Reality Check: No Country for Mortal Kombat

Censorship is everywhere, not just in Australia.

This week, many of you will no doubt be knee-deep in virtual pools of blood and small, icky bits of brain matter, thanks to the release of Mortal Kombat. This game's grotesque violence can elicit gasps from even the most desensitized; however, Australians will get no such thrills, with our nation's Classification Board deciding months ago that the revamped fighter has no place within our fair shores. Of course, this is not a good thing, but it doesn't make Australia the worst place in the world to be gamer.

Like the fictional game of knifey-spooney, Foster's beer, and Russell Crowe, game censorship is now something most people associate with the land Down Under, whether or not it's appropriate. It's easy to see where this misconception comes from--Australia, in gaming terms, is small potatoes. And, the unfortunate reality is that the only time most people ever read about Australia in a global news story is when the word "banned" is part of the headline. You may laugh and point at Australia when you read these types of stories. If you're American, you'll likely type something about freedom in the comments section, profess your love for the good-ol-US of A, and then sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" while setting off fireworks in your living room--or something like that.

But here's the reality of the situation. Australia may be the current poster child for game censorship, but the issue is not an Australia-only problem. Censorship--in one insidious form or another--is widespread globally. While Australia certainly deserves a great deal of attention, it doesn't deserve to have the spotlight all to itself.

First, here is some clarification. If you think Aussie gamers are suffering under the yoke of an oppressive regime determined to deprive us of anything remotely violent or salacious, then here's a fact: There is no yoke. While the perception from the outside may be that games are banned here all the time, the reality is much different. Before Mortal Kombat, the most recent game to be completely and utterly smacked with the ban hammer was not Bulletstorm, Dead Space 2, or even Aliens vs. Predator; it was Crimecraft (released September 2009 in the US). And before that, it was Risen (released October 2009 in the US). And before that, it was Sexy Poker (released August 2009 in the US). The vast majority of titles--Mortal Kombat being the high-profile exception--make it through here unscathed. In rare cases, such as with Left 4 Dead 2 (no blood spray for us Aussies) and Fallout 3 (morphine changed to Med-X), slight changes were required to pass our rating system, but the games were otherwise untouched.

The ideal situation, of course, is for an adult rating for games to be introduced in Australia so changes and bans become a thing of the past. There's vigorous debate underway right now Down Under to change the system, which is significantly more than what's happening in China. Australia may be strict, but the communist government in the world's most populous nation takes the idea of strict and adds several more levels of wacky on top. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government has a long list of "don'ts" that need to be adhered to for any game to make it into the nation, and it's not just about violence or sexually explicit content. No-no's include any themes that threaten national unity, anything that may damage China's reputation, anything that may disturb the "social order," or even games that make animals "dominant to humans." These rules result in strange decisions: Football Manager 2005, for example, was banned because Tibet was a selectable nation, while World of Warcraft had to make numerous changes to character models, particularly to creatures that had visible skeletal structures (this was seen as "not healthy").

But it's not just vast communist regimes that try to control gaming. Germany also has strict laws when it comes to violent content (and it is particularly sensitive about anything with Nazi imagery). It has banned such games as Dead Rising, Manhunt, Soldier of Fortune: Payback, and both of the Condemned games. Germany's rules have become so infamous that some game publishers don't even bother releasing their games in the nation, with recent examples being Sega's MadWorld and, you guessed it, Mortal Kombat. Other notable "banners" include New Zealand (both Manhunts and Reservoir Dogs); Malaysia (Dante's Inferno); South Korea (both Manhunts, Grand Theft Auto 3); and Saudi Arabia (all the God of Wars), not to mention numerous other countries where game developers are forced to change content to suit local laws.

And before any of our US-based readers get out their American flags, the land of the free isn't exactly squeaky clean when it comes to game censorship. Other nations have content restrictions written into the laws of the land, but the US is in an ideal position in which freedom of expression is enshrined in the US Constitution. While the government isn't censoring in the US, game companies have stepped in to be their own censors. Self-censorship of supposedly contentious content has a long history in the US. Nintendo was a key offender in the '80s and early '90s, setting down guidelines for content appearing on its systems and changing games it deemed breached its own self-imposed guidelines.

Would you like some hot coffee?

In the SNES version of Mortal Kombat, for example, blood was changed to sweat, and all fatalities were removed. Female game characters would mysteriously find more clothing on their frames in US Nintendo versions of games, and even the port of classic adventure game Maniac Mansion had significant dialogue changes imposed upon it. Major retailers in the US, too, get in on the self-censorship action, refusing to stock games slapped with the ESRB's highest rating: AO (as was the case when the Hot Coffee scandal exploded with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas). Additionally, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony all forbid third-party publishers from releasing AO games on their respective platforms. And, of course, there's the ongoing legal battle regarding California's law to prohibit sales of violent video games to minors, which is just the latest move by politicians around the nation eager to use video games as a scapegoat for all of society's ills.

Game censorship is a complex issue, and it's naive to simplify the argument into plaintive cries about "freedom" and "rights." And it's not just Australia's problem either--this is an issue we all have to face, some more urgently than others.

Reality Check is GameSpot's recurring editorial column. Each week, members of the GameSpot editorial team sound off on current gaming events as well as various topics that surround the gaming industry.
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Discussion

160 comments
wasakawaka
wasakawaka

Here's the weird thing. When I read this article it pointed out some similararties between censorship in Canada that I didn't know about. For instance the fallout 3 morphine to med-x make me think that even though they don't outright ban games here that maybe they are getting sneaky about the content. Good thing I'm close to the American border so I can zip down and get me some good old fashioned USA kick ass blood spurting violent games if I needed to. ;)

aquaatix
aquaatix

Whoa... chill out there Mad Max 2: Road Warrior. Why don't you ride your kangaroo down to the river, wrestler a crocodile, shave with a knife, and drink your Fosters. I'll light my fireworks, because of course, EVERY American has fireworks at ALL times, it's pretty much a rule. PS: Remember to wear sunscreen, Australia has the highest cases of skin cancer. Seriously tho, wear it.

thereal-15-cent
thereal-15-cent

I wish they would get rid of the "17 and up" Thing in America. It's gonna make Duke Nukem Forever allot tougher to buy. : / Luckily, Gamestop rarely asks for ID ;)

StreekG
StreekG

My folks brought me back a copy from overseas while they were on holiday. Take that AUS Classification Board, this game is way too fun to miss out on.

StreekG
StreekG

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

StreekG
StreekG

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

kwanzudood
kwanzudood

I think censoring is because videogames are still called "games, which comes with that connotation "made for kids." Maybe if they changed it to "interactive software" or "interactives", while far less catchy, might actually make them seem more adult-like.

Arther-la-Blunt
Arther-la-Blunt

So is it just not for sale in Australia? Or can you buy it online from somewhere else and then have it sent to Australia?

Dugular
Dugular

Nice dig at Americans, when most of the banned games you want to play are from America. You've just knocked the nation that basically made gaming as good as it is. (Sorry to Japanese lovers, but I much prefer the involving realistic experiences from the American market than the obviously-a-game products from Japan) Btw, I'm not American, so this isn't a "I'm defending my country!" rant. I just feel that it's hard to dig at a country that gave me Half-Life and Portal. In fact, on that note, cheers America for those games! Or as we say in my coutnry, "Baie danke!"

starduke
starduke

Oh, PuH-leeze, we don't set fireworks off in our living rooms while singing the Star Spangled Banner, we set them off from our driveways while playing the 1812 Overture! DUH!

simon1812
simon1812

cant they just fine retailers that sell videogames containing inappropriate material to minors? I understand some kids and their little brains may get a little overexcited about sex scenes in god of war, or shooting at cops grandthefauto , or killing ppl in mortal kombat, but Im an adult I understand the difference between reality and fiction, I know it is wrong to kill, unless it is in self defense. if I ever find myself fin a situation in which I have to kill some body I imagine it would be because the situation called for it, and I had no other choice, but I would never kill somebody because a videogame told me to or because a videogames makes it look like fun.

SuperYeti22
SuperYeti22

Way to stereotype Americans, way to burnGamespot's credibility, as it seems that all Gamespot journalists do is stereotype people! See what I just did? I just stereotyped Gamespot journalists as people who stereotype other people! MWUHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SuperYeti22
SuperYeti22

@talshiarr How does playing/seeing a violent game make you want to do it in real life? I play a lot of shooting games, and never once have I shot someone. Except for that guy who stole $10 from me and ate my cookie, but don't tell anyone about that!

Jerian
Jerian

A good example of this in the US was when The Witcher hit. Imported the UK copy that wasnt censored. Seems Violence in Europe is main issue whereas Sex is no biggie but opposite in the States..find that amusing

onikay
onikay

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE!! Before complaining about stuff in games they out to check what's going on in the REAL world and do something about those wrongs *sigh*

stray2615
stray2615

What they did to Left 4 dead 2 is NOT what an instance where I'd say "slight changes were required to pass our rating system". Just look at the reviews on this site, they did a review as well as the watered down POS version we got, and the scores were vastly different. It wasn't just blood spray, it was the fact dead bodies just magically dissapeared and gave an atmospheric game lack atmosphere. The fact is Australia NEEDS an adult rating so adults can be treated as adults. The fact that games mentioned in this article got through does not show that the system isn't harsh, it shows that it is inconsistant. These games should NOT have passed under our current system, yet have. Change IS needed.

cyduck97
cyduck97

Censorship is telling a man he cannot eat a steak because a baby can't chew it- Mark Twain

NickyWithATicky
NickyWithATicky

Aussie: I mean, what do you do with a bunch of kids who just play censored games all day? Eddie Riggs: You start a revolution!

Elveswarrior
Elveswarrior

censorship is so stupid it physically hurts... a game got a rating if you think its to violent for you then dont buy it! if parents think a game is to violent for their kids good thing it got an age rating then. that means they can just NOT buy it. americans got this strange idea that they gotta beep out cursing and blur the middle finger etc. come on its not like anyone dont know what was meant to be said or shown. no one will be a psycotic murder because their favorit cartoon char swears. if they start swearing like it then you might use all the blue/beep cash on educating people to raise children instead

Groyd
Groyd

Censorship should not exist because it hides the truth.

Drika21
Drika21

The worst country for gamers is Brazil, the taxes are so high, that money is our censorship. Here a PS3 costs U$ 1.281,41 dollars and a game costs between U$ 127 and U$ 191 dollars. Because of the burocracy, brazillian iTunes store don't sell games, we have to hack our iphone/ipod touch or register with an argentinian adress and use Argentina Store. To buy games on PSN Store, we have to give an american adress and buy psn network cards on ebay.

talshiarr
talshiarr

It's good that Australia has banned MK. What country wants to be the first to have some despondent teen whip out a colossal scimitar and chop some innocent person (a young school girl, most likely) down the middle like MK taught them to do?

walders
walders

Aussie: That's not a knife, this is a knife. Bart: that's not a knife that's a spoon. Aussie: Ah i see you've played knifey spooney before.

raith616
raith616

@darkreaper-1 not in the uk by account have played it through n if that was the censored version, suddenly im no longer concerned about tank top technophopes who hate gaming/films n use them as yardsticks to measure socialogical deviants (if anybody needs an example have a look into the Jamie Bulger murder or the reason manhunt 2 got censored so serverely in the uk, not using this as fun cause it is nasty stuff by all accounts)

DAMSOG
DAMSOG

But the fact remains that the Australian government dictates what we can and cannot play, shouldn't this be left up to the consumer? Nanny governments safeguarding us from the horror of video games is a joke, why take responsibility away from parents when its their job to supervise what their kids play and as an adult why can't I make the decision myself? MK was no great loss though as some of the fatalities were way over the top in terms of gore and blood.....but hang on I just watched that on the internet and I'm not a machete weilding lunatic just yet! Perhaps the censorship board got it wrong?

