Australia has finally passed the bill to allow the sale of video games rated R-18, instead of just banning them outright as they’ve been doing. This came as a surprise to me, since the video games that have been released under the MA-15+ banner have been plenty violent by my reckoning. So my first reaction was, “Huh? There’s games out there too violent for Australia?”
Well, not anymore. The average gamer in Australia is 30 years old, and they have demanded their R-18 content, specifically: explicit sex scenes, drug use and “relentless cruelty and gore”. If you’re anything like me, that is to say naive, you’ll be burning to know what previously banned games will now be available and exactly what it was that got them banned in the first place. Being the curious cat that I am, I set out to find the answers.
Browsing the Wikipedia page listing the reasons that games had been banned, I found a lot of mentions of “extreme violence and gore”. But only one game on the list was banned for “gross, abhorrent content (urination, high impact violence, animal cruelty, homophobia, etc.)” and it was the only game that warranted the use of an “etc”, apparently having too many horrible things to list. That game was Postal 2.
Reading up about the Postal franchise, I was astonished to learn that the entire object of the game is to kill innocent people and their pets in various disgusting and humiliating ways, such as zapping them with a taser until they wet their pants, then dousing them in gasoline and setting them alight. Before this, I knew of games that used extreme violence to accentuate the plot line and add a bit of edge to the action; but never before had I encountered a game whose sole purpose was to role-play as a lunatic going on a massacre. This game is to the violent game genre what `Cannibal Holocaust’ is to the violent movie genre; all art and plot is removed except as an excuse for excessive, over-the-top gore.
In fact, the game is SO over-the-top that it loses its impact somewhat and just becomes a gross exercise in depravity. The censors marvelled at “the character’s ability to urinate on people with a seemingly endless supply of urine” until the peed-upon victims “vomit in disgust”. Clips of the game show people putting up only a comical semblance of resistance, and they practically fall into carefully delineated chunks of meat if the character so much as unsheathes a sword in their vicinity. The laughable ease with which the victims are disposed of reminded me of bad 80’s horror movies where it seems like every character is nothing more than a bulging flesh-coloured bag of red goo just waiting to explode or be torn into gory lumps at the tiniest prod. This isn’t violence; it is a caricature of violence, verging on the cartoonish.
As to the `homophobia’ mentioned by the censors, it suffers the same criticism. A bonus level titled `Fag-Hunter’, in which “the player has to kill 20 stereotyped gay NPCs, depicted as bald, unshaven men wearing pink dresses” may well be homophobic, but is so clearly the product of an immature and slightly ill mind that it hardly seems to deserve a response from the gay community.
Overall, Postal 2 succeeds as an exercise in sheer extremities, but the impact is lessened as a result. In censorship `high impact violence’ refers to violence that is carefully measured and placed to have the greatest psychological impact, thus making it far worse than the sort of superficial, childish gore found in Postal 2. As an example, recall the ear-cutting scene in the movie Reservoir Dogs. In that film, the violence is far more intense than anything seen in Postal 2, in spite of the fact that it is only an ear being cut off, not entire limbs, and the camera is not even trained on the act when it happens! Can such effective violence be carried out in games as well?
You bet it can – in fact, Reservoir Dogs is one of the games on the list, banned for allowing the player to torture cops in one of several signature ways, including chopping fingers off, the classic ear-chop, and burning their eyes out with a lit cigar. As I moved on to this new class of games, in which violence was used intelligently and for higher impact, I began to feel a little bit nervous. Even a hardened gore hound like me gets nervous when depictions of violence get serious. And the next game I looked at was pretty serious about graphic violence.
Manhunt 2 is a game about a guy who goes around killing other guys. That’s all you really need to know; that and that the kills are given a very realistic treatment, to the point where I wonder if actual surgeons were utilized to help make the game. For example, there are numerous clips on YouTube showing, in slow motion, what happens when you shoot someone in the groin with a large gun. I advise you to look at these only if you are feeling brave. The rendering of intestines and bone is shockingly convincing, and carnage of this pedigree is not for the faint of heart. Unlike Postal 2, this game is serious about gore. However, there were still more extremes to be visited.
The censors made special mention of one particularly disturbing scene in “Silent Hill: Homecoming” involving “drilling through body parts”. They were so upset by this scene alone that it was enough for them to ban the whole game. My curiosity thus piqued, I looked up the scene in question on YouTube. There is an ending in which the main character is captured by the enemy, an unremarkable looking older lady, who has him tied to a chair. The quality of the video is grainy, but it doesn’t really matter; I was cringing as she proceeded to torture the main character with a hand-held power drill by drilling it into his legs. She finally kills the player by skewering his brain on the drill bit through his eye socket, which we see from the player’s point of view. It was definitely as intense as any torture scene in a movie, if not more so for the person playing.
The tension of having sat through the drill scene was slightly alleviated once I started reading the censor’s case against the game “The Punisher”. The censors compiled a list of reasons why the game was too violent, but reading it was a bit like reading one of those deadpan “Chuck Norris” joke-lists full of things like `Chuck Norris doesn’t pray – he threatens God with a karate chop’, except it was all about how the Punisher messes people up. Here’s the list, unedited:
2) The Punisher can knife people in the face.
3) The Punisher holds a man’s face on a grinding wheel in a repair shops. Despite the fact, the camera zooms out while the climax of the scene takes place, it is still of high impact.
4) The Punisher dunks a man’s head in a bath of acid.
5) The Punisher lowers a drill into a man’s eyeball, blood is evident (You don’t say).
6) The Punisher kicks a man’s head a dozen times, on a curb until his head explodes.
7) A blowtorch is applied to a man’s face several times. The victim says “fuck off & die asshole” before he dies.
8 ) A man is thrown into a tree mulcher screaming & blood spray is evident.
9) A man is placed inside a coffin incinerator, which has glass walls. The player watches the victim burn to death. The victim is on fire & is screaming, trying to escape.
10) A mans head is stomped on 16 times by The Punisher, before a metal crate falls & crushes the victim, creating blood spray. (Is the exact number really important?)
11) A man is pushed into a ceiling fan, the man resists but then looses his grip. His limbs & head are cut off in a shower of blood when he is pushed into the fan.
To this list I feel inclined to add:
12) Do not fuck with The Punisher.
The final stop in my adventures through the land of gory games was a game whose position as the most violent of all makes complete sense. While many games use violence and gore for greater or lesser effect, and some are over the top while others use it intelligently, there is only one game that can claim to have elevated gore into an art form. Since the very beginning, Mortal Kombat has been all about using gore in creative, mind-blowing ways. For these guys, it’s not just a matter of `knife goes in, blood comes out’ like so many other games; for Mortal Kombat, violence is a reward to the player. When you defeat your opponent, you get to see them dispatched in the most extreme and off-the wall manner possible; it is your own small, sick movie in which the victim’s body is mutilated and mauled in a way that only your character, with his or her unique abilities, can achieve. This is the glory of the notorious `Fatality’. And the latest Mortal Kombat game has some insane fatalities.
Rather than ruin them by trying to describe the indescribable in words, I’ll just leave you the link to the fatality montage and let you find out for yourself just what excesses of violence are attainable through the medium of a video game – that is, if you think you can stomach it. Go on, I dare you. And if you don’t feel even a little bit sick when you see what Noob Saibot does to Raiden, then maybe you ought to be one of the guys designing these games.