In space, no one can hear you scream. And in Starfield, no one can hear you having sex. That’s because, according to Australia’s’ Classification Board—the agency responsible for rating videogames and other entertainment media in the country—there is no sex to be had in that particular dark void of space.
Starfield has been rated R18+ in Australia, meaning that it “is restricted to adults as it contains content that is considered high in impact for viewers.” The rating arises from the presence of drug use in the game, which the board has rated as “high impact,” the highest rating possible.
Violence in Starfield is considered “strong impact,” which is only enough to justify an MA15+ rating, while the game’s themes and language are of “moderate impact,” meaning they’re “mature” but still legally accessible to people under the age of 15.
In other words, the simulated drug use is somehow worse than blasting a dude in the face with a shotgun while dropping f-bombs at the top of your voice. Makes me wonder what they’re smoking down under.
On the sex front, though, Starfield is squeaky clean: The Australian government says there is none at all. There is a spot of “very mild impact” nudity, however, so maybe we’ll see a flash of ankle or something amidst all the gunfights, death, and dismemberment. (And drug use. Heavy, heavy drug use.)
Videogame ratings have always been a little hairy: You can kill a man with a brick and probably still squeeze under a “Teen” rating (or its international equivalent), but uncover the wrong bit of skin for a few seconds and major retailers won’t even put your game on their shelves.
But even by that standard, Australia has always been a little hinky. For years, the country was notorious for banning even mildly “mature” videogames because of an oddity in the Classification Board’s rating system. The maximum available rating for games was MA15+, presumably because of the outdated impression that games are for kids. Whatever the justification, the ultimate result was that anything exceeding those guidelines couldn’t be rated because an appropriate rating didn’t exist—thus, the were “refused classification,” and banned.
Australia added at R18+ rating for games in 2013, which at the time was hailed as the end of its ban-happy ways. It slowed the rate of game bans, but definitely did not halt them: The past few years have seen bans of games including DayZ, Disco Elysium, and RimWorld. All those bans were imposed for the same reason as Starfield’s R18+ rating—drug use—which also almost led to a ban of Wasteland 3 over the presence of “Rocky Mountain Moongrass.” Developer inXile Entertainment opted to cut the grass in order to avoid that particular fate, and the other bans were also eventually overturned on appeal.
Starfield is currently set to come out on September 6. I’ve reached out to Bethesda to confirm the absence of interstellar intercourse and will update if I receive a reply.