Print Edition: May 21, 2014
Censorship rules have been part of the gaming industry since its infancy. Ever since Mortal Kombat II was banned for its excessive use of blood, there have been many advancements in censorship. While some have been understandable, others have been strange and at times offensive to gamers themselves.
Now Ars Technica reports that Russia has ordered a new rating of 18+ for The Sims 4. The upcoming game has a rating of Teen in North America. Same-sex relationships are cited as the reason the rating was announced by a Kremlin-appointed body that called the game harmful to Russian youth. This act of censorship is just one of many in accordance with Russia’s anti-gay laws.
Another similar incident came when China banned Sega’s Football Manager 2005 because it had Tibet as a playable team. According to Chinese government, the addition of Tibet would “pose harm to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Video games are a growing form of media, and often receive as much media attention and scrutiny as major news events. Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series has thrived off its controversy for its abundant violence and sexual content, but has received censored releases in Australia, among other countries.
Australia’s classification board is notorious in the videogames world. Notably, Left 4 Dead 2 was banned, which caused outcry. The Australian government’s insistence on restricting the sale of violent games has been censorship debate material for years. Australia finally changed their ratings in late 2013 to allow for an 18+ rating, but there remains an X rating that is equivalent to a ban.
EA spokesperson Deborah Coster responded to the Russian government’s decision, saying, “one of the key tenets of The Sims is that it is up to the player to decide how to play the game. We provide the simulation sandbox and the player choice and creativity does the rest.”
Like the Sochi Olympics controversy, the decision reflects poorly on Russia, while also having the effect of marking the country as homophobic when, among the Russian populace, that is not the case.
It is the hope of many that people will progress as a society both through cultural difference and social acceptance. Books, films, and video games are just one part of this pursuit. When they are thrown away or blocked for reasons as close-minded as sexual orientation, that hope dwindles. Russia is trying to hide a side of the world that is becoming globally recognized. And as Ars Technica also notes, not only is Russia on the wrong side of history, but with piracy, a popular and easy way to acquire games in the country, what official bodies say won’t be able to stifle people’s choices.