Australia has received the green-light for an R18+ rating for video games, but many people are still unsure of what this means for them as gamers. Will this lead to MA15+ games being bumped up into the R18+ category? Will formerly Refused Classification games suddenly make it through with an R18+ rating? We looked into the Classification Act to find out.
The Classification Act (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 is a document that explicitly details the rules and procedures for content classification. The only way that The Act can be circumvented is if there is a change in legislation. With this in mind, we ventured into The Act to look for answers to common questions that have emerged since the government announced that we would be receiving an R18+ rating.
The information provided here is based on current legislation and does not take into account what might change in the future. We also spoke with a former member of The Classification Board for some background information.
If a game has just been classified and it received an MA15+ rating when it really should have received an R18+ rating, will the introduction of the R18+ bump it from an MA15+ game to an R18+ game?
No. The Classification Board cannot re-classify a game until two years have lapsed since the original classification. So if a game called Saints Theft Auto V was classified as MA15+ today and we receive an R18+ rating tomorrow, The Board cannot reclassify the game until two years have passed. This doesn’t mean that the classification can’t be reviewed or appealed, but we’ll talk more about this later.
If a game has been Refused Classification, can it be re-submitted for classification when we receive an R18+ rating?
Yes, but it would still have to wait for two years after the original classification period before it can be re-classified.
If there has been a change made to the game, whether it be a big change or a small one, then it may be re-submitted as an entirely new product. The game does not have to change its name, but the contents must be different in some way.
When we spoke to a former member of The Classification Board, he gave us an example of the film Ice Age, which was submitted to The Classification Board three times for classification. The name remained the same but each submission showed the film in a different stage of production, so they were considered separate products.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it costs publishers money to submit games for classification, so if they don’t think a game will sell well then there may not be much incentive for them to re-submit it for classification.
Can you give me an example of a change a game could make to be considered a ‘new’ game?
It could be any type of content change, whether it is in the form of new maps, different dialogue, new skins or clothes for the characters, etc. The example we received from the former Classification Board member involved DLC. If an RC game was “joined” with an add-on to create a new game, that new game could just go through a normal classification process. So if a distributor/publisher thought that their Refused Classification game would fit into the new R18+, they could join it with a DLC level, weapons, and skins onto the one disc and submit it as a fresh classification application and use the name of the original game, or maybe call it a “limited edition”.
So what needs to happen for a game to be reclassified? Will MA15+ games automatically get reclassified when we receive an R18+ rating?
The Act stipulates that there are several ways a reclassification can take place (although all must respect the two year waiting period).
The Board can reclassify a game at its own initiative, although there is not a lot of precedent this happening.
The Board must reclassify a game if a Federal Minister makes a request. A State or Territory Censorship Minister can ask the Federal Minister (in writing) to make a request to The Board, in which case The Board must also re-classify a game.
Dead or Alive: Dimensions got reclassified before the two year period! What’s the deal with that?
The two year restriction does not apply if The Board discovers contentious material in the game that was not disclosed at the time the game was originally classified. So in the case of Dead or Alive: Dimensions, the version of the game that was released in Australia did not mention that the girls in the game were underage, whereas the Swedish version did. With this new information in mind, The Board then revoked the game’s original classification and it subsequently received a new rating.
What about games like Manhunt and Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure? They were rated MA15+ and then Phillip Ruddock got The Classification Board to ban them. Can politicians do whatever they want?
Now we’re talking about appeals, which are different to classifications. Appeals (known as “reviews” under the National Classification Scheme) can be requested by the Federal Censorship Minister for any Classification Board decisions. A different Board, known as The Classification Review Board hears reviews. If any censorship minister asks the Federal Minister to ask the Review Board for a review of a classification, he/she must do so.
A “person aggrieved” can apply to the Review Board to review a Classification Board decision, but there is a time limit for the person aggrieved and there is a legislative test for a person or organisation to meet the definition of a person aggrieved.
Manhunt and Marc Ecko’s Getting Up were not “re-classified”; they were reviewed by the Review Board and had their classification changed from MA15+ to RC.
So politicians and ‘aggrieved persons’ can lodge appeals against classification decisions they’re not happy with … can publishers do the same?
Yes, a publisher can appeal a decision made by The Classification Board. One example is SEGA’s appeal after Alien vs. Predator was Refused Classification in Australia. We asked SEGA Australia what the appeal process was, and they said that it they had to follow the procedures set out by the Classification Operations Branch, which involved providing a first-hand demonstration of the game to board members so as to show them material in the game played in the correct contextual environment.
SEGA have confirmed that they intend to appeal the classification decision for House of the Dead: Overkill – Extended Cut.