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Legal Restrictions on Drugs and Smoking in Games (International)

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I'm trying to get a feel for how the laws are in various countries when it comes to the inclusion of smoking and drug abuse in computer games. A big part of my company's current title is the use of prescribed medication. However, the use of illegal drugs is also going to be a smaller part of the game at times; our intention is that the game will include characters (but not the player) smoking and taking illegal drugs occasionally. The game is not supposed to make these activities seem glamorous - in fact, it is rather the opposite; drug abuse (including smoking) is punishable by death in the game's setting, whilst those wishing to risk this punishment always have to sneak away to partake. The player is actively encouraged to grass on drug abusers, with every intention of them being given the death penalty as a result. There is, however, one exception to this. One of the game's plotlines will see the player involved heavily in the underground drug scene, and for purposes of storyline the activity may need to be glorified somewhat. The player will most likely sympathise with drug abusers, and become one (in written story but not graphically). So in short, we have occasional, graphically-detailed drug-use (bongs, smoking, pills, possibly - but very unlikely - injections) that is almost always made to look bad, with the occasional plot-necessary glorification. My questions are: What legal restrictions are there in various countries (especially the ones with bigger game markets) regarding the display of drug abuse in games (not just reference to it, but physically showing it)? I am, unfortunately, anticipating this as something that will be met with age restrictions in some countries and outright bans in others... If such legal restrictions are going to affect the number of people who can legally purchase our product, what kind of changes would be required to make our product more acceptable? Any help on this is greatly appreciated - it's one of those things that is far easier to change now than it will be later on. Thanks.

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No restrictions in the US.

And there is no need to de-glamorize drugs. You can make a game about anything (within copyright) you want about any subject you want. At most, it might earn you a Mature or Adult Only rating from the ESRB (if you even submit to them), but there are no laws that say you can't make a game about drugs in any context.

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Brilliant! Thanks for the US info there...

Anybody have any facts for other countries?

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Some countries will ban your game. I remmeber that Australia banned GTA3 because of the violence and stuff.
Various islamic countries will most likely ban it as well, and Germany also banned some violent games or required their makers to change the color of the blood to green, etc.
If I were you, I wouldn't worry about it. If you sell it online, you don't have to worry who buys it. Is not like a country can demand you not to allow buyers in their country buy your game.

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Accurate information on law requres --- wait for it --- lawyers!

If you have an indie game, most countries could probably care less. Big games like GTA were banned in different countries, but if somebody brought the game in, it (probably) isn't the developer or publisher that is going to be in trouble.

Finally, based on the information at the web site found in your signature, if you end up doing a fan-fiction based game you might want to check with the owner of the materials just to be sure they don't have problems with it.

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Frob: Hmm... what was that you said? Something about blood-sucking leaches?! I'd actually be tempted to release it as we want it, then tone down anything for those countries that make noise about it. (And, shameless as it may sound, the noise could also whip up some free publicity - always useful!)

As for the sig - that's entirely unrelated, just my other passion that I like to put in the occasional advert for :)

WillC: Thanks very much for the European info - despite being British, I've never actually heard of PEGI! I shall make sure to visit that site first thing in the morning.

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Now that I've checked the PEGI site, I can see that I have seen their system in use, but never realises what it was called before.

The PEGI system is voluntary and does not force retailers or consumers to follow the rating system. To be frank, I'm very tempted not to use it if possible - the system seems far too harsh and inflexible. To reiterate my previous example, the game must be rated 18+ because of the 'glamorisation of drugs' even though ninety percent of the time the message is clearly the opposite. Taking into account the fact that the rest of the game would probably manage a 12+ rating, I'm not entirely sure this serves to reflect the product very well at all...

Still, I have garnered some useful information from the article, including the fact that the content in the game means it will require certification in the UK, and that there are specific laws in Germany that must also be adhered to :)

Thanks once again.

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The system might be voluntary, but at least in the US the retailers will not sell unrated games.
If you distribute it yourself, on the other hand, they can't do much about it.
I share the same view about rating systems.

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I suspected you might say that - that's what I meant by "I'm very tempted not to use it if possible" - I'm equally concerned about publishers not wanting to touch it. That said, our distribution methods are far from set in stone at this time.

Do you know where I could find similar guides for the US, then, as that is a rather major market. If toning down relatively minor aspects is going to have a major impact on who will sell the game (let alone buy it), it's something I'm of course willing to look at.

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