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South Park: The Stick of Truth

R16: violence, offensive language, sexual material and other content that may offend

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this game.

Stick of Truth poster

Date registered: 26/09/2013

About the game

South Park: The Stick of Truth is a role-playing console game created by Obsidian Entertainment and based on the popular American television series South Park. This particular game was examined on an Xbox 360 debug console unit, and is also available in PC and PlayStation 3 formats.

Set in the South Park universe, the game uses a first-person avatar to complete quests within the context of a 'LARPing' (live action role-play) game played by the central characters in the television series (including Cartman and Butters).

The central plot pertains to the "stick of truth" an object hotly prized and stolen by the "Drow elves" (the schoolboys' playground nemeses). Subplots include a Nazi zombie outbreak, a conspiracy involving Taco Bell, and an alien invasion. The player follows a list of directions from support characters and deploys them in action. Game play is broken up into stages based on limited puzzle solving, object retrieval and duels with antagonist characters. The gaming environment emulates the television series precisely, so the game has an authentic but rudimentary cartoon style.

Poster showing all the separate elements of the deluxe version of the game

Classification criteria: Sex

The game deals with matters of sex to some degree. Vibrators are a regular feature of the game, either depicted as background material or more particularly as a weapon a player can use. The vibrators themselves are not referenced as sexual aides by the characters who appear oblivious to their function.

Gameplay - naked Big Government Guy

Classification criteria: Horror

The game deals with matters of horror in terms of the subplots involving aliens and zombies. The zombies are depicted as red-eyed, often of green or grey colouring, wearing armbands with Nazi insignia and are characterised as foetuses, rats or gnomes. They attack the protagonist characters whenever confronted with them. The aliens are depicted as typical grey, wide-eyed humanoids and again threaten and attack the protagonist characters. The unexceptional design and conduct of these characters mean it is unlikely viewers will find them horrific in any way.

The Nazi zombie subplot begins in an abortion clinic. The play on gender and disregard with which the abortion process is treated is intended to be humorous but it is also likely that viewers may find this shocking, distressing and/or reasonably horrific.

Gameplay - zombie Nazis

Classification criteria: Crime

Crime is also dealt with to a limited degree. Drug paraphernalia is shown in Cartman's mother's bedroom. This includes a bong and a pipe as well as a large pile of white powder next to these items. These items are merely foreground material and cannot be interacted with in any manner. The drug use in the publication is not referenced or depicted in any direct manner. Serving as a background spectacle, it is not reasonable to conclude its presence is promotional or encouraging given the lack of any wider context. Rather the presence of drug paraphernalia is used as a weak gag made at the expense of a supporting adult character.

Gameplay - furniture and belongings piled up in a room

Classification criteria: Violence

The game also deals regularly with violence. This ranges from low level threats exchanged between characters to more graphic depictions of death. Most of the violence takes place in the duels. Serious physical injury and death are also detailed in the game and are considered under s3(3)(a)(i). As a character loses health during the duel they acquire bruising and bloody cuts. A particularly heavy hit can lead to blood pooling around the character. Once defeated, the character appears knocked-out or dead. Their bodies either fade or simply disappear out of shot. The violence on these occasions is severely limited by the controlled camera angles and distance of presentation, over which the player has no control.

During the Nazi zombie outbreak subplot, a chemical is misplaced in the waste facilities of an abortion clinic. The result is the 'zombification' of aborted foetuses. The bloody aftermath shows dead corpses littered throughout the clinic. One of the officers has been dismembered and disembowelled and the avatar must walk through this particular corpse, in a casual and irreverent manner, in order to progress through the level. These sort of profane and hyperbolic depictions are well contextualized within the series which is notorious for using callous and offensive humour. This context goes to mitigate the impact somewhat.

Gameplay - fighting with bows and arrows

Classification criteria: Discrimination

Representation of a particular class of person as being inherently inferior to other people by reason of a characteristic that is a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993.

As part of the extreme parody of the series, the game depicts a number of hyperbolic stereotypes of certain racial groups and other distinct social and cultural groups, considered under s3(3). No particular class of persons is targeted in a more disparaging way than others.

The effect of this is that the game does not intrinsically represent a class of persons as inherently inferior but instead exposes all groups to crude and offensive satirical representation for comedic effect. For instance, when the player is introduced to the central supporting characters they are given the option to customize their character. Four options are presented. Among them is a "Jew". The character is adorned in traditional Jewish costume and acquires "Jewish" weapons and skills. They are also named "Douchebag the Jew". All of these elements are made up of offensive stereotypes associated with Judaism. This component is a direct reference to the Anti-Semitism typical of Cartman's character, as he has the most authority in the LARPing plot.

In another instance the player, on a quest to get Cartman Chinese food, must defeat a tower of "Mongorians". The term plays offensively on the phonetic tropes of ESOL speakers, particularly of Chinese ethnicity. The antagonist characters also all display offensive generic stereotypes associated with those of Asian descent.

The effect of these representations is aimed to be a critique of society's use of cultural stereotypes and is a display of "ironic racism" intended primarily to be humorous. However, these representations could be inappropriately taken up and internalised by young impressionable audiences not experienced with the implied critique.

Gameplay - 'Jew' character in the Skill Tree

Classification criteria: Highly offensive language

The game also regularly features highly offensive language. It does this in combination with sexual, offensive or violent comments. This adds to its offensiveness. Because the language is used as a function of the humour of the publication, there is a risk impressionable young audiences may uncritically take up and emulate the use of similar language which could have negative effects on their socialisation.

Gameplay - Movie showing 'asses'

Classification criteria: Dominant effect

The impact of the depictions in the game are limited significantly at the outset by the cartoon medium used to depict them; advantage is taken of the rudimentary style of the South Park television show to give the sex, horror and violence a humorous quality.

Gameplay - the team looking down over the burning town

Decision summary

The Classification Act requires that publications be restricted if they are likely to cause injury to the public good. This publication is a sandbox console game that employs offensive comedy typical of the South Park franchise to develop farcical subplots as an extension of the series.

The injury in this publication lies in its offensive treatment of sex, horror, violence and highly offensive language, which will be inuring for young audiences. Older teenagers and adults will be experienced with the South Park franchise and this sort of material typical of the franchise, which is notorious for its highly offensive and exploitative humour. It is important to note the animated medium makes the behaviours easily distinguishable as fictional and unreal to these older audiences.

Characteristically, the publication treats sex and horror with disregard, exploiting the more offensive aspects of these subjects for comedic purposes. Characters are degraded and subjected to shocking and distressing situations in which the player is intended to take an active role. Uncritical younger audiences are expected to navigate these scenarios successfully, find humour and entertainment in this treatment and critically reflect on the subtext of the issues brought to light. They do not have the experience and maturity necessary to do this.

The publication is therefore classified objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 16 years. This restriction appreciates the harm to younger audiences described above. It is also the lowest possible interference with the freedom of expression as allowed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

R16 label
R16: violence, offensive language, sexual material and other content that may offend