We already knew that the game had been navigating the tricky censorship waters under the codename Codename, but our records showed the game had only been submitted to the Board twice - once under the fake name, and then again under its final title. That was incorrect - "Codename" had been submitted to the Classification Board twice before, and refused classification (effectively banned from sale or display) both times.
So what was so inappropriate about the earlier two submissions? Player Attack has gotten its hands on the official Board Reports for all three versions of the game, to figure out what's what (the fourth submission was simply a name change).
The Australian National Classification Code clearly states that games will be Refused Classification if they:
...depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, 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 to the extent that they should not be classified.
Similarly, games will be Refused Classification if they:
...describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offense to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not).
The R18+ Classification Guidelines state:
Implied sexual violence that is visually depicted, interactive, not justified by context or related to incentives or rewards is not permitted.
Submission 1 - Refused Classification - 19 September 2013
The Board acknowledged that South Park the Stick of Truth is "satirical in tone and intent", but agrees that certain content within the game exceeds what can be accommodated at the R18+ level.
The very first episode of the very first season of South Park the animated series (aired in 1997) is titled "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe". With that in mind, it's not really surprising that this is a theme carried into the video game, some 15 years later.
An "interactive animated sequence" featured in the game is simply titled "Alien Probing", and includes just about everything you'd expect. Male characters are captured by aliens and stripped buttock-nude before "repeatedly having an oversized, phallic probe thrust into their buttocks", mimicking sexual movements and accompanied by "squelching" sound effects.
The adult characters' voices and comments suggest that they are sedated or deeply asleep and, while one character, Mr Slave, seems to find the probing pleasurable and says "can we try the big silver one again," no indication of explicit or implicit consent is viewed in the sequence.
The characters are secured to the tables and unable to escape, and - with the notable exception of Mr Garrison's "friend" Mr Slave - are seen to loudly protest the probing, complaining "Not that way!", "Oh God no! Shut it off!" and "no no no that kills! Switch it back!".
Even when on the receiving end of an anal probe, the player character - known only as "the new kid" - does not speak (he does grimace in pain at this point, however). Once the procedure is complete and the probe is removed, Randy Marsh (Stan's dad) comments that "This is the kind of stuff you put up with living in a remote mountain town".
While the probe is inserted, the player is given instructions to bring about a "dragonshout" which, if carried out successfully, causes the new kid character to fart flames which causes the probe to be destroyed. The probe breaks off in the new kid's anus.
There is also another scene which a minority of the Board found both thematically offensive, and very high in impact, particularly due to its interactivity.
Set inside an abortion clinic, male characters are dressed as females.
The player controls the doctor's hands and repeatedly thrusts a length of wire between the patient's splayed legs (implicitly to bring about an abortion) before applying a vacuum device to the patient's genital region (below screen).
Submission 2 - Refused Classification - 07 November 2013
This is an attempt at a compromise. Both the Alien Probe sequence and the abortion clinic are still featured in the game. While only a minority objects to the abortion scene, the aliens are highlighted again as a problem. The interactive sequence "which visually depicts implied sexual violence involving a child character and adult characters" must be completed in order to continue with the game.
While the Board acknowledges that the game is satirical in tone, intent and context, is based on, and true to, the South Park television series, and that limited modifications have been made to the original game, this modified version includes visually depicted, implied sexual violence and, as such, exceeds what can be accommodated within the R18+ classification.
The Alien Probe scene is detailed further - the probes "visually resemble penises", and we're told that only "some" of the adults being probed are sedated or asleep, with others expressing "both a lack of consent and pain experienced".
Randy Marsh, who suggests that this is normal behaviour in a "remote mountain town" is, in turn, strapped to the table and probed. The new kid player character is given instructions on how to destroy the probe.
The Board observes that while these scenes are interactive, the player input is related solely to "destroying or disabling the probes", and at no point does the player interact in an act of sexual violence.
The Board notes that a scene in which characters make repeated verbal references to the character Kenny being raped can be accommodated within the R18+ classification as the references are verbal, no visual depiction of sexual violence is viewed and the implicit sexual violence has no interactive elements.
Submission 3 - Rated R18+ - 21 November 2013
Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, are well known for not pulling their punches. When the MPAA argued that elements of the film based on the animated series were inappropriate, Stone and Parker reacted in ways that introduced more filth. Even the title, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was a double-entendre added in after the Association insisted on a change.
So the team's compromise on the Stick of Truth's Alien Probe is not really a surprise.
The entire scenario of graphic, non-consensual alien probes has been removed. In its place, the Board finds:
At several stages throughout the level which involves the player character being abducted and taken aboard an alien spacecraft, text appears onscreen which describes instances of sexual violence. The text includes "aliens forcibly probe your rectum with a dildo-shaped probe", "probe his ass with violent force" and "causing his anal probe to penetrate him over and over".
Rather than compromise on the problematic content, Stone, Parker, the team at Obsidian and the publishers at Ubisoft simply removed it altogether, and make no shame or attempt to hide it. The textual references - even as they describe the inappropriate content of earlier editions - is considered to be "comedic in intent".
But the kicker? The descriptive messages appear on-screen accompanied by a still image of a crying koala and large, red text reading simply: "CENSORED".
I like video games and music and cups of tea and noodles and beagles and colour-cycling LEDs.
Like me on Facebook?
Jimmy the Geek