Yesterday, I reported on the fact that We Happy Few was refused classification in Australia. The information available on the Classification Board’s website was vague, but referenced item 1(a) of the computer games table of the Code.
Item 1(a) reads;
Computer games that:
(a) depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified; will be Refused Classification.
Computer games that exceed the R18+ classification category will be Refused Classification.
Computer Games will be Refused Classification if they include or contain “drug use related to
incentives and rewards
We Happy Few Refused Classification
According to the Australian Classification Board’s Decision Report, which PowerUp! has obtained, We Happy Few was refused classification due to “drug use related to incentives and rewards.”
In We Happy Few, players are put into the shoes of a resident of Wellington Wells. This fictional English town is inhabited by townspeople who all take the fictional drug “Joy.” This government mandated drug can be taken by the player character and offers a variety of benefits.
As per the Board’s report;
Players have the option to conform with NPCs and take Joy pills when exploring the Village or Parade District areas of the game.
If a player has not taken Joy, NPCs become hostile towards the player if they perform behaviours including running, jumping and staring.
An NPC character called the Doctor can detect when the player has not taken Joy and will subsequently raise an alarm. A player that takes Joy can reduce gameplay difficulty, therefore receiving an incentive by progressing through the game quickly.
Although there are alternative methods to complete the game, gameplay requires the player to take Joy to progress.
Another sequence referred to in the decision is where an NPC refuses to take Joy and is beaten to death by other NPCs because of her refusal.
No Drugs for You
It’s clear that We Happy Few’s Joy mechanic is the bugbear for the Classification Board with the final decision reading;
In the Board’s opinion, the game’s drug-use mechanic making game progression less difficult constitutes an incentive or reward for drug-use and therefore, the game exceeds the R 18+ classification that states, “drug use related to incentives and rewards is not permitted”.
Therefore, the game warrants being Refused Classification.
We’ve seen games banned before due to drug use, such as Fallout 3. In that case, Morphine was renamed Med-X for the Australian release and classification was granted.
The difference with We Happy Few is that the drug taking, while fictional, is almost a requirement and grants explicit benefits to the player. While it may seem over-the-top, the decision is in line with the current guidelines.
I’ve reached out to Gearbox Publishing for comment.