I’ve spent a lot of the day teaching about the BBFC (including a mention of its video game role), but now I see some recent developments regarding one particular game, which might go into the next version of this particular class. Many readers have probably read at least one story over the last fortnight about We Dare, a forthcoming release for the Wii by developer Ubisoft. Here’s the official site – it did have an embedded trailer, which we will talk about in this post, but that has now been set to ‘private’ and doesn’t work (edit: apparently because PEGI criticised it). The Internet does deliver, of course, so a copy is available here. Update: see also this later video which has some gameplay footage.

The trailer has been the subject of many reports. See for example the Australian take on the story, where the Herald Sun refers to the game’s PG classification, and helpfully explains the ‘RAUNCHY video game that encourages players to spank, kiss and strip each other‘. Another Australian source, a blog on the Sydney Morning Herald site, compared its rating with the decision not to classify (and thus to prevent the sale of) Mortal Kombat; this is a good article which also reviews the censorship process more generally. Meanwhile, the Independent in the UK (article here) relied on YouTube comments (I wish I was joking, but I’m not) as the main sources for its article, again with plenty of links for the curious. The Register’s take is characteristically sarcastic, while a number of gaming news websites have also supplied detailed coverage, including the response of PEGI (the pan-European classification body, self-regulatory but also recognised in some cases as statutory, including (proposed) in the UK next year). See cubed3 and also IGN.

One useful publication (not clear whether this is routine or leaked) is the Australian authority’s reasons for its decision, published by the Sydney Morning Herald here. It does appear clear (although no decision has been published) that PEGI was standing over its rating (of 12). As I used to my advantage in teaching, one good practice of the modern BBFC in the UK is publication of information (including extended classification information in a limited number of cases) on the reasons for decisions – important for ECHR compliance as well as for various other purposes. I would prefer if information on all decisions was published (access to files is possible after 20 years), although part of that is to satisfy my own academic research needs). So it’s good to see PEGI defending its decision in the press, but no substitute for regular release of detailed information.

But the special prize, of course, goes to the Daily Mail, for its report: ‘Explicit’ striptease Wii game is approved for children as young as 12, written by DAILY MAIL REPORTER (interesting name). They find some parents who are outraged, including one who doesn’t like the idea of lesbianism in one version of the trailer (yes, that’s right, playing games makes your kids turn gay), and another who suggests that the game will lead to sexual assault. All of this seems to have had an impact, though, and the game (and its flirty fun and Wiimote-related spanking) will not be released in the UK, according to this recent report.

So what have we learned? It does seem (from the report and from what we learn about the gameplay from the (fairly eyebrow-raising) Web trailer) that the controversial stuff is off-screen – and that the game could be played (on your own, har har) without a lot of the dancing, stripping and all that. (Like the people who play Dance Dance Revolution in an arcade by concentrating on the score rather than looking good, and yes, that would be me). And it seems as if PEGI and the Australian classification authority focused their attention on gameplay rather than the surrounding stuff (indeed, they wouldn’t have seen the trailer). But it also illustrates some of the themes in the recently-passed UK debate on the BBFC and the move to a PEGI-focused system, and also the idea that political and media reactions are still very important features of game regulation. The bit I can’t figure out is what UbiSoft were up to – was this all an attempt to stir up controversy? How serious was the intention to put it in the UK market? Was this a teaser trailer that got out of control and gave them a PR problem that had to be dealt with?

While I can see there are some concerns about the ‘mature’ themes of the game, I would also have been concerned if the classification authority (particularly as the bar for statutory classification with criminal penalties is about to move lower in the UK) were to take trailers or intentions into account – that could be a dangerous step – and in the case (for example) of cinema, trailers are regulated separately (PEGI has advertising guidelines too) and do not influence the decision on the ‘main work’. I have also argued in the past that there may be room for considering gameplay (rather than what may have in the past been a preference for visual depiction), but the expansive approach is (perhaps) a warning of what this might lead to!

It’s unusual to have a sex-related fuss over games – it’s usually violence that gets this type of debate going. But ultimately, the reaction has been a mixture of amusement (gamers) and faux-outrage (much of the English press) and ultimately suspected panic (the developer). Wii will no doubt see this again.