Oz Classification Board: Contextual drug use ok in Assassin

Aussie ratings board clarifies its position on drug use in Velvet Assassin; says historical and medical context justifies in-game use of morphine.

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The Australian Classification Board caused yet another stir down under last week, with Kotaku first reporting that upcoming stealth actioner Velvet Assassin had been given an MA15+ rating, the highest rating available for a game in Australia. The decision would ordinarily be unremarkable, except for the fact that Velvet Assassin contains morphine as a type of in-game power-up. Last year, Fallout 3 was initially refused classification down under because it showed positive effects from in-game drug use--specifically, morphine.

Although it may seem somewhat contradictory, the Classification Board has stood by its decision. GameSpot AU contacted the Board, and in an emailed response, it stated that the morphine use in Velvet Assassin did not significantly improve the main character Violette's abilities, and that its use was appropriate within the historical and medical context of the drug.

"The drug references consist of references to morphine and the presence of syringes that can be collected by the players within each mission. The syringes allow the player to have morphine implicitly administered to them a limited number of times. The morphine links back to the reality of Violette being administered the drug in hospital. Although the use of morphine enables the player to better complete difficult parts of a mission, the applicant has stated that it does not lead to killings being more violent, to the demise of more enemies, or a better outcome for the player or the character of Violette," the Board response stated.

"While the general rule in the Classification Guidelines state that 'material that contains drug use (...) related to incentives or rewards is Refused Classification', the Board is of the opinion that the incentives in the game are very nuanced and mitigated by the historical and medical context of the references to the drug. The drug references are no higher than moderate in playing impact. They can therefore be accommodated within a lower classification, but warrant the additional consumer advice of drug references."

Velvet Assassin is a World War II-themed shooter that casts you in the role of spy Violette Summers. In the game, Violette is in a hospital and all of the missions play out in her unconscious mind. According to our last preview, morphine use triggers an effect in Violet's current, coma-stricken state in which she'll temporarily grow more powerful in her dreams.

On the other hand, Fallout 3's use of morphine led to more positive effects, hence its original banning, according to the Board. "The player can also select and use Morphine (a proscribed drug) which has the positive effect of enabling the character to ignore limb pain when the character's extremities are targeted by the enemy. In the Board's view the drug use, in particular the use of a proscribed drug, via means of selection from a menu, is related to incentives and rewards as the incentive to take the drug is to progress through the game more easily and the reward is an increase in the character's abilities."

Under Australian law, computer games can be given a maximum classification of MA15+, as opposed to film or DVDs, which can carry up to an R18+ rating (the R rating prohibits sales to anyone under the age of 18 years old). Any games that do not fit under the Classification Board's definition of MA15+ are refused classification. Fallout 3 was eventually passed with the MA15+ classification in Australia after the references to morphine were removed.

Check out GameSpot AU's Censory Overload feature for more information on Australia's classification laws.

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