The sequel in the popular top-down shooter series, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, has joined a list of other video games in Australia that have been refused a rating by the Australian Classification Board due to its depictions of extreme physical and an instance of sexual violence. Originally scheduled for release early this year — unless the developer Dennaton Games makes the changes requested by the Board — the game cannot be sold, distributed, or advertised in Australia without a formal classification .
Hotline Miami 2 is far from the first a video game that has been scrutinized for its violent game play (see CBLDF’s Censorship 2014: Why Are Video Games Still a Scapegoat?), but it came under attack by the Classification Board for a single scene in the game that the board describes as a “visual depiction of implied sexual violence” — a form of violence that is explicitly prohibited in Australia’s rating guidelines. According to the formal report issued by the Board obtained by IGN (please note the below excerpt contains graphic language):
In the sequence of game play [sic] footage titled Midnight Animal, 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. This visual depiction of implied sexual violence is emphasised by it being mid-screen, with a red backdrop pulsating and the remainder of the screen being surrounded by black.
This depiction of implied sexual violence exceeds what can be accommodated within the R18+ classification category and the game is therefore Refused Classification.
Dennaton Games responded to this report by by stating that the Classification Board was taking the “implied sexual violence” completely out of context, noting that what was being called rape is actually part of in-game movie scene on a movie set complete with digital actors and a director who shouts “cut.” The games creators do not deny the overall violent nature of the game, but in this instance as Gamespot’s Rob Crossley reports, “The Australian Classification Board has ‘stretched the facts,’ specifically observing that the game does not feature a rape scene, nor are there any explicit animations such as thrusting, nor does the lead character undress.”
In light of the ruling, the publisher of the game, Devolver, has explicitly expressed that regardless of the board’s decision to refuse granting a rating, the game will not be changed and the ruling will not be challenged. Like most games, players can opt to skip the scene if they want, and as Dennaton recently stated in a gesture to protect the creative integrity of their team, “We stand by our developers, their creative vision for the storyline, its characters, and the game.”
Without a classification the game in its current state cannot be legally sold, distributed, or advertised. In effect, the Classification Board with its subjective and exaggerated views of this one scene has essentially banned the entire game from the Australia. But some speculate whether this really was the reason that the board has denied the game classification. Could one scene have been used to justify banning a game that the censors on the Board felt was overly violent throughout?
Developer Jonatan Söderström recently expressed his disappointment with the Classification Board and the decision by publicly commenting:
With all ratings boards we work to give them all the information they request and to put context in place so the rating board is fully aware of the games narrative arc… [T]hat a board of professionals tasked with evaluating and judging games fairly and honestly would stretch the facts to such a degree and issue a report that describes specific thrusting actions that are not simply present in the sequence in question and incorrectly portrays what was presented to them for review.
Rather than capitulate to Australia’s censors, Dennaton and Devolver Games are both taking a strong and supportive stance to protect their creators’ freedom of expression by not altering the game. It remains to be seen whether the Classification Board will admit to making a mistake and revoking their ruling or if the developer and publisher are eventually pressured into compromising the creative integrity of the game in order to obtain sales rights.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!