbing content, but, in all cases, no real world harm is caused to anyone in either their production or use. All titles also possess other mitigating factors of various types that any fair and just games classification system would readily take into account. It is worth noting here that none of these gaming titles are banned to everyone in the United States or the United Kingdom. In this respect at least, Australia is quite backward compared to its influential English speaking allies. I am sure that any reasonable adult would find the reasons provided for the Australian banning of the games referred to in the first section of the main body of this page to be unjustified and disgraceful. These prohibitions are not necessarily the fault of the censors, but rather the abhorrent and misguided computer and video games censorship system it is their regrettable duty to uphold.

Please note that the material that follows contains numerous spoilers, without which these gaming titles could not be properly discussed in a censorship context. Discussion of any particular game on this page need not mean that I recommend it as a worthwhile interactive entertainment experience. Specific computer and video games are mentioned here purely to prove that they, like both games of the Phantasmagoria series, are not dangerous as pro-censorship forces have made them out to be.


* The games under discussion on this page *

Banned:
Dream Web, Roberta Williams Anthology, Strip Poker, Voyeur,

Highly Controversial:
Carmageddon, Custer's Revenge, Duke Nukem 3D, Harvester, Night Trap.


- CONCLUSIONS -


A submission I sent to the Australian Government concerning my opposition to the continuing excesses of computer games censorship

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Officially Banned in Australia


Dream Web
(uncensored version)

© 1994 Empire Software
Site 1    Site 2

Banned for containing:
"Sexualised violence".

[Villain and girlfriend have sex] [Girlfriend hides from gunman] [Villain lies dead]

The "Dream Web" is a supernatural dimension that exists alongside the everyday physical world. The Web influences people's dreams and personalities in various ways. Normally, the seven Keepers of the Web ensure everything is running smoothly and that no extremists - good or evil - can take control from them. But their power has been usurped. Seven thoroughly evil people have each taken one of the seven points of power that are the keys to controlling the Dream Web. Should they come together and work out how to use their new powers to the greatest effect, the world as people know it will soon come to a destructive end.

Acting quickly, the Keepers of the Dream Web choose the player's character, Ryan, to be their champion and destroy the seven evil usurpers. Ryan is to act as an assassin and kill these seven people after tracking each of them down and overcoming their defences. He is somewhat of a reluctant hero and finds much of what he does distasteful, but he always keeps in mind his higher purpose - that of saving the world from being dominated by evil forces...

Dream Web is an adventure game - the player's character travels from place to place, interacts with other characters, and finds and uses different items in a similar manner to the plotline of a novel or movie. Everything is presented from an overhead view. It is as if the player is looking straight down on what is happening from above. The part of the display that shows all the action is only about one quarter of full screen size and the graphics used are fairly primitive (320x200 resolution 8-bit colour VGA). No real actors are seen - everything is just a highly pixellated cartoon/animation. People unused to such relatively poor visual presentation may find it hard to understand what they are seeing on screen.

First on the "hit list" given to Ryan by the Keepers is a man named David Crane. Ryan tracks him down and discovers him in bed, clearly engaged in consensual simulated sexual intercourse with his girlfriend. Both Crane and his girlfriend are naked. Drawing his pistol automatically, Ryan points it at Crane (see the above partial screenshots for pictorial representations of these and other actions described in this paragraph and note the depiction of a watch - indicating that interactivity is currently impossible - at the bottom right corner of the first two screenshots). Hearing the noise, the woman - who is never a target for any form of violence - screams and hides under the bed where she remains and is left unharmed. Once this has happened, the player must quickly click the mouse button to have Ryan fire his gun. He does so and Crane dies in a splatter of blood comparable to several "MA" (to be sold only to people over fifteen years of age) games such as Doom and Quake. If the player takes too long, Ryan is gunned down from behind by one of Crane's bodyguards and the game ends. On the other hand, if the player is successful, a streak of blue energy (one of the seven stolen points of power) flies out from Crane's body, envelops Ryan, and the next phase of the game begins. At no point does Ryan even move into Crane's bedroom. He remains standing in the doorway at all times. From the point where the player's character sees Crane for the first time to when he is magically teleported out of the room, merely a minute or so of real time has passed.

Only this scene in the uncut version of Dream Web presented any real problems to the Australian censors when they assessed and banned the game in early 1995. The offending scene was cut from Australian copies of Dream Web in mid-1996 and the new censored version subsequently went on sale with a comparatively mild "M" (recommended for ages fifteen and up) rating. The contentious incident supposedly contains "sexualised violence" - a situation where violence is somehow connected with sex, even if the sex itself is non-violent. The computer games ratings guidelines specifically prohibit anything that even remotely looks like violent sex, regardless of context. For that matter, they also prohibit all depictions of non-violent sex (except for educational/medical purposes), so such a prohibition is essentially redundant.

