Upcoming indie survival adventure We Happy Few has been banned in Australia. The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts has given the game a "refused classification" rating, which will make distributing or purchasing the game in Australia illegal.
According to CensoredGaming, the reason for the classification refusal has to do with "drug use". We Happy Few takes place in an alternate historical timeline and focuses on the fictional English village of Wellington Wells, whose denizens take the fictional drug Joy to keep them placated and to help them forget World War II. Players take control of 3 protagonists who stop taking Joy, and who must navigate the world as it actually is rather than as Joy makes them see it. Joy is also integrated into gameplay; not taking the drug means players will have a significantly harder time avoiding enemies and completing objectives.
The Australian Classification Board is gunning for the game largely because it's possible for players to take Joy during gameplay, and a player doing so can "[receive] an incentive by progressing through the game quickly", according to the official report received by CensoredGaming. The report acknowledges that "there are alternative methods to complete the game", but also notes that "gameplay requires the player to take Joy to progress". This directly contravenes the Australian R-18+ classification, which states "drug use related to incentives and rewards is not permitted".
We Happy Few will join games such as Outlast 2, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number and South Park: The Stick of Truth being refused classification by the Australian Classification Board. Other games that have had issues include The Bug Butcher (for a powerup drug called Speed, a censored version was released), Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni (due to the sexual nature of the game), MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death (for an interactive touch screen element) and more. Recently, State of Decay 2 likely avoided a similar issue with classification by changing drugs to vitamins in Australia, although it landed an R18+ rating. It's not yet clear whether developers Compulsion Games and publishers Gearbox will seek to create a censored version of the game for Australian distribution, but it's probably a pretty difficult proposition as the Joy drug is a key part of the game's narrative and world. The game is currently due for release in mid-2018 (not in Australia, though).
Update: Compusion Games has made an official statement via their website, in which they discuss the Australian ratings board's decision and what this will mean for players and Kickstarter backers.
In the statement, Compulsion say they are "looking into it", and "would appreciate if [players and backers] give us a little bit of time to appeal the decision before making a call". They defend the thematic relevance of Joy as a drug, likening their game to Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Huxley's Brave New World, and close by saying they will be "talking to the ACB to provide additional information, to discuss the issues in depth, and see whether they will change their minds".
If a resolution with the Australian Classifications Board can't be reached, Compulsion say that they "will make sure that [players] can get a refund", and that they will work directly with affected Kickstarter backers "to figure something out". More on this as it develops.
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