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Game case study - Dead or Alive: Dimensions

High kicks in short skirts

This controversial game was given the classification M: contains violence and nudity.

People were concerned when the game Dead or Alive: Dimensions came to New Zealand carrying a PG label. In June 2011 there were a number of stories in the New Zealand media around the release of Dead or Alive: Dimensions - raising concerns that it contained 'pornographic' material unsuitable for a PG rating. Articles ran in newspapers and on websites with headings such as "'Child porn' game sells fast under PG rating".

Most of the concern related to the outfits worn by some of the game's female characters, and a 'Showcase' mode in which the player can position 3D models of the characters on a stage and take 'photos' of them.

The game was reportedly banned in Sweden, and had been pulled from Australian shelves while the Australian Classification Board reconsidered the PG rating they had assigned the game.

The game

Dead or Alive: Dimensions is the latest in a long series of games.

Dimensions is the 15th game in the Dead or Alive series. The series focuses on fast-paced gameplay in a three dimensional playing field. The game involves martial arts style fighting with the use of hand to hand combat with other opponents who must be defeated to progress through the game. Fighting involves pushing different combinations of buttons to affect various punches, kicks and throws.

The game did not have a New Zealand classification.

Under New Zealand's Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, unrestricted video games (games with content that fits G, PG or M classifications) are not required to get a New Zealand label. Instead, they are allowed to carry classification labels from other countries. This is how the video game Dead or Alive: Dimensions came to New Zealand carrying a PG label from Australia.

Classification considerations

The Chief Censor called the game in for classification.

As a result of the concern surrounding the game, the Chief Censor called it in to be classified using New Zealand's classification criteria. In classifying the game, the Classification Office considered whether the game contained matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, or violence.

Matters such as sex:

In the game itself, the female characters sometimes have costumes that are revealing, occasionally affording glimpses of developed cleavage, part of the buttocks, thighs, or underpants... This is a very minor element of the game, and the depictions are fleeting... During game play the player's focus is required to be on the manipulation of controls for fighting. Fast action frequently obscures character detail. Such elements further limit the significance of the revealing costumes.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision

Matters such as horror:

Some of the scenarios are mildly horrific, involving malevolent mutant creatures with advanced fighting skills, rendered with moderate detail on a small screen. It is obvious and far-fetched fantasy.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision

Matters such as cruelty:

Matters of cruelty are a minor element.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision

Matters such as violence:

Matters of violence are extensive but not graphic.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision

After considering whether these things are in the game, the Classification Office must then consider how they are presented.

When determining whether or not a game should be classified as banned, restricted, or unrestricted, the Classification Office has to give particular weight to the extent, degree and the manner in which the game depicts sex, horror, crime, cruelty and violence.

  • Extent is the running time - how long is this game depicting acts of violence?
  • Degree is intensity - how intensely is the game dealing with matters of sex?
  • Manner - what is the manner in which this game is depicting violence? Is it for entertainment? Is it a serious treatment of the harmful effects of violence? Is it educational?

The game is based around generally non-graphic bouts of fighting, with many un-detailed depictions of the infliction of serious physical harm. The realism of these depictions is limited - unrealistic fantasy elements are used in the depictions of fighting, in the plot, and in the scenarios on which the plot depends. The game play does not focus on injuries to the characters. The science-fiction and fantasy setting adds to the lack of realism in the game.

In one cut scene a male character is seen holding a female character, against her will. While holding her he makes the following comments: "How 'bout a drink, pretty little thing?" and "Aw, loosen up. I'll show you what a real man's like". This male character is soon disarmed by the intervention of another male character, and the female character escapes. The Classification Office determined that this material was of limited extent and degree.

Offensive language is also part of the classification criteria that must be considered when classifying a game. Dead or Alive: Dimensions does not contain any highly offensive language.

In addition to the content of the game, the Classification Office has to think about additional things:

The criteria Dead or Alive: Dimensions
The dominant effect of the publication as a whole. The dominant effect is of a 3D fantasy fighting video game requiring good dexterity and fast reactions from the player, and featuring some heroic female avatars.
The impact of the medium in which the publication is presented. The game requires player interaction, and creates an immersive environment. Any graphic material can be enhanced by the 3D setting, although is in turn limited by the cartoon-like depictions, and small screen size.
The character of the publication, including any merit, value or importance it has in relation to literary, artistic, social, cultural, educational, scientific or other matters. The game has social merit. It is well produced and highly popular.
The persons, classes of persons, or age groups of the persons to whom the publication is intended or is likely to be made available. The content, such as adult game characters, indicates a mature intended audience.
The purpose for which the publication is intended to be used. The publication is intended to be used for entertainment.
Any other relevant circumstances relating to the intended or likely use of the publication. The game is currently being sold by New Zealand retailers.

Before deciding what classification to give a game, the Classification Office must also consider the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 states that everyone has "the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form". Under section 5 of the NZBR Act, this freedom is subject "only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society".

The impact of the Bill of Rights on the classification system is that if, after having applied all the classification criteria, the Classification Office is uncertain about which classification to assign (such as R16 or R13), the freedom of expression tells us to choose the lighter of the two classifications - so choose R13.

By giving a game an unrestricted classification (of G, PG, or M) the rights and freedoms in section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act are not impeded in any way.

Classification Office decision

Dead or Alive: Dimensions was classified as unrestricted M.

After applying New Zealand's classification criteria, Dead or Alive: Dimensions was classified M, with the descriptive note 'contains violence and nudity'. The M classification means that the game is unrestricted - meaning anyone can play it - but it is recommended for a mature audience 16 and over.

There are a small number of depictions of women in costumes that are revealing... Such depictions are brief, or require determined effort to see, and are lacking in significant detail. They are mild and incidental to game play. Children and teenagers are therefore unlikely to be harmed by the mildly sexualised material.

The violence is also mild, but extensive. Repeated bouts of martial arts fighting are fundamental to the game. The fantasy representation is mostly cartoon-like and unrealistic, with a focus on deft manipulation of controls. The violence, limited in graphic detail, will not inure or disturb most children or teenagers. As such the unrestricted availability of the game is unlikely to be injurious to the public good. The game's content indicates a mature intended audience.

Office of Film and Literature Classification decision

Classification Office's reasons for the unrestricted M classification of Dead or Alive: Dimensions (PDF, 201KB)

Game case studies

Dead or Alive: Dimensions cover art

The 3D doesn't play a big part in DoAD, but it does look nice. It's also fun to see a ninja hand jumping out at you after your character wins a match. And, as anyone who's ever played a Team Ninja game would expect, the 3D also adds extra dimension to certain female body parts.

Audrey Drake, IGN.com

Useful links

Screenshots from the game

A screenshot from the game of two scantily-clad ninja warrior women
Half-sisters Kasumi and Ayane
A screenshot from the game of two female warriors fighting
Warrior battle
A screenshot from the game of a female warrior high-kicking a male warrior and lifting him off his feet
High kicks
A screenshot from the game of a female warrior holding a sword in an aggressive pose
Sword in hand
A screenshot from the game of a female warrior being lifted high into the air by a large nija warrior with his hand around her throat
Unequal fight

Classification

M classification label
M: contains violence and nudity