As anyone with a proper understanding of Dream Web would know, there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between the sexual activity in the scene described above and the violence that follows. It is the player character's task to defeat all seven evil people regardless of what they are doing when encountered. Exactly the same assassination would have been undertaken if David Crane was, say, reading a book or writing a letter. The player's character does not pay any form of sexual attention to Crane or his girlfriend and, as such, no sexual activity is coerced from anyone. In short, there is absolutely no connection between the portrayed simulated sexual activity and the following violence at all. The British censors seem to realise this fact because they classified Dream Web as being suitable for players fifteen years and older. The Americans likewise allow this game to go on sale. But, in this case, the Australian computer games ratings guidelines, being woefully inadequate to cope with the realities of computer and video games and their players (and poorly applied in this case), ensured that Dream Web in its uncut version would never be sold legally in my country.

Dream Web, Roberta Williams Anthology, Strip Poker, Voyeur,
Carmageddon, Custer's Revenge, Duke Nukem 3D, Harvester, Night Trap

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Strip Poker

Version shown is © 1995 Artworx
Alternative site

Banned for containing:
Bare breasted female models.

[Strip Poker game in progress]

Strip Poker (a real world card game involving betting where losing players give up articles of clothing that they are wearing to earn extra funds) based computer games have been released by a number of companies and exist in various versions and formats. The exact Strip Poker game that was banned by the Australian censors in mid-1995 might not be the one from which the above screenshot was taken, but all such games are pretty much alike. Assuming the players possess sufficient card playing skill for the level of gameplay difficulty they select, they are eventually confronted with partially undressed, semi-nude, and nude depictions of their computer controlled opponents (and occasionally crude generic depictions of the player himself/herself). Here lies the problem - the Australian computer games ratings guidelines specifically prohibit nudity unless it has a legitimate medical or educational context. While the nudity is indeed real, no persons under eighteen years of age are depicted and no sexual activity of any description is shown or implied. It is logical to assume that the unclassified Strip Poker games would also be banned to everyone if submitted for classification. Such games are legal in the USA and UK where they may be purchased by all adults.

In reference to Artworx's Strip Poker (shown in the above screenshot), most opponents are female, but some are male. These opponents (up to three at a time) are selected by the player before actual gameplay commences. The basic game comes with only a limited number of opponents, but add-on opponent packs may be purchased separately. Opponents are depicted as static pictures which may change depending upon the poker playing skill of the gamer. The opponents may be moved between different sized windows in order to get a better look at a specific individual. Some specially enhanced cd-rom based multimedia versions of this game come with video clips, but players of Artworx's Strip Poker are required to make do with occasional brief sound effects and comments in addition to the pictures. This game comes with a password protect system that prevents unauthorised access by those for whom the material contained within in unsuitable. Naturally, such a degree of welcome social responsibility cannot be taken into account by the hapless Australian censors in following my country's ignorant games censorship guidelines.

As gameplay progresses, players bet, raise, stay, and/or call on various hands of cards and so do their opponents. Whoever loses a hand loses cash. If the amount in any participant's store of funds reaches zero, they are required to sell an article of clothing to raise extra money. If there are no articles of clothing left to sell, then that individual is out of the game. Naturally, whoever wins each hand gets all the money in the pot at the time, so it is possible to win back funds (and therefore clothing) as well.

Assuming the player is competent and uses female opponents, various levels of undress and nudity will be seen as follows: Opponent depictions begin in a state of full dress, although their expressions and poses may portray a flirtatious nature. This usually progresses to a situation where outer layers of clothing are removed and the opponents are left in their underwear. Then, their breasts are exposed (bare breasts are the one and only reason the Strip Poker game that was submitted for classification was banned in Australia), and, occasionally, the nudity progresses further but nothing beyond the most tame versions of mainstream "adult" magazines - perhaps even more discreet at times.

Whether or not one agrees with any degree of nudity in entertainment products (even those directly aimed at adults such as the computer based Strip Poker games), it is an undeniable fact that partial and full nudity is legally available in most other forms of visual media - even those accessible to children. For that matter, it is far from a rare sight to see bare-breasted bathers at almost any Australian public beach. In the media, for example, breast nudity is allowed in some "PG" rated television programs and definitely in all "M" rated shows. If a public health or sex education purpose is served, it might even be possible to see such depictions in "G" rated time slots. Breast nudity occasionally appears in mainstream newspapers and in a surprisingly wide variety of mainstream magazines with little or no comment. Naturally, all this and more is depicted in traditional "adult" magazines, some of which are not legally prohibited from being sold to minors. Also, nudity of many kinds has been accepted in art for millennia. To ban a computer or video game to adults and children alike on the basis of depictions that are widely seen and tolerated in all other forms of visual media and sometimes not even prohibited to minors at all is nothing short of hypocritical and ridiculous.

