Long-awaited dystopian survival title We Happy Few has been refused classification in Australia, which means the game cannot be legally sold in the country.
In New Zealand, the game received an R13 rating for "violence, drug use & offensive language".
As per the Classification Board’s website, We Happy Few been rejected under the Games 1(a) clause, which is reserved for a games that "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”.
Drug use in the game was the cause of the ban – the same thing that saw Fallout 3, Risen, State of Decay, and Saints Row IV originally outlawed.
In We Happy Few, the game’s populace are all on a hallucinogenic drug called "Joy" that makes them literally insanely happy. It also makes them attack anyone not on Joy. The player characters can take the drug to blend in, but doing so changes the nature of reality.
As per the Board’s report (via Kotaku):
A player that takes Joy can reduce gameplay difficulty, therefore receiving an incentive by progressing though the game quickly. Although there are alternative methods to complete the game, gameplay requires the player to take Joy to progress.
In one sequence, an NPC is viewed on the ground, convulsing owing to a reaction from taking a Joy pill, which has subsequently turned bad. After several NPCs encourage her to take Joy and she refuses, fearing that it will have an adverse effect, they beat her with steel pots and a shovel, until she is implicitly killed.
In another sequence, the player is seen in first-person view, entering a telephone box that contains three large pill dispensers, each holding a different flavoured Joy pill. The player consumes a Joy pill and a swarm of brightly-coloured butterflies appear as well as rainbows and coloured pathways on the ground, improving speed and visibility for the player.
In a blog post, developer Compulsion Games said it has asked for more information on the decision.
“To our Australian fans, we share your frustration. We will work with the ACB on the classification,” the studio wrote.
“If the government maintains its stance, we will make sure that you can get a refund, and we will work directly with affected Kickstarter backers to figure something out. We would appreciate if you give us a little bit of time to appeal the decision before making a call.”
Compulsion also commented on the irony of a game that explores censorship being banned.
“We Happy Few is set in a dystopian society, and the first scene consists of the player character redacting material that could cause offense to ‘society at large’, as part of his job as a government ‘archivist’,” it wrote.
“It’s a society that is forcing its citizens to take Joy, and the whole point of the game is to reject this programming and fight back. In this context, our game’s overarching social commentary is no different than Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, or Terry Gilliam's Brazil.
“The game explores a range of modern themes, including addiction, mental health and drug abuse. We have had hundreds of messages from fans appreciating the treatment we’ve given these topics, and we believe that when players do get into the world they’ll feel the same way. We’re proud of what we’ve created,” it added.
“We would like to respond to the thematic side of We Happy Few in more detail at a later date, as we believe it deserves more attention than a quick PR response. In the meantime we will be talking to the ACB to provide additional information, to discuss the issues in depth, and see whether they will change their minds.”