The Australian Classification Review Board has officially released its statement regarding the recent decision on Mortal Kombat. We all know that the game's appeal was denied, meaning that the upcoming brawler from Warner Bros. remains effectively banned Down Under, but the Board's decision shows that this wasn't a simple decision - nor a unanimous one.
To kick things off though, we'll cover the outcome first:
The Classification Review Board (the Review Board) by majority classified the
computer game RC.
In Australia, computer games that "depict, express or otherwise deal with ... violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults" are to be classified RC. That is, Refused Classification, or effectively banned (banned from sale, advertising or display - the definition varies from state to state).
Early March saw a four-member panel of the Review Board - three women and one man - review the Classification Board's classification of Mortal Kombat. As we mentioned, part of Warner Bros' application was presented by Paul Hunt, former deputy director of the Classification Board. Mr. Hunt has been involved previously in successful appeals for other Refused Classification titles including WBIE's own F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin.
If you're curious, the Review Board did actually play the game as part of its decision-making process. WBIE presented members with a written submission and samples of recorded gameplay, and the Board also watched a "lengthy live demonstration of both recorded and non-recorded elements of the game", before spending some time playing, "assisted by its own officer".
There is a lengthy synopsis of the game included in the Board's report, explaining the roots of the Mortal Kombat franchise. In case you missed it, Raiden and his band of Earth Realm warriors are battling against Shao Kahn and his followers, in order to prevent Armageddon.
25 characters are included in the game, some of which are unlocked as you progress through the game (or use provided codes). Story mode features more than 15 hours of gameplay according to the Board, and the game also features challenge and PvP modes.
The Review Board found that there was negligible offensive language featured in the game ("readily accommodated in a classification lower than RC"), and that there was no Sex, Drug Use or Nudity in Mortal Kombat. The game's themes - fighting, aliens, robots and Armageddon - are also readily accommodated in a lower classification.
The problem, as you may have suspected, lies in the game's violence. Who knew?
Mortal Kombat includes, for the first time in this franchise, a feature known as ‘X-ray view’, which may be initiated when a player reaches a certain power level during the fight, and executes a series of commands. X-ray view (which is non-interactive) shows an injury being inflicted on one combatant. The vision slows down and the action and resulting impact is shown close up and in greater detail. The detail shown varies from character to character, but depicts injuries such as bones being displaced and snapped, skulls being fractured, ribs cracking and teeth being knocked out of jaws. Even with the less humanoid characters, these X-ray views depict a human type skeleton and underlying physical structure. The injury is often shown from multiple viewpoints. The X-ray view focuses on the injury, although the Review Board noted that in story mode the physical injury inflicted, such as a broken spine, did not seem permanent and the character continued to fight unaffected by the apparent injury.
X-ray view is seen to "emphasise and humanise" the impact of injuries, which increases the overall impact of the violence in the game.
The battles themselves take place in a number of different arenas, some of which feature their own special non-interactive sequences. Characters are impaled on spikes, thrown into pools of acid, and even held against the carriages of a passing train. The violence in the game is "highly stylised and unrealistic", and characters inflict and sustain injuries that are fairly impossible in real life.
But, y'know, there's that elephant in the room: Fatalities.
The full game - in its extended mode - features a possible 65 fatalities. The Board recognises that these are a "challenge to achieve", and won't happen in every fight.
The Review Board noted, in particular, the following fatalities which represent a nonexhaustive sample of explicit violence:
- Baraka: knives -- slices off arms with knives, stabs knife into chest and slices body laterally in two with the other knife, one half held up on first knife. The side view provided of the dismembered body is like a carcass.
- Baraka: knives -- thrusts knife into chest, lifts body on knife, spins body, holds up second knife to cut off spinning legs, arms and head and throws down torso.
- Quan Chi: no weapon -- grabs leg, tears leg off, beats opponent with leg and crushes head. The beating with the detached leg is prolonged and repetitive, suggesting brutality.
- Sheeva: no weapon-- tears arms off, slaps opponent with severed arms, kicks body over and then claps severed arms.
- Jax: no weapon -- hits top of head, hammers opponent into the ground and kicks off the head.
Other fatalities include "explicit depictions" of decapitation, dismemberment, disembowelment and "a number of other brutal methods of slaughter".
Surprise, surprise - the majority of the board found the fatalities to contain violence that is "higher than strong", and cannot be accommodated in an MA15+ rating. Even though they occur infrequently during normal story mode play, these moves can be performed repeatedly in practice mode.
...the majority is of the view that the fatalities are for many, perhaps the majority of players, a major, important feature of the game and they will strive hard to achieve them
It's not just the fatalities, though - the "extensive blood and gore splatter" in PvP mode is also a worry, as well as X-ray view (the Board is concerned that it makes the less-humanoid characters appear more human).
But! This wasn't the board's unanimous decision. A minority element believed that the violence in Mortal Kombat is merely "strong" - and that it can be accommodated within an MA15+ category. This minority felt that the "relative infrequency" of fatalities (in the context of usual gameplay) mitigates the impact of the violence.
The fact the game is "fantastical and heavily-stylised", and actually funny in parts also makes the Minority believe the violence is lessened. Sorcery, superhuman abilities and "identifiably non-human characters" all feature as elements that reinforce the artificiality of the violence.
In the view of the minority, the violence in Mortal Kombat is justified by context. The fantastical, unrealistic nature of the violence, and the infrequency of the strongest violence, means that its impact is strong, and unsuitable for persons under the age of 15. Mortal Kombat should thus be classified MA15+.
...unfortunately, a minority isn't enough - but it's nice to see that the Board wasn't completely overwhelmed by this one.
Interestingly, the Review Board document lists no "interested parties", but does acknowledge "one email from a member of the public". If you're reading this, Alex Williams, kudos to you!
...to read the whole statement, check out the Decisions and reason for decision (pdf link).
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