Yet another game is being denied classification in Australia, and it's not the over-the-top, violent shoot-a-thon you might expect. Instead, it's the indie game We Happy Few.
If you recall We Happy Few, it's likely due to those terrifying porcelain masks the in-game characters wear that makes it look like they're smiling all of the time. The game has frequently been compared to BioShock in terms of setting, tone, and delivery, though the actual gameplay is quite different. Still, the game isn't hyper-violent or over-sexualized, so what caused the Classification Board to smack it with an RC rating? Drugs, actually.
As reported by Kotaku, the RC listing for We Happy Few includes a reference to the 1(a) clause. That clause specifically pertains to games that deal with sex, violence and drug misuse in a way that "they offend against the standards of morality, decency, and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults." That's a pretty vague set of guidelines, but they've been used in the past to assign an identical rating to games like Saints Row IV and even Fallout 3.
Based on additional details from the report, the main issue the ratings board had with We Happy Few was the fact that the drug, Joy, is seen as a sort of incentive within the game. It's at this point I'd like to suggest said board get someone to actually play these games or, bare minimum, take context into account when making these judgments. Let me explain.
We Happy Few takes place in a world where everyone must appear to be happy at all times. Part of that process includes a drug called Joy, which every citizen must take on a regular basis. That fact is actually used as a sort of mechanic, with the game becoming more difficult if the player does not take their dose of Joy from time to time. Other characters in the game will notice if you've been off your mandatory meds for too long, for instance, making getting around the game world more difficult.
The rating highlights two instances in particular, including one where a player who chooses to take Joy is greeted with hallucinations of butterflies and rainbows, as well as a visible path forward on the ground. The other scene involves a woman refusing to take her Joy and being beaten to death by other NPCs demanding she take the pill.
To be fair, a straight reading of the ratings guidelines would definitely include these scenes within We Happy Few. Still, I think it's difficult to argue that the game is legitimately trying to encourage the player to abuse drugs. Quite the opposite, based on everything we've seen. And we're not talking about subtle context so much as beating you over the head with a very clear message. Just from those detached statements above, I think just about anyone could discern that taking Joy in We Happy Few is considered a very bad idea.
But, unfortunately, none of that actually matters. Sorry, Australia, but it looks like you're missing out on this one unless an edited version refers to Joy as, I don't know, vitamins or something.