Darkreaper_1
Darkreaper_1

Wasn't the Splatter house games edited in the US and UK? Anyways i think censorship is kinda insulting to the people who live in the Country. Outlawing a product (not just games) doesn't mean it'll be completely absent in the country. You force determined people to obtain this but other means if possible, sometime illegally. They should just slap an 18 sticker on the cover and leave it up to the consumer to decide if to buy it or not. We're all adults after all and if i want to spend my hard earned and heavily taxed money on a violent video such as mortal kombat then i should be allowed to without some politicians stepping in and deciding for me.

TBoneTony
TBoneTony

Another Anzac day, and many Australian gamers are still fighting for their freedom against a real douche of a govenment.

merim_10
merim_10

luckily here in Bosnia there isn't any kind of game censorship,but the rate of piracy is astonishing 89% of all games,even the biggest supermarkets offer pirated games and other software,and no one cares about that,so we truly are the land of free ;)

Dunbon
Dunbon

In fact, you know what's scarier than zombies, extreme violence and supernatural horror? When your government tells you what you can and can't watch.

Dunbon
Dunbon

Its funny that films containing sex scenes and violence are perfectly fine, just put it on late when the little children will probably be asleep, but videgames will never be ok. I remember watching some australian news journalist report stuff, and a few "bastards" and "crap" and other swear words were thrown about, and this was live, so its ok for that to be shown life potentially in front of children, but because there is no 18+ rating any game that would be for adults only is not rated and banned. It is ridiculous. China is plain whacky though.

leoquest
leoquest

Do these country officials think their citizens are dumb to the point that they will start ripping the hearts out of each other? They have to give their citizens more credit and assume they know not to rip out someone's heart or perform an "X-ray" move. I'm sure the citizens of Australia are much smarter than their officials give them credit for. Let them decide if they want the game or not. Stop parenting the parents. I'm sure they can decide what their children can handle.

Phazevariance
Phazevariance

That sucks... glad I don't care, but i'd prefer original untouched badness when I can get it.

video_dude
video_dude

Woops, I clicked the link to this article thinking it was something about censorship or Mortal Kombat. Apparently it's just some overly-patriotic ranting. Seriously, I understand defending your country and pointing out the fact that you're not the only one, and from a somewhat neutral point of view (my country wasn't even mentioned in the article), I can even say I agree with some things; Australian censorship really is sometimes exaggerated by others. But honestly, that doesn't mean you have to go insulting other countries and people. I'm not a fan of communism myself, but I don't go pointing to China and saying "Ha!". I recognize that Americans can sometimes be aggressively over-patriotic, but I know better than to stereotype and try to find any shred of possible evidence to prove my point. There's a difference between arguing your point and flaming others.

Balck_soul
Balck_soul

Oh who cares , if someone else does it doesn't mean oh it's okay sense other people have it to or worse than us. Just put a R 18+ already and stop censoring.

TBoneTony
TBoneTony

And yes...even in Muslim countries Pokemon was banned because of the card games using the Star of David as one of the symbols. It won't surprise me that allot of game retailers that sell games in white surpremisist areas will not allow any game that features african americans... Makes me happy to just have the internet so govenments can't control what people believe anymore...or at least it allows people to have a wider range of points of view from the outside looking in, sometimes it is a good thing and sometimes it is not but I rather have alternative views rather than to be told what to believe all my life.

TBoneTony
TBoneTony

Even China the way they take censorship to the extreme is like asking for EA sports to delete North Korea from the World Cup 2010 game for all the gamers in South Korea to play. Not sure if that is true or not, but it might seem likely considering South and North Korea have been at a cease fire since the early 1950s. Also Germany is also rediculas... What about all those Japanese games and South Korean games where the Swatstika was used as good luck. I know Germany suffered horrible times after WW2 but come on...there is a time and a place to move forward and get on with life. Being stuck in the past and not wanting any Swatstika only makes it harder to move on with life. Also considering many asian countries understand the swatstika better than most western countries do... It all makes me want to move to Japan so I don't have to live my life in this country of western censorship. Maybe I should move to Canada too...at least they allow gay marridge.

TBoneTony
TBoneTony

To be honest....religion has the greatest possibility of warping minds of children and turning them violent against people who are slighty different.... But yet religion is everywhere in our society. There are good aspects to it, but I just don't like the fact that people force me to believe EVERYTHING of religion when in reality I just take the good points and not worry too much about the extreme points. Alcohol is also more harmful in our Australian society...yet somehow the gov can make millions of money out of taxes from the sales of alcohol. My suspicsion is that most of the government censorship has more to do with govenment wanting to make money before they allow it into the country. If govenment can't make the money, then they try to bann things that they don't like....

TBoneTony
TBoneTony

Game censorship and 4Kids are the devil.... Me moving to Japan where the only censorship there is pixelation...but at least over there they still get everything else.

guitardylan
guitardylan

All this censorship just makes the youths rebel against. And make them actually want to play something like MK. I dont care for MK since the original which I own an arcade of but if something got banned I would want it just because it was labeled as banned even if it wasnt a good game imo. So Aussies cant play MK on the 360....guess they have to resort to what they can get.... Porn and gory websites, which are NOT banned in Australia.

T_U_U_T_A
T_U_U_T_A

wats the point parents by games 4 kids

T_U_U_T_A
T_U_U_T_A

Lucky i live in New Zealand no one cares after all there r things called age restrictions

forest4
forest4

I hate Mortal Kombat. This game is nothing but gratuitous violence and everyone knows it. Mortal Kombat spoils the opportunity for other somewhat violent games to be accepted by people. They say, "Oh, but remember Mortal Kombat? This game is just like that." Actually, NO, it is not. there is no other game as stupid as Mortal Kombat.

ceaser543
ceaser543

@DazzofHate Im British and this is how I feel Americans are portrayed, by Americans to the rest of the world. Hollywood does not help, or the simpsons but this article basically sums up my feelings towards the good-ol-US of A. Plus has a gamer every actually been banned in the UK, I know games like manhunt have stirred up the media and there have been random storys like some one was stabbed whilst queuing for GTA so that must be rockstars fault and the game must be instantley banned but no actuall banning of games to my knowledge, plus in the UK at least in fallout 3 we had med ex I heard no mention of morphine the enitre game wtf??

trane2
trane2

wog/aussie pride.

Novemberfreeze
Novemberfreeze

Honestly, censorship is nothing but an annoyance now. No matter what they try to do, during a period of such technological advancements, kids will always find ways to see what they want to see. Its up to the parents to handle the censorship that occurs for their children or at least explain to them that these things are fake and should not be attempted. As for people claiming video games cause violent outbursts in people. How often does this occur? If 1 COD player out of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, goes crazy and kills people, can you honestly say that with a 1/1,000,000 ratio that it is that games fault? Truth is that with the millions of personalities that walk this earth, there is no way to actually stop such grotesque crimes. If it is not a game, it would surely be some other media that would be the cause of pushing someone to such a breaking point.

Novemberfreeze
Novemberfreeze

Um, I didn't realize that this Australian censorship topic was getting so big that Americans could be blatantly stereotyped. I'm pretty sure that us Americans are just enjoying ourselves. Honestly, who sat down with their new copy of MK and thought "Lol, no MK for Australia!" If anything, I hope they get a new mature classification. More competition for me online,

Torquoise
Torquoise

This is why I'm proud to be Canadian eh

theorator
theorator

The writer of this article should really congratulate themselves for managing to simultaneously embarrass themselves and their country. Never mind the blatant hypocrisy expressed in stereotyping Americans after asking the readers not to stereotype/label Australians, but to actually compare a video game company's marketing decision to a country's law? I've never heard of anything more absurd. Randy boy, you were better off using California's law attempt as a suitable comparison, and even then that's still pointless because even IF the law passes (which is a big if because California has a very high population of young adult gamers), that will only apply that state, not the U.S. as a whole. While I do get the core point, that gaming censorship is not solely an Australian issue, it doesn't change the fact that the U.S. (which is my home country) is nowhere near as bad as any of the nation's listed in this article, and thus have no business being compared to them. Randolph, if you hope to gain any respect from your readers in the future, then I highly suggest you remember to stick to the point, and not let your personal feelings for another country cloud the issue. Hell, if I were you I'd be trying to make friends in America just so I can have someone to send me the violent games that I want.