Meet The Man Who Could Revolutionise Game Classification In Australia

Just recently the Classification Review presented its first proposals for discussion - proposals that completely surprised us. Allowing for industry co-regulation, admitting the failures of the Classification Act - why was everyone making sense all of a sudden? We decided to talk to Terry Flew, chair of the Classification Review, for more insight. Meet the man who wants to revolutionise video game classification in Australia.

We all know the feeling. It's so easy to get defensive, to feel misunderstood. As gamers it often feels like a default position - particularly when discussing video game classification in Australia.

For so long it felt as though the message was lost in translation - the end result of some insurmountable generation gap. When speaking to people about classification we prepare for some level of ignorance, prepare to navigate it. Our default position is defence.

But then, miraculously, there are those precious few moments when that position is completely subverted.

Enter Professor Terry Flew. Terry is a Professor of Media and Communication at Queensland University of Technology but, more importantly, Terry is chairing the National Classification Review - a review which could very well transform Australia's classification scheme at the root - dragging it kicking and screaming from a pre-internet era to a hyper post modern reality, where content is fluid, where video games are treated equally and media platforms dissolved.

If Terry Flew has his way, he could revolutionise the way video games are classified in Australia.

Understanding Games

When it comes to the games industry, Terry is reassuringly well informed.

"You know, it’s very important for a body like the ALRC to understand the the industry it's analysing," says Terry. "It is important for us to be informed about the industries around which we’re supposed to be making recommendations. We have to aware, for example, of any economic cost benefit that may arise from recommendations that we make, and to recognise the importance of the industry whose products are classified."

In a sense it's Terry's job to be aware of the community's issues with regards to classification - the report he sends back to the government in early 2012 will be heavily informed by submissions from those engaged with the issue - but there is the sense that he's really gone above and beyond. The R18+ issue mobilised Australian gamers in a way that was almost unheard of previously, and Terