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Gamers have their say at the Classification Office

Posted on 24 February 2017 by Paul

Hatred, Dead by Daylight, Postal III - titles many gamers know well.

All three games have attracted a lot of attention for various reasons, but mostly due to the levels of violence in each game. So when the Chief Censor called them in for classification recently, we expected some robust debate - not just within the Classification Office itself but with the wider gaming public.

Our gamers at the Classification Office are skilled and knowledgeable - they've played the best and the worst. They make classification decisions on a daily basis having applied the legal classification criteria.

It's helpful for our censors to hear opinions from other gamers, including those most affected by the classification system - young people under age 18.

For this reason, we invited young gamers to spend time playing and viewing the games at the Classification Office. Of various ethnicities and backgrounds, they ranged in age from 15-21. Their gaming tastes varied from Final Fantasy, The Sims, and League of Legends, to Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Assassin's Creed.

These sessions were not meant as a formal piece of research, but rather as an open and engaging platform for young gamers to have their voices heard on these three specific titles. They spoke, and we listened.

Dead By Daylight, Hatred, and Postal III Games

Hatred

R18: Graphic violence, offensive language and content that may disturb

Hatred is an isometric third-person shooter, in which players take on the role of a murderous, disaffected loner who embarks on a shooting rampage. The unnamed loner explains in a brief opening cut-scene that he is sick of the world and the people in it, and would like to kill as many people as possible before dying violently himself. After gathering a cache of weapons he stalks through a linear series of environments - residential neighbourhoods, busy town centres, a train, army base, and ultimately a nuclear power plant - gunning down hordes of civilians, police officers and soldiers. Progress through the game is in most cases accomplished by killing specified numbers of victims.

The participants played the game and watched a video of further gameplay. They also watched a modified version of the game with first-person gameplay, which was used to facilitate discussion on its impact.

None of the participants were overly enthusiastic about the game. All of them felt that the game should be restricted. Two of the boys were most excited about the killing and saw the inhibiting mechanics of a PC game as the main negative aspect.

Others showed empathy for the innocent civilians killed, and found the sole aim of killing to be boring, unchallenging and needless violence.

The boys found positive aspects of the game to be freedom and the ability to release tension. The girls saw no positives.

This is pretty funny. You just go around shooting and killing people... you're pretty much just massacring everyone.

All mentioned an adrenaline rush and a release of built-up anger, which some commented could be a potential positive outcome. One 16-year-old boy remarked that for this reason, the game promotes violence:

Feral. You're shooting people, going crazy. Freedom... you're free to do whatever you want.

The issue with Hatred is that it reduces empathy. You lose sense of the real world and get used to killing people.

Hatred reminds me of things that have happened in America - mass shootings - some of it does happen. You feel sorry for the families... families have to bury our kids.

It's not good for them to think it's ok to kill people. It gives the idea that killing is interesting. It glorifies the main character. There are no consequences for him, only screaming to indicate that [the violence] is wrong.

One of the participants said that the highly offensive language was inappropriate for kids.

The game is presented in black and white, but the participants felt this detracted from their enjoyment of the game.

The black and white makes you feel bad, more evil, dark. It goes with the character. It wouldn't turn people away though.

Hatred packaging
Hatred box and cover art

Dead By Daylight

R16: Contains violence and horror

A multiplayer online game with asymmetric teams. One player plays as the killer, who must kill the other four players ("survivors") by bludgeoning and hacking at them and impaling them on large hooks. The game plays out in a procedurally generated arena, and there is a horror setting throughout. While the premise is gruesome the impact is consistent with other R16 horror titles - it's unrealistic, fantastic nature is emphasised and there is a lack of gratuitous injury depicted.

The participants felt that Dead By Daylight contained strong depictions of violence. Two males, 17 and 18, said they were initially shocked by the level of violence, stating that it was "very brutal". However, all participants agreed that Dead By Daylight was game-like (a male, 17, described it as being like a game of "cat and mouse"), and felt that the dominant goal of the game was to win rather than simply commit violence. They felt that the level of violence overall was lessened because of this. One female, 16, further noted that teenagers were likely to have already been exposed to the horror genre through films, which would make them less likely to be shocked and disturbed by the level of violence found within the game.

None of the participants felt that the game was likely to have a detrimental effect on teenagers, but thought that it would be reasonable to restrict the game to those above the age of 15 and 16.

What the Classification Office said:

Older teenagers and adults are likely to be able to place the game within its fictional and ludic context and are further likely to identify generic elements of the fantastic villains that they play as.

OFLC decision
Dead By Daylight Packaging
Dead By Daylight box and cover art

Postal III

R18: Violence, offensive language, sexual material and content that may offend

Played from a third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective, Postal III has a colourful cartoon aesthetic and humorous tone. Participants were shown gameplay video only, which included racist and sexist caricatures who become the target of violence. Non-playable characters are routinely dismembered and decapitated; blood spurts from the bodies when this occurs. The player character also urinates on a character's dead body.

The participants felt that Postal III contained strong depictions of violence but that the use of humour and the game's colourful aesthetic limited the impact.

It seems less violent as it's unrealistic, less confronting.

Mention was also made of the fact that the third person perspective disassociated the player from the action.

The game's racist attitudes were identified by all of the participants but some of the younger ones found it amusing rather than concerning. Only the female participants mentioned the game's sexual content and felt that it would be inappropriate for younger players "...kids shouldn't be introduced to the porn concept too early."

The males concluded that the game should be classified as R16 while the female group was divided between R16 and R18 classifications.

Postal 2 was banned, why not Postal III ?

The previous game in this series, Postal 2: Share The Pain, was banned in 2004 because we determined the game promotes and supports urination in association with degrading and dehumanising conduct, and the infliction of extreme violence and extreme cruelty.

Unlike its open-world predecessor, Postal III plays out in a series of scripted levels, with greater focus on telling its satirical story. There is no sense of a simulated or reactive world, which was a part of its predecessor's focus on experimenting with gratuitous violence and crime. Alongside the loosely satirical setting, and stylised aesthetic, the game provides enough of a wink-and-a-nod to ensure players understand the player character's actions are reprehensible, even as they are presented for entertainment. As a result, while the game allows for acts of extreme violence and extreme cruelty (and even urination), it cannot be said to promote or support these things.

What the Classification Office said:

Offensive stereotyping and bigoted attitudes are presented throughout. Yet the interstitial cutscenes and self-aware dialogue ensures the violent and bigoted content is presented as intentionally offensive entertainment. [...] Adults have the media literacy and life experience to reconcile this content in the context of a satirical game, reliant on offensive humour and shock value to entertain.

OFLC decision

Postal III cover art
Postal III cover art

Why were these games called in for classification?

We take an active interest in the type of entertainment media available to New Zealanders. From time to time this may include reviewing content available on online distribution services.

The Chief Censor called in these three games due to concerns about the levels of violence and cruelty, which may require restriction in a New Zealand context.

New Zealand's classification system uses the same criteria for all types of publications the Classification Office examines and classifies. As with cinematic films and DVDs, video games must in some way deal with sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence before they can be classified as restricted or banned in New Zealand.

Can violent games be harmful?

Research suggests that violent games do have effect on players. In Video Games Do Affect Social Outcomes: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Effects of Violent and Prosocial Video Game Play (2014), researchers showed that:

Data from 98 independent studies with 36,965 participants revealed that for both violent video games and prosocial video games, there was a significant association with social outcomes. Whereas violent video games increase aggression and aggression-related variables and decrease prosocial outcomes, prosocial video games have the opposite effects. These effects were reliable across experimental, correlational, and longitudinal studies, indicating that video game exposure causally affects social outcomes and that there are both short and long-term effects.

...the present findings clearly demonstrate that violent video games increase aggression. It should be noted that this finding is in line with almost all theories of human aggression, such as the General Aggression Model (Anderson & Bushman, 2002), social learning theory and related social-cognitive research (Bandura, 1986), social information-processing model (Dodge & Crick, 1990), script theory (Huesmann, 1986), and excitation transfer model (Zillmann, 1983).

Video Games Do Affect Social Outcomes (2014)

New Zealanders agree that violent content is harmful. The Classification Office recently commissioned UMR to survey New Zealanders about media content. Results indicate there is widespread public concern about content such as sex and violence in entertainment media, particularly amongst parents. Results show that New Zealanders are most concerned about violence in media: 85% expressed concern (3-5 on the scale), with 72% indicating a high level of concern (4-5 on the scale).

Research: Children and teen exposure to media content

Thanks to the participants!

The young people who helped the Classification Office with Hatred, Dead By Daylight and Postal III provided a really valuable contribution to the classification process. It is really important that the classifications based on the criteria set down in law reflect the attitudes and values of New Zealanders, and the insights provided by the young gamers on these three games certainly helped to achieve that. Thanks to their input other young gamers considering whether they want to play any of these three games will be able to look at the classifications, and the descriptive notes, and make an informed choice, when they decide.

Paul works in the Classification and Information Units at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

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