Outlast 2‘s sexual content has gotten the title banned in Australia. Banned might not be the right word since that indicates that there is some official sanction against the game. What has happened is the Australian Classification Board (CB) has refused to rate the game. Under Australia law movies, games, and other publications cannot be imported, sold, or exhibited in the country without a rating by the CB. So, by refusing to rate the game, the Board has essentially banned it.
The censorship of games in Australia is nothing new. The CB has been refusing classification on video games since 1995 when they declined to rate Phantasmagoria due to, you guessed it, sexual violence. According to the CB’s website, some of the more recent games that are currently unrated and therefore banned include Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni (2016), MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death (2016), Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (2015), and Syndicate (2011). These games were refused ratings for various reasons ranging from sexual content to drug use.
Understanding the CB’s reasoning for banning Outlast 2 might involve revealing some story spoilers, so stop reading if you would rather not have anything revealed to you.
It is worth mentioning that the demo for Outlast 2 went through the classification process and received an R18+ rating. So at first, it was a bit puzzling why they refused to rate the full game. However, they later released a statement to Kotaku Australia explaining the decision.
According to Kotaku, the official ruling for the classification refusal was due to “implied sexual violence.”
Apparently, in the full game, there are several questionable scenes when the main character, Blake, is hallucinating. In this hallucination, Blake enters a clearing where his wife is chained to a dais, screaming for him to save her. There are demons all around the clearing that appear to be engaged in a “ritualistic orgy.” While none of the sexual acts are explicit, they are clearly implied. As Blake moves to help his wife, he is intercepted by one of the bare-breasted female creatures. The monster wrestles him to the ground and while holding him down, repeatedly rubs its groin against him.
Regarding Outlast 2‘s sexual content, the Board felt justified in refusing to rate the game.
“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 [sic]. 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. [sic]”
Kotaku also noted that while the described scene was not the only one that caused the refusal, the CB said that without such depictions “Outlast 2 would be eligible for a R18+ rating. [sic]”
So, will the Australian Certification Board’s decision on Outlast 2 affect its release in the U.S.? Probably not.
The scenes described by the CB to Kotaku were only slightly more risque than the rape scene in Season 1 of Bates Motel. While Norma and her rapist, Keith Summers were clothed, whereas the monsters in Outlast are nude, nothing explicit is shown. More is left to the imagination than is actually depicted. If Bates Motel can earn itself a TV-MA in the U.S., then Outlast 2 should not have any problems scoring an M rating from the ESRB. Ironically, the Australian CB rated Bates Motel MA15+.
That said, it is not guaranteed that Outlast 2 will not be censored in the United States. While the U.S. does not ban the sales of unrated media, the ESRB has used the Adults Only (AO) rating in the past to have games censored. The AO rating restricts the sale of the game to anyone under the age of 18. The M rating restricts the sale to anyone under 17. One would think that the one year age difference would not have much impact on the game developers. However, it is not the age gap that hurts them. It is that most stores refuse to sell AO-rated titles, which has an enormous financial impact on game companies, so they try to keep their titles rated M. Browsing social media photos shows that there has already been a move to change the original Outlast 2 upside-down cross logo.
If the CB’s ruling influences the ESRB, they could classify Outlast 2 AO for its sexual content, thus forcing the developer, Red Barrels, to remove Outlast 2‘s sexual content to achieve the M-rating that it desires. As of now, the game has not been rated, even though its release date is only a month away. Will the Australian ban influence the ESRB’s rating? We will have to wait and see.
Outlast 2 will be downloadable from the PlayStation and Xbox stores on April 25, 2017. There will also be a physical version of the game that contains the original Outlast, all of its expansions, and Outlast 2 that will hit stores on the same date.