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An overview of State of Decay

Released in 2013, State of Decay was developed by Undead Labs and published by Microsoft Studios, for Xbox 360 (XBLA) and Microsoft Windows.

State of Decay is set within a rural community during a zombie outbreak. The game centres on the player killing zombies, fortifying buildings for protection, and performing raids for supplies and ammunition. The game allows the player to change their character to another survivor, giving their former character time to rest or heal injuries. As the game progresses, the environment changes from day to night to reflect real time. Due to the game's open-world dynamic, the player has a lot of freedom to decide on how they complete individual missions, providing for many hours of gameplay.

Gameplay - Zombies congragate near a crashed plane and burned-out car

State of Decay was submitted for classification because it had high level content

Under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, games are only required to carry New Zealand classification labels if they contain restricted content. In practice this often means games that have been restricted or banned in Australia or the United Kingdom must be submitted to the Classification Office for examination. Unrestricted games (for example, games which have been given unrestricted ratings in Australia or the United Kingdom) do not have to obtain a New Zealand classification.

The distributor submitted State of Decay to the Film and Video Labelling Body (FVLB), who forwarded it to the Classification Office for examination and classification.

State of Decay was examined by Classification Office staff

Games are examined by a Classification Officer with the assistance of a game player. A game player is used so that the Classification Officer can note down plot points and content in the game - these notes form the basis of the classification decision-making process.

Games are usually examined for up to 5 hours. Distributors supply cheat codes and walkthroughs to assist Classification Office staff to see and experience the strongest content in the game.

During the examination of a publication, Classification Officers weigh up what is presented in the publication against the criteria in section 3-3B of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. The criteria must be used to determine what classification a film or game should have.

The classification criteria

Gameplay - Zombies at dusk

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The Classification Officer identified content relevant for classification

When considering what content in State of Decay would be relevant to the classification decision, the Classification Officer decided the film dealt with the following:

  • Horror
  • Cruelty
  • Violence
  • Offensive language

The Classification Officer observed that horror is an integral part of the game's narrative and overall theme. The environment is filled with zombies that attack the player's character if they are seen or make too much noise. Corpses and dismembered limbs are commonplace following frenzied attacks. When the environment turns from day to night, the settings are dimly lit and the zombies are more difficult to see. Atmospheric music and unnerving sound effects around the rural community add to the tension of the gameplay.

The game depicts the infliction of serious physical harm and acts of significant cruelty to a moderate extent but high degree. The zombies can be killed by bashing them to death with objects, shooting them, or running them over with vehicles. The strongest depiction occurs when the player uses a weapon to repeatedly hit the zombies in the head or slam their heads onto the ground - both ending with the zombies' heads exploding. When their faces are crushed, the spinal cord stem from the neck is the only part of the head that remains. Body parts are seen over the ground when sharp weapons such as hatchets are used to strike and kill the zombies.

Although the violence in the game is graphic, the exaggerated bloodletting and gore remove any comparison to real-world violence. These features are commonplace in mainstream horror films and games, and in this instance the animated world and its characters are even further removed due to their cartoon-like presentation. And, while dispatching an opponent in a given manner can invoke graphic injuries, the gameplay requires extensive exploration of the environment and securing buildings in order to survive the zombie outbreak.

The game contains a scattering of highly offensive language. The language is commonly used to express trepidation and anger as survivors ready themselves to counter the zombie onslaught.

Gameplay - Shooting zombies at the diner

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The impact of the medium is considered when classifying a publication

In the classification of State of Decay, the Classification Officer noted that exposure to the graphic killing of animated human-like beings, in which the player is an active participant, may have the effect of trivialising this level of violence by presenting it as entertaining and exhilarating, and inuring children and teenagers to violence and cruelty.

Gameplay - Shooting zombies by the bandstand

The game State of Decay was classified as 'R18: contains graphic violence and offensive language'

The purpose of assigning a restricted classification is to prevent injury to the public good that may come from the game being made available without restriction (for example, to anyone of any age).

The dominant effect of State Of Decay is an engaging, multifaceted survival game incorporating brutal fight sequences. The unrestricted availability of the console game is likely to be injurious to the public good given the manner in which it deals with matters of horror, cruelty, and violence. The horrific imagery and high degree of violence and cruelty is likely to disturb and shock children and teenagers.

Balancing these harms against the right to freedom of expression as set out in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, a restriction on the availability of the publication to adults would be the lowest reasonable restriction which could be applied in order to prevent injury to the public good.

Office of Film and Literature Classification summary of reasons for the decision for State of Decay

State of Decay's descriptive note 'Graphic violence and offensive language' is intended to give further information about the content of the game to help people make informed decisions about whether it is something they want to play.

The R18 classification means it is illegal for anyone to make State of Decay available to someone under the age of 18.

R18 classification label
R18: contains graphic violence and offensive language