As you probably know Australia can be very difficult to get a foot-hold on (unless you’re a mobile game, then anything goes) with its somewhat draconian rules for permissible content.
Enter We Happy Few, a controversial little title residing in development hell for years now. It initially started as a Kickstarter crowd-funding project, but was subsequently picked up by Microsoft, which is where the controversy starts, as many believe that to go against the principles of crowd-funding. We Happy Few, being an international project, has people in Australia interested in the game.
Which is a big issue because Australia has a strict no entrance policy for games depicting drugs “in a positive light”, but frankly, anything that isn’t an anti-drug PSA won’t get approved. Not that it won’t get an 18+ rating, which only exists for 4 years now, it’s that it won’t get approved AT ALL.
Which is where things get tricky. We Happy Few very much uses drugs both as a narrative tool and as core mechanics but to say that it shows drugs in positive light is a rather huge oversimplification. In We Happy Few taking the drug Joy can be required at times and the world will react with hostility if you don’t, but it has a host of adverse effects of its own, limiting your perspective on the crazy town and causing dehydration.
The Australian Classification Board initially rejected We Happy Few. This decision has been appealed however and finally, they agreed to let We Happy Few in, slapping an 18+ rating on it. Curiously they admitted that their regulations are the issue, because if the game didn’t feature drug use, it would easily get away with 15+ rating.
This is perhaps a good sign of Australia, a staunchly defensive country when it comes to video games, warming up to them over the years. It’s gonna take a while though.