For only the 7th time in New Zealand history, the Office of Film & Literature Classification has banned a video game: the highly sexualised Japanese game Gal*Gun. This week two of our writers examine and respond to the decision to ban the game in question and we ask the Chief Censor to expand and explain his office’s ruling. Here, the Censor goes into more detail about the decision to ban.
From our Gaming editor José Barbosa: Censorship’s a funny old game; it’s mostly all about viewpoints and there are obvious paradoxes and contradictions in having censorship in an operating democracy. That and questions around where society draws the line and how new technology pushes, and sometimes mocks, the very idea of a line contributes to a deeply interesting area for discussion, which we’ll be having all this week.
My interview with the Chief Censor Andrew Jack is below, but for context you might like to read our other coverage of the banning first: click through to Matthew Codd’s defence and Eugenia Woo’s law-based reading of the decision.
Does the fact that it’s a game that’s essentially a cartoon have any bearing on this decision? The old argument in the ‘80s, with comic books for example, was even if they were written for adults they could be found objectionable or banned because their form was more attractive to kids, therefore they were more dangerous.
That is certainly a consideration. We do look at the publication as a whole and we look at what the dominant effect of it’s going to be. There are two arguments: one says the fact that it’s cartoon makes it less real and therefore potentially less harmful. But the counter argument to that is sometimes making it in that cartoony form does increase its attraction to children in particular, and in some instances that can result in material being classified. The most recent hype examples of that have been the Wicked campervans, which depicted popular cartoon characters that children had grown to love, and depicting them using drugs. That was certainly a significant factor in those decisions.
Can we unpack the way the office considers the way the game supported and promoted the sexualisation of young girls? In your decision, how does that work?
It tends to promote or support, there are two tiers. Some stuff is directly promotional, it says ‘this is a really good thing, let’s all go and do this’. In this case it doesn’t quite get to that height but it certainly tends to promote or support the exploitation of children for sexual purposes. The characters are a stated age of, I think, 14, and they’re depicted as younger than that. The primary purpose of the publication is to titillate and excite the viewer.
Being a rail game it doesn’t give you a huge opportunity to control the unfolding of the content. It’s pretty much put in front of you as the game designers wanted it to be and the content is the whole point of the game. It’s not as if it’s a nice little pocket of this type of content, it’s persistent throughout the whole game.
The whole point of the game is to find these girls and subdue them in a range of different ways. And that’s where the ‘tends to promote or support the exploitation of children’ comes from, sexual purposes. For example, in the ‘Doki Doki’ mode, you circle girls and they resist but you keep persistently touching and rubbing them until they comply with your wishes. So it’s not a healthy message at all.
One of the counter arguments was the game rebukes you for making sleazy choices, if you like. In fact, it kinda makes fun of you and calls you a pervert. Is that still really encouraging or supporting this kind of behaviour? Was that taken into consideration?
Having viewed the game extensively I don’t know that I would necessarily describe that as happening often. It does occur occasionally, there are occasional references. In one instance, for example, it does say ‘state your desire to lick the girl’s tears’ or something like that. And one of the other characters tells you you’re just being a dirty old man. It doesn’t stop the girls from actually behaving either indifferently or positively towards the behaviour. And it doesn’t in any way negatively impact on the way the game unfolds from there. It might be thrown in there as a little aside but it’s certainly not something which significantly detracts from the overall impact of the game, which is to normalise and encourage and make a game out of pursuing girls and forcing yourself on them and subduing them by persistent touching and rubbing.
That idea of using violence to coerce someone to engage in a sexual act is important in this case. What’s the difference between what is in this game and, say, James Bond forcing himself on Pussy Galore in the barn in Goldfinger?
Each publication is different and we will look at the overall impact that each publication has on the player. So you can’t really compare one directly to the other. But certainly in this game, if you look at the length of the game, the fact that it’s a first person perspective game, which does heighten the level of engagement between the player and the content, and the sheer extent of it, the whole purpose of this game, is hung inexorably around the fact that this is what you need to do.
