Outlast 2 has been refused classification in Australia. Although the game’s demo was able to receive an R18+ rating (equivalent to an ESRB M rating) the full version of the game has been denied rating.
The United States’ video game rating board, the ESRB, has no force of law and is self-regulatory. While certain stores may refuse to carry a product that hasn’t been rated by the ESRB or that has received the taboo Adult Only rating, on paper, there is governmental influence behind any ESRB rating. However, the Australian Classification Board is a government agency, and if the office refuses to rate a product, it is effectively a ban on sale in Australia.
The Australian Classification Board has provided their reasoning behind the refusal to classify Outlast 2 to Kotaku Australia. Their statement describing the offending scene in the game that led to their decision, which contains implied sexual assault and some spoilers for Outlast 2, is below:
In one cut-scene in the game … a female creature prepares Blake for a ritual. She says, “I want to see your true face. Your seed will burn this world.” Shortly afterwards, he objects to having psycho-active dust blown into his face, yelling, “Nope! Nope!” before he stumbles into a forest clearing.
His vision blurring, he witnesses what appears to a ritualistic orgy. His wife, Lynn, calls out for his help, saying, “It hurts! Oh god!,” as she hangs from chains on a raised platform at the front of the clearing. Humanoid creatures, their skin grey, spattered with blood and scarred, implicity have sex as others pray, or chant, or gesticulate.
One creature has another bent over a rock, thrusting as they implicitly have rear-entry sex, another sits astride the pelvic region of a creature prone on the ground, moving their hips rhythmically as they too implicitly have sex. Two other pairs of creatures in the clearing are also implicitly having sex.
As Blake yells for the creatures to “Get away from her!” a female creature, her greyish breasts bared, pushes him onto his back, holds his arms to the ground and repeatedly thrusts her crotch against him. As Blake protests, saying “No! Stop that!” the creature thrusts again, before placing its face over his midsection and then sitting up and wiping its mouth.
Although much of the contact between the creature and Blake is obscurred, by it taking place below screen, the sexualised surroundings and aggressive behaviour of the creature suggest that it is an assault which is sexual in nature. The Board is of the opinion that this, combined with Blake’s objections and distress, constitutes a depiction of implied sexual violence.
In the Board’s opinion, the above example constitutes a depiction of implied sexual violence and therefore cannot be accommodated within the R18+ classification category and the game is therefore Refused Classification.
The Classification Board went on to note that without the implied sexual violence in the scene above, Outlast 2 would be eligible for an R18+ rating. However, there is also additional content which led to the decision to refuse classification, with the scene above being the tipping point.
It’s not my place to decide whether or not the Australian Classification Board is right or wrong to place a studio in the position where they have to choose to censor or not sell their video game. However, it seems when we look back on past instances of censorship in literature, movies, games, and other media, it always seems to have been a bad idea. Perhaps just making sure that the product contains suitable enough warnings to protect those that don’t desire to view that material and educating the public on the difference between fiction and reality is sufficient. We’ll more than likely hear more on this ban of Outlast 2 as Red Barrels Studio decides whether or not to make the changes needed to release the game in Australia.