Note: The computer games Billiard List and Pocket Gal 2 (both Strip Poker style games containing nudity), have also been officially banned in Australia. No further information is known about these highly obscure titles.

Dream Web, Roberta Williams Anthology, Strip Poker, Voyeur,
Carmageddon, Custer's Revenge, Duke Nukem 3D, Harvester, Night Trap

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Voyeur
(Originally rated "MA" but banned after reclassification)

© 1994 Interplay
Alternative site

Banned for containing:
A discussion of childhood sexual abuse involving "sexually explicit language".

[Normal conversation in office] [Kinky activity in office]

Billionaire businessman Reed Hawke (seated at his desk and talking to his sister in the left screenshot shown above) is deciding whether or not to run for the Presidency of the United States of America. He calls his family together one weekend to help him make the correct decision. The player's character represents political interests who want Hawke stopped at all costs by discrediting the likely candidate's professed integrity. They are correct - Reed Hawke is indeed an immoral and corrupt man...

From across the street, the player's character films and records incidents that occur over that weekend in the hope of uncovering some incriminating evidence to use against Hawke. To do this, the camera may be moved and scenes involving Reed Hawke, his family, and employees (played by real actors) watched. When an apparently incriminating incident has been filmed, the camera's video tape may be sent to the police or one of Hawke's family members. The wrong choice may lead to police ridicule, Hawke brushing aside the charges laid against him, or even the implied murder of the player's character.

Interactivity in this game almost nil. There is very little to do other than choose what scene you want to watch at any given moment. There may be more than one incident in progress at the same time. The player's character does not say anything at any point nor move away from the room with the spy camera at all.

As some incidents in Voyeur involve adult themes and sexual references (such as the kinky situation between Reed's executive assistant and his security chief depicted in the right screenshot shown above, but surprisingly no sex or nudity), the responsible publisher has provided an inbuilt security system that will not allow the game to be played without entering a preset password. Additionally, when the game starts, the time it was last played appears on screen to ensure no unauthorised persons have been using it in the meantime. As usual, the Australian computer games ratings guidelines prove inadequate as such protective devices cannot be taken into account during the classification process.

During the course of the game, it becomes apparent that Reed Hawke's niece, Chloe, a woman in her twenties, has some unknown dispute with her uncle. She makes an appointment to see him on Sunday night. At their meeting in Hawke's office where both Chloe and Hawke are fully clothed and do not lay a hand on each other, Chloe begins to talk about how Hawke often molested her when she was a teenager - beginning at age fourteen. If the player's character is filming another room while this conversation is in progress, some or all of this scene may be missed. All the player's character is allowed to do is to optionally watch and film. Such a recording may be used as evidence to try to prove that Reed Hawke is morally corrupt.

This controversial conversation, which led to the game's reclassification and banning by the Office of Film and Literature Classification in early 1995 (presumably following complaints of an undisclosed nature because the game had originally been given an "MA" rating by the same censors), begins with Chloe mentioning that she remembers every time her uncle came into her room and that she could still recall his breath on her cheek and the weight of his body pushing her down against her bed. Increasingly bitter, she shouts at Reed Hawke asking how he liked "f***ing" his own niece and mentioning that she was frequently tired at school because that was the only place she could get a decent amount of sleep. Hawke did not come to her room every night, but Chloe was so scared that he would that she usually lay awake in dreaded anticipation. In the course of this tirade, she uses the term "f***" as an exclamation. Chloe demands twenty million dollars for her silence and Hawke immediately retaliates to her attempt at blackmail by saying that there will be no place for her to hide if she talks about the abuse to anyone. The woman then storms out of the room.

Similar incidents are related on the news and current affairs shows (not to forget the newspapers) on such a regular basis that to Refuse Classification [i.e. ban] this game is absurd. Allegations of the sexual abuse of children laid against various religious groups in television programs such as the Australian version of 60 Minutes during prime time viewing hours readily come to mind. As for the actual language used in the game, it is not even sexually explicit. The actual sexual act is directly expressed only by a single use of the term "f***ing" - a word far from unknown in countless schoolyards around the country. The remainder of the contentious discussion merely alludes to sexual abuse in vague and inexplicit terminology.

To draw a specific comparison with mainstream television, on 21 November 1996 (in Australia), in the "M" rated Emmy award winning police drama NYPD Blue that depicts the activities of a group of New York City detectives, an alleged rape victim was being questioned. Reluctant to speak of the act that had been committed against her, the woman was pressed by the detectives for more details. She said that the man "entered her" and "ejaculated" after she indicated she did not consent to his clearly intended action. In another case being investigated, one detective commented on the condition of a child murder victim, saying that she had been raped, strangled, and thrown off the roof of a building and that she still had semen from her attacker all over her clothing. Being "M" rated, this show was recommended but not restricted for viewing to those over fifteen years of age. As is the case in Voyeur, there is nothing the viewer can do other than simply watch people say these things.

