PIXEL BURN – Hotline Miami 2 Banned in Australia

In which Matt vents about censorship, again.
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[TRANSCRIPT]

Hello my name’s Matt and this is the second Pixel Burn in what I’m calling “Fuck-All Gaming News January. In which I desperately scrounge for anything important, interesting or irritating to have happened in the week’s gaming news, like a starving tramp rifling through a bin.

So thank god for the Australian government’s regressive, stone-age attitudes towards videogames, for giving me something to talk about. Specifically the news this week that even though Australia has had an R18+ rating for videogames for over two years now, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has been refused an age rating by the Australian Classification Board.

Which makes it illegal to sell, screen, advertise or otherwise distribute Hotline Miami 2 in Australia. This ruling doesn’t make it illegal to own however, so if a copy of it somehow magically appears on your hard drive one day you won’t be sent to prison for it. Not that I would ever publicly condone piracy of course.

Unlike Hotline Miami 2’s designer Jonatan Söderström who, in this email exchange with a Hotline Miami fan, gave Australians permission to pirate the game if the Australian Classification Board don’t change their mind. So if you’re an Aussie who was looking forward to playing Hotline Miami 2, you have the developer’s blessing to acquire it by any means necessary. Including, if you’re truly desperate, downloading it from your Uncle Torrence via the network of tin cans, string and messenger dingoes that is Australia’s internet.

The reason for the banning is a mission in the game called “Midnight Animal” during which, according to the Australian Classification Board at least:

“The protagonist character bursts into what appears to be a movie set and explicitly kills 4 people, who collapse to the floor in a pool of copious blood, often accompanied by blood splatter. After stomping on the head of a fifth male character, he strikes a female character wearing red underwear. She is knocked to the floor and is viewed lying face down in a pool of copious blood. The male character is viewed with his pants halfway down, partially exposing his buttocks. He is viewed pinning the female down by the arms and lying on top of her thrusting, implicitly raping her (either rear entry or anally) while her legs are viewed kicking as she struggles beneath him.”

Yep, that’s me. Straight for the cheery topics as always. Nice one Matt.

Except the report not only divorces the entire scene from its original context, it also misrepresents it with some creative distortion of the facts. Or to put it more bluntly, they made shit up. For starters the sexual assault is not glorified in any way – quite the opposite, nor does any…ahem… “thrusting” takes place. And while the protagonist does indeed kill five people before attempting to sexually assault a woman, it abruptly stops short of the actual act when an off-screen director yells “Cut.” Whereupon everything is revealed to have beeen taking place on a movie set and everyone who “died” is shown to be alive and well. That’s the twist y’see. All the brutality was staged and all of the people involved, including the woman, were actors.

Although they won’t be eligible for any Oscars, on account of them being Not Real.

It might seem pedantic, but context really is everything in this case. Saying “the protagonist bursts into a film set, murders five people and sexually assaults a woman” is drastically different from saying “the protagonist kills five people and sexually assaults a woman, in a scene being filmed for a movie.”

Similarly if I said “Christian Bale’s character Patrick Bateman, in one scene, murders a homeless man in an alleyway”, you’d understand I’m talking about a scene in American Psycho. Whereas if I said “Christian Bale once murdered a homeless man on a film set”…I’d be making a very serious accusation. American Psycho also has a scene where Christian Bale’s character kills and mutilates two sex workers. The film was released in Australia in 2002, uncut and with an R18+ rating, because hoo-fucking-ray for double-standards!

The Australian Classification Board has also passed other films featuring sexual violence uncut with an R18+ film rating like Last House on the Left. Originally banned in 1987, the DVD release in 2004 was passed uncut with an R18+ rating.
The film Irreversible, containing a 10 minute-long rape scene portrayed in a continuous unbroken shot with no cuts, was passed unaltered in 2002 with an R18+ rating. And Perfect Blue, an animated psychological thriller in the style of Alfred Hitchcock, has a scene depicting violent sexual assault in the exact same context as Hotline Miami 2: as part of a film shoot. It was rated suitable for viewers 15 and older, and is freely available to buy uncensored in Australia. It’s also a bloody brilliant film.

Basically the Australian government still sees videogames as something for children, and all the work Australian gamers’ put in to campaigning for an R18+ rating for games has been for almost nothing.
Still, they’ve always got Prime Minister Tony Abbott to entertain them.

[CLIP OF AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER TONY ABBOTT BEING AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER TONY ABBOTT]

Some argue – without a shred of statistical evidence – that games should be held to a stricter standard because they’re interactive. You’re a direct participant in what’s going on, you control the horizontal and the vertical, etc etc, blah-de-bloody-blah.

In Hotline Miami 2’s case however that argument doesn’t hold water. In the controversial scene in question, everything shown immediately after knocking the woman down is a non-interactive cutscene, pure passive narrative. You are not moving analogue sticks to tear-off clothes. You are not pulling trigger buttons to donkey-punch your victim into submission. There is no “Press X to Thrust.” There is however a clear warning beforehand that the scene contains implied sexual assault, and the option to NOT see it. And if you DO choose not to see it the director yells cut before anything rapey happens. You still savagely murder five people beforehand though because killing is Top Kek!

Hotline Miami 2’s publisher, Devolver Digital, have issued a statement criticising the Classification board for stretching the facts in their report. Devolver also say they have no plans to officially challenge the Board’s ruling, and that they stand by the developer’s creative vision for the game.

And so do I. Unlike the self-appointed Moral Stormtroopers who think videogames are turning an entire generation into Elliot Rodgers, I’m not against developers trying to tackle difficult social issues in their games. I just wish they weren’t so bloody awful at it.

Case in point, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, which has an unlockable 10 minute-long audio file depicting torture, interrogation and yes, a rape, orchestrated by the game’s villain Skullface. And it’s every bit as awkward and ham-fisted as you’d imagine.

[CLIP FROM AWFUL GROUND ZEROES AUDIO LOG]

Oh for fuck’s sake, Kojima.

With shining examples like that, it’s no wonder even the loudest advocates of videogames as a medium seem unwilling, or unable, to trust it with delicate topics. And I don’t just mean people who lash out at anything they consider “Social Justicey.” Even supposedly-progressive types: the kind who piss themselves with glee over a game made in Twine under the influence of a million-and-one drugs, get skittish if you go so much as glance at certain topics.

Yet how can we expect developers to handle such topics sensitively if we always bring out the torches and pitchforks whenever they try? By making certain subjects taboo you stifle the chances of a game being made that DOES treat them sensitively and well, creating a climate of fear in which so much as hinting at a difficult subject gets you railed in the gaming press or crucified-by-Tumblr.

The developers of Hotline Miami 2 aren’t exactly oblivious to what they’re putting into their game either. Hotline Miami 1 was universally praised not only for its gameplay, music and visuals, but the intelligent way it deconstructed players’ attitudes towards violence in videogames. So maybe we can give them the benefit of the doubt over this one, at least until Hotline Miami 2 is actually released. Then we can all decide for ourselves if this controversial scene, viewed in context, was justified or not. And while we’re at it, perhaps we can also stop making exceptions for when it’s “acceptable” to censor art. Although I won’t be holding my fucking breath on that one.

That’s all for this single-topic episode of Pixel Burn. If you liked it then please do let me know, and let your friends, family and The Australian Classification Board know as well. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. And if you didn’t like it then feel free to write a horrible essay about me on your Tumblr, calling me Literally Hitler. Until next time, you can go now

 

Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.