That’s not to say that there may not be some material that depicts sexual violence in other films or other games which are banned or not heavily restricted in some cases. But they will all be different and you have to look at the overall impact of the game on the player. In this instance it’s the persistence of the required behaviour through game as well as all those other factors we’ve talked about that contribute to that overall impact.
This is solely there to make a game out of exploitation of children for sexual purposes. In New Zealand, that’s just not okay.
This goes with the belief that the media we consume does affect our actions. In this case, can you offer any evidence or research, and I know the office put a lot of research into this decision, or possibly suggest the mechanism by which someone’s actions will be influenced by this game in particular?
There’s a huge amount of academic research internationally that tells us what we see in entertainment content does influence our attitudes and values, and from there, our behaviours. That’s the feedback we get from the victims, or perpetrators, of sexual violence. In the context as well, the voices, there’s lots of them, they all have the same message and they’re saying it very loudly as well.
Interestingly, we’ve recently done lots of research with young people directly on sexual violence and they give us the same message as well. They can all identify the harms that come from depictions of sexual violence in entertainment content.
Very recently we’ve also done other research through UMR with Kiwis who tell us that, on average, 76% of them are concerned about the impact that content is having on their children, on our society. And it’s actually much higher than that when you isolate those respondents that actually have responsibility for caring for children. It’s up around the 84% mark. There is a universal, loud, and very consistent message coming through that what we see in entertainment content does impact on our attitudes and behaviours.
It’s hardly surprising. Everyone knows the world we live in does have an impact on us and it’s hardly surprising that the role that entertainment media plays in that is increasing, simply because the role that media generally plays in our lives is increasing. So we just need to be aware of that impact and do what we can to make sure people understand that although it’s fun and in many instances is harmless, that’s not this one. The impact that is likely to occur if that material is made available in New Zealand.
Even to adults, because obviously the ban covers adults as well. I guess the question is why a ban rather than an age restriction?
I think because the impact that it has, in some instances it’s not just around the attitudes and values that children have. Certainly the research does suggest that the longitudinal impact of what you see in entertainment content is greater for children and young adults. That’s probably because adults have already formed many of their attitudes by the time they’ve grown up. But it still has a negative impact on adults too, in some instances. In this case, it tends to promote or support the exploitation of children and that’s not okay, even for adults.
That research you mentioned was conducted last year on young people dealing with sexual violence. What struck me was the difference between how girls and boys viewed sexual violence. Quote “a lack of empathy shown to victims or survivors by many of the boys when the depiction was framed as humorous”.
How has that research affected the approach of the office in general?
Well it’s really hot off the press but it’s beginning to have its effect. We’re working through what the impacts of that might be now and how we can actually use that for classification in other cases in the future. But certainly it’s a very interesting insight. I think it’s important to bear in mind that what this tells us is a little bit about what those particular groups, boys and girls and so on, actually think but they haven’t reached that conclusion in isolation. They have those views potentially because of, amongst other things, the exposure they’ve had to entertainment content to date.
So we’ve got to work through what the implications of those findings might be. But certainly they’re very interesting and they will have an impact on our classification decisions in the future.
There’s such an inherent paradox and contradiction in the job of the OFLC. If you ban something, more people want to see it. Or banning something effectively means that there can’t be a wider discussion between producers, the public, the office, and the government about the issues at hand. As a chief censor in the office, how do you navigate that?
I don’t find it particularly difficult, to be honest, because the same argument could be applied to images of children being sexually abused in video clips, for example. You can’t justify making that material available in a community because it allows people to discuss it. It will allow people to discuss it but it will have irreparable harm to our community as well.
But I think you can still talk about the issues without having the material available for purchase and play in New Zealand. If people want to talk about the impact the depictions of sexual violence in entertainment plays in our lives, we can talk about that perfectly lucidly without having to say ‘now let’s sit down and play a game that promotes sexual violence for five hours’.
I don’t think it stifles debate around the issues and if it did, then I think it’s a price worth paying to protect the community from the harm that otherwise would flow from that game being available in our community.
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