The coarse language term "f***" is far from unknown even in permitted gaming titles. For example, the "MA" rated games Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within, and Phantasmagoria 2 use it on a few occasions and another "MA" game, Ripper, uses it fairly frequently as an adjective, verb, and exclamation!

Most computer gamers are adults. Voyeur is aimed at the large adult gaming market. The term "adult" does not necessarily mean "pornographic" but simply that the material contains scenes and themes best viewed with a mature outlook. The other relevant factor here is that, compared to readily accessible permitted television shows and even other gaming titles, Voyeur clearly deserves none of the infamy that has been attributed to it by its unjustified Australian banning. Interactivity is not even an issue as the incident that had the game banned is as non-interactive as watching the above episode of NYPD Blue or reading the newspaper - both examples of media that even most children can access without comment. At the very least, the standards that apply to mainstream television and newspapers must also apply to computer games. Adults, as voters and as the holders of considerable rights in so many other areas of life, must never be treated like or worse than children when it comes to censoring/classifying entertainment products. To do so is an affront to freedom and democracy. To the best of my knowledge, Voyeur is legally available for sale to all adults in both the USA and the UK.

Dream Web, Roberta Williams Anthology, Strip Poker, Voyeur,
Carmageddon, Custer's Revenge, Duke Nukem 3D, Harvester, Night Trap

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Highly Controversial


Carmageddon

© 1997 SCi
Alternative site

The "road rage" game.

[Pedestrian hit] [Animal hit]

Road rage is a destructive expression of uncontrolled anger that adversely affects the lives many drivers and their passengers worldwide. It often involves considerable property damage as well as human casualties. This is a real world phenomenon that involves real people and real objects. Contrary to what a certain Australian state Transport Minister and elements of the news media have alleged, road rage has nothing to do with Carmageddon and has never and will never have anything to do with any electronic game. People who play computer games are well aware of the distinctions between fantasy and reality. While it is certainly true that running down pedestrians, animals, and fellow racers during races with names like "Maim Street" and "Coastal Carnage" in this destruction derby meets Doom type game (see the above screenshots) earns the player points and extra gameplay time; and while it is correct to say that these rewards are combined with messages such as "Splatter Bonus", "Bonus for Artistic Impression", and "3x Combo Bonus"; it must be noted that these alleged "depraved atrocities" are all done unrealistically with frequent use of dark humour and generous concessions to the normal laws of physics. To blame a real life phenomenon on something so unrealistic and fantastic is little more than a cheap political ploy to deflect blame from the Government's inattention towards actively encouraging effective and realistic preventative measures against genuine cases of road rage.

Carmageddon in its uncensored form is legal for sale in Australia. It has been given a "MA" (to be sold only to persons aged fifteen and over) rating for "high level animated violence". This is in contrast to the situation in the UK where it was once only permitted be sold in a version that replaced the human pedestrians with zombies; and in Germany where the pedestrians are robots! The fact that Australian censorship in this case resembles the the traditionally liberal approach of the US classification authorities has been the cause of some speculation. Australian classification legislation and associated guidelines refuse to recognise that most computer games players are adults by continuing to insist that only minors (persons under the age of eighteen) use this form of entertainment. If this is the case, then why the concern about road rage? Surely only adults (or at least those aged seventeen and older) are permitted to hold drivers licenses? Are they saying that the seventeen year old population, most of whom would only have learner's permits that require a fully licensed driver to be present in the vehicle, might turn into rabid road rage fanatics? After all, computer games playing "stops" when they turn eighteen! Or perhaps these fifteen to seventeen year olds will remember their experiences in a fantasy version of road rage a few years later when they get their drivers licenses and act out long repressed fantasies in reality? Perhaps some members of the Government are finally beginning to realise that computer games are indeed played by a much wider audience than was once thought? But, if this is the case, why are games still prohibited for sale in Australia if they contain non-educational or medical instances of sex and/or nudity (uncensored Phantasmagoria 2 for example), and why haven't the bans on the games mentioned in the first section of this page been repealed? Why are sexual situations - violent and non-violent - treated so more harshly than non-sexual violent situations? Why is the "MA" rating seemingly being used as a de-facto "R" (eighteen and up only) rating for Carmageddon? And why are some game distribution companies still afraid to try to get certain games approved for sale in my country? Hypocrisy, double-standards, confusion, and perhaps even a hint of fear truly reign in the shambles that is Australia's current computer and video games classification system.

Dream Web, Roberta Williams Anthology, Strip Poker, Voyeur,
Carmageddon, Custer's Revenge, Duke Nukem 3D, Harvester, Night Trap

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Custer's Revenge

© 1982 Mystique
Site 1

A distinct lack of racial and sexual sensitivity?

[Trooper wants to have sex] [Trooper has sex]

A naked American Indian woman tied to a stake is approached by a naked US Cavalry trooper intent on having sex with her if he can manage to make his way through the cacti and arrow obstacles that are arrayed against him by the harsh wilderness and the woman's furious relatives respectively. The trooper, no doubt a veteran of the wars with the native peoples of the United States in the nineteenth century, is seeking revenge for the massacre of Captain Custer and his regiment as well as any other defeats the woman's people had inflicted on his fellow soldiers. Back then, rape in times of armed conflict was not officially considered a war crime, but it cannot be denied that it did happen (as it does now in the twentieth century) at the instigation of sometimes uncontrollable vengeful and lustful military personnel...

The old Atari 2600 video game represented in the above screenshots, Custer's Revenge, acknowledges a dark aspect of history through its goal of getting the player's trooper character to have forced sex with the depicted Indian woman as many times as possible without coming to grief. With such direct historical, real world links, this game puts itself on a parallel with the infamous Auschwitz - the alleged computer or video game named after a major World War II Nazi concentration camp - which has stuffing as many Jews as possible into gas chambers as its tasteless objective. I have found no acceptable evidence to suggest that the Auschwitz game ever existed [if anyone can prove otherwise, please let me know], and, for a long time, I and fellow game players concerned with censorship issues could find no evidence that Custer's Revenge ever existed. This was probably because it was falsely called "Custer's Last Stand" (after the real world historical event) by most people who used it to rally support against computer and video games. Looking through records of Parliamentary debates in my home state, I finally came across a single reference to the game's real name. From there, I was able to rapidly acquire the information presented in this section of the page.

Custer's Revenge is certainly a hard game to defend. While it resembles Carmageddon in terms of the fact that the player's character is committing acts that would be morally indefensible among people in the real world, the acts in this game are of a far more personal and intimate nature which, when combined with a distinct historical real world context, make Custer's Revenge a regrettable and shameful game indeed. Published by an obscure manufacturer way back in 1982 for a video game system that, by today's standards of sound, graphics, and gameplay, is laughably crude and extremely unrealistic, Custer's Revenge never sold well or widely and is certainly almost unobtainable at present (collectors only). Games of this nature are not published today and, even when they were in the comparatively distant past, they were heavily marked as being suitable for adults only. Thus, to talk or legislate against computer and video game players on the basis of this miserable title and its seemingly non-existent "companion", Auschwitz, is pure lunacy. Also beneath consideration is the fact that Custer's Revenge would ever be submitted for classification. Given its age, crudeness, and widely offensive subject matter, no distributor would bother to do so. It is similarly doubtful that any censors would even waste their time banning this incredibly obscure and unpopular game. In short, it is best that Custer's Revenge is forgotten by everyone and consigned to the rubbish bin of history where it should stay.

Dream Web, Roberta Williams Anthology, Strip Poker, Voyeur,
Carmageddon, Custer's Revenge, Duke Nukem 3D, Harvester, Night Trap

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Duke Nukem 3D
(Uncensored US registered version banned for almost a year in Australia
before reclassification to "MA")

© 1996 3D Realms
Alternative site

Defenceless scantily clad female figures can be shot and killed.

[Exotic dancer] [Tied up women]

Australia suffered yet another major embarrassment within the worldwide computer gaming community in mid-1996 when its games censorship system refused to classify the uncensored USA registered version of the extremely popular Doom style cartoon/animated first person shooter Duke Nukem 3D. This version of the game had been allowed on the shelves of US and UK gaming stores, but was not allowed to be sold in Australia. Interestingly, the uncensored shareware version of this same game had been classified and was allowed for sale in my country with a "MA" rating. But, between that time and the time when the full version of Duke Nukem 3D was submitted for classification, a terrible massacre by a lone gunman had occurred at a popular Australian tourist site and somewhat misplaced public opinion was leaning against violence in the media. Additionally, the full version contained new depictions of non-combatant female figures that could be optionally slain. As a result, the local distributors of Duke Nukem 3D were told by the censors that it would not pass inspection in its uncensored form. While this game does have an "adult lock" password system that may be used to restrict the depiction of adult scenes (i.e. the scantily clad women like those depicted in the above screenshots) during gameplay, this was irrelevant to the situation because of the poorly drafted and rather intolerant nature of my country's censorship legislation. Thus, the Australian distributors, if they wanted to sell their game at all, could do nothing else but ensure that the adult lock was left permanently turned on and hope that they would be forgiven by local gamers. In addition to turning off all depictions of women, this move also stripped the game of many other aspects of its distinct character such as the sarcastic and often humorous remarks made by Duke Nukem himself and the gory deaths of his monstrous enemies. Resourceful gamers quickly developed a crack that reversed the censorship and allowed access to the uncensored version of the game. Soon, many (or perhaps most) Australian computer gamers were playing Duke Nukem 3D with optional rather than compulsory internal censorship. When the local censorship authorities heard about this, they recalled the game for reclassification. During this week long process, all copies of Duke Nukem 3D were withdrawn from sale in Australia. Fortunately, a court found that the censors had exceeded their authority and the game went back on the shelves in its censored version and people kept using the crack. Irritated by all the controversy the game had caused, the Australian Duke Nukem 3D distributors encouraged people to sign a petition that asked for a "R" (18+) rating for computer games to be introduced. The fate of that petition is unknown. In late April 1997, the Australian censors finally allowed the USA version of Duke Nukem 3D to be sold in Australia - almost a year after its initial release. Precisely why they changed their minds is still open to debate, but it may have been due to new Classification Board membership or to slightly changed political attitudes regarding computer games.

At the root of all this controversy were the depictions of scantily clad female figures that may be seen in many locations throughout the game. Duke Nukem, the player's character, must single handedly save the world from an invading force of evil animal-like humanoids. A major part of the aliens' malevolent plans - in the tradition of various B-grade science fiction films - is to kidnap much of Earth's female population for unknown purposes. This task takes place behind the scenes. All Duke Nukem sees are the captives while imprisoned and some similarly non-combative female dancers and prostitutes who have been left unharmed in the seedier parts of the cities. In the case of the captives, some have been tied up while others are encased in a harmful slimy green substance reminiscent of certain scenes from the Alien trilogy movies. If they have been encased in slime, they weakly ask to be killed if Duke Nukem walks up to them. If they are bound, Duke Nukem, clearly annoyed and offended by what he sees, remarks words to the effect of, "This is really p***ing me off". The dancers can be asked to, "Shake it baby" (whereupon they open their bikini tops and shake their breasts whose nipples are covered with tassels), but Duke Nukem cannot obtain the services of any of the prostitutes. In short, the one and only character under the control of the player - Duke Nukem - has no motivation to harm any of the women with the possible exception of those in unbearable pain underneath the slime who ask to be put out of their misery. This just makes Duke Nukem more determined than ever to put an end to the aliens' evil designs on his planet. Should the player elect to cause Duke Nukem to shoot any of the women, aliens appear seemingly out of nowhere and attack Duke Nukem as punishment. Captive women are occasionally placed near explosives and normal enemy encounter areas, forcing the player to take extra special care. No women are counted as points or any other form of reward within the game. Motivations to perform in-game evil actions against them are non-existent.

Having dismissed allegations that violence towards non-combatant women is encouraged of the player's character, the belief that this game "demeans" and therefore offends women will now be addressed. For a start, it must be pointed out that this game is called Duke Nukem 3D rather than Duchess Nukem 3D. As such, it conveys a highly traditional masculine atmosphere of a physically powerful man making the world safer for threatened women (whose menfolk have no doubt given their lives trying to protect them). Would the game's detractors prefer that this game depict a man who harms the women or totally ignores their plight? Perhaps the way in which women are depicted is offensive? If so, then it should be remembered that much of Duke Nukem 3D takes part in what might be considered "red light districts" - if you go into any such areas in the real world, you will see situations where women are employed that resemble certain locations depicted in the computer game. In a game aimed at adults, is reality supposed to be totally ignored? Finally, it must be noted that many players of Duke Nukem 3D are in fact female. Female players play by themselves, in multiplayer games, and even design add-on levels. It is interesting to note in particular that, Newsweek magazine, in its August 12 1996 issue (pages 58-59), profiled a female player of this game as an example of the addictivity Duke Nukem 3D inspires. At no point did this enthusiastic player or the female reporter mention or imply that this game demeans their own gender. Unjustified allegations of the supposed "demeaning" nature of Duke Nukem 3D do nothing but insult all players of this game - both male and female - and expose its accusers as petty and ignorant individuals who do nothing but ultimately defeat the causes they are trying to promote.

Dream Web, Roberta Williams Anthology, Strip Poker, Voyeur,
Carmageddon, Custer's Revenge, Duke Nukem 3D, Harvester, Night Trap

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[Harvest blade]


[Harvester logo]

© 1996 DigiFx
Site 1    Site 2

Horror taken to extremes.
The game containing "something to offend everyone".

[Head bitten off by plant] [Cannibalism incident] [Evil ending option]

Steve Mason wakes up in the sleepy settlement of Harvest (population 51) that appears to be stuck in some sort of perverted parody of small town America in the conformist 1950s (complete with the appropriate sexual attitudes/stereotypes and widespread use of ethnic and sexuality slurs). He has lost his memory, although the somewhat odd townspeople reassure him that he has always lived in Harvest and that he is soon to marry the beautiful girl next door, Stephanie Pottsdam, who turns out to be similarly confused. All his questions will be answered in full if he joins the Order of the Harvest Moon whose grim temple, "The Lodge", dominates the town's skyline. To prove his worthiness to enter the Lodge for initiation ceremonies, Steve is enticed to perform increasingly evil tasks for the hooded Sergeant at Arms who initially bars entry through the front doors. These tasks begin with something as simple as scratching the prized car of a proud man but end with the theft of a barber's pole and the burning down of a diner - both acts that cause unexpected deaths. To make matters even worse, Stephanie disappears and a gruesome skull and spinal cord is left on her bed. Are they Stephanie's? Using the grim skeletal remnants as the final price of admission into the Lodge, Steve embarks on the second and most frightening stage of his adventure.

The Lodge turns out to be a supernatural maze of wonders, terrors, and plenty of physical and psychological challenges. In many cases, these challenges are presented in a perverted moral or philosophical context such as the "Mystery of Motherly Love" room shown in the second screenshot (see above) where a woman is being slowly eaten by her own children and shows no signs of discomfort...just resignation - a scene that was cut from the UK but not the US version of this game. Steve frequently encounters situations where he must use lethal force to continue in his quest for answers. He often meets Harvest townspeople, exposed for the fiends that they are, who try to kill him. Settings range from the normal to the bizarre. In one case, Steve fights exotic animal-like creatures in what looks like an overgrown intestine, while in others he finds himself apparently outdoors in locations that range from a Vietnamese jungle hut to an ancient Roman amphitheatre. Also arrayed against him are various tricks and traps such as the human-sized Venus fly trap depicted biting off Steve's head during a losing scenario in the first screenshot shown above. To add to all these mysteries, Steve hears screams whenever he ascends to a new level in the Lodge.

Eventually, Steve makes his way into the inner sanctum where the sinister Sergeant at Arms awaits him. Steve receives his explanation at long last. The Sergeant tells Steve that the entire world of Harvest is just an elaborate intensive virtual reality experience and that, right now, Steve's body is hooked up to a complex machine that continually feeds him images. The individuality of each virtual reality participant warps the experience somewhat so that each person experiences the pretend world differently. The object of this "experiment" is to desensitise the participants to violence so that other people's feelings and their very lives mean nothing. Indeed, to get this far, Steve has had to lie, cheat, steal, and murder. With such desensitisation, Steve is now ready to join an elite group of serial killers in the real world. Then, the Sergeant at Arms reveals Stephanie's location. Behind him in an alcove, she stands, dressed only in her underwear, within an elaborate machine that the Sergeant explains was connected to the ropes that provide access to the various levels of the Lodge. Whenever Steve climbed one of the ropes, he caused his girlfriend to scream in pain. With that revelation, Stephanie is released from the machine and slumps down onto the floor - exhausted and humiliated. Curiously, no marks of injury can be seen on her body. The Sergeant aptly explains that,"You always hurt the ones you love" and then offers Steve his options...he may kill Stephanie and join the ranks of the serial killers in the real world or be executed immediately by being disconnected from the virtual reality life support system. If he is executed, he will feel as if he had died normally after having married Stephanie and living to an old age in Harvest. To complicate matters, the final price of admission into the ranks of the serial killers is nothing less than Stephanie's skull and spinal cord. The decision is made even more distressing when Stephanie assures Steve that she, like himself, is in fact a real person and that killing her in this virtual reality would also kill her in real life.

The player must then make a horrible choice...should the character under his/her control (i.e. Steve) kill Stephanie or marry her? If the choice is to kill defenceless Stephanie, Steve must strike her with the Harvest Blade (an ornate cutting weapon depicted as a miniature screenshot at the top and bottom of this section of the page) until she is dead and then rip the skull and spinal cord from her body (see the last screenshot above). We then see Steve on his first "mission" where, under the guise of a hitchhiker, he murders his female driver (but this is implied rather than shown). He returns home to his former life in the real world, has an argument with his mother about violence in computer games, and then laughs to reveal a finger from the slain driver in his stomach. On the other hand, if the choice is to marry Stephanie, we see the couple in their wedding clothes, a baby in a crib, and the pair supposedly living happily ever after in Harvest until their natural deaths. Regardless of the choice that is made, glimpses of the immediate environment of the virtual reality control room are shown and Steve and Stephanie are seen lying on tables - hooked up to machines. Some of the nearby technicians make dark, sarcastic comments such as whether or not "good breeding" might make for better serial killers in future rather than their own revolutionary method of recruitment...

At present, Harvester is unclassified in Australia and has attracted comparatively little media attention (in contrast to the situation in the USA). Interestingly, a local games distributor once had this title on their release schedule, but dropped it for undisclosed reasons. It is little wonder because this game would have almost no chance of being allowed for sale in Australia. In addition to all the gore, violence, and potentially offensive concepts mentioned above, there are at least two occasions where simulated consensual sexual intercourse is strongly implied. In Harvester's defence, it must be said that, while this third person adventure game uses Full Motion Video and real actors, the outdated technology utilised decreases the impact of some scenes and, regardless of what is seen on screen, the fact remains that the game contains no real world events - simply paid performers acting out a story. The overall impact of the game is a disturbing one, so under no circumstances can this title be recommended for children. On the other hand, it communicates a genuine and effective feeling of pure horror to a degree unlike that of many other horror titles - even the Phantasmagoria series. If there could be one game that makes a good case for the recognition that most computer games players are adults, and, as such, an eighteen and over rating is needed, it would have to be Harvester.

Dream Web, Roberta Williams Anthology, Strip Poker, Voyeur,
Carmageddon, Custer's Revenge, Duke Nukem 3D, Harvester, Night Trap

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[Harvest blade]


Night Trap

© 1996 Acclaim (Latest PC version)
Site 1    Site 2

Inspiration for the introduction of computer and video games censorship systems.

[Villains searching for victims] [Neck drilling machine]

Night Trap is one of the most demonised and misunderstood electronic games in history. Since its first appearance on Sega's Mega CD console system back in 1992 and throughout its various incarnations on the Macintosh and PC (the latest released in 1996), this title has never been far from controversy. It was unfavourably mentioned at Senate games censorship hearings in Australia and the United States as strong evidence that the computer and video games industry was in dire need of Government regulation. Frightened retailers and distributors temporarily withdrew Night Trap from sale in both countries. Additionally, sensationalist elements in the media whipped up unfounded public hysteria concerning the alleged content and morals of this game so that various lobby groups demanded immediate action. Sure enough, games classification systems were subsequently introduced on both sides of the world, but Night Trap, rather than being banned in Australia as widely expected, was provided with a fairly mild "M" rating when it was officially classified in mid-1995. This game was also allowed on sale in the United States.

Perhaps the real issue was that Night Trap, in effectively parodying cheesy B-grade horror films, was one of the first games to make use of Full Motion Video (although in relatively crude 8-bit colour VGA). Greatly improved realism from live actors and real sets was alleged to have greater potential to morally corrupt impressionable players. Never mind that this title contains no sex or nudity in any form and depicts surprisingly little violence. Contrary to popular belief, there is no rape, no torture, and no mutilation. Yes, teenage girls (in normal sleepwear rather than alleged scanty underwear) are under threat in the game, but not from the player's character. It is the role of the unseen player's character (male or female) to work with an undercover female police officer and an elaborate closed-circuit television system to protect the girls from a mysterious half-vampire race of creatures (Augers) who have infiltrated the bizarre lakeside house at which they are staying for the night (see left screenshot). If the Augers manage to capture any of the girls, they use a hideous high-tech blood draining machine on her neck (see right screenshot but be assured that this incident is actually less graphic than it appears to be - mainly because the victim and the machine while in action are never shown in the same camera shot). This is exactly what the player's character must try to prevent rather than encourage. The evil invaders must be trapped and all the girls must be allowed to discover the threat to their safety and leave the house alive. The owners of the house add an extra level of menace for they are genuine vampires and have traditional blood draining intentions towards the girls. If anyone under the player character's protection dies, the game ends immediately. In short, Night Trap is merely a challenging but harmless and often enjoyable game for adults and teenagers alike that promotes no negative morals or themes at all. It certainly does not deserve to be the source of any controversy.

Dream Web, Roberta Williams Anthology, Strip Poker, Voyeur,
Carmageddon, Custer's Revenge, Duke Nukem 3D, Harvester, Night Trap

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Conclusions


  • Many adults and mature teenagers play computer and video games.
  • Games publishers realise this market exists and have responded to it by producing titles that contain appropriately mature subject matter.
  • Most of these games have socially responsible content and feature helpful optional internal censoring features that may be used to limit or exclude access to younger gamers.
  • The Australian computer and video games censorship system cannot cope with these facts, and, as a result, many mature Australians are missing out on games specifically designed for them.
  • Australia's games censorship system is often hypocritical and inconsistent.
  • Those who design and administer this system are in urgent need of acquiring a knowledge of the realities of modern day computer gaming.
  • Australia's failed games classification system must be immediately overhauled to bring it into line with much fairer overseas systems.


[Dot] Back to the Censorship Issues Page [Dot]


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Contents

Title - Introduction - Gameplay - Plot Synopsis - Sound and Visual Effects - Main Characters - Censorship Issues - Miscellanea

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[Phantasmagoria button] © Anthony Larme 1998 [Phantasmagoria button]
(larme@hotmail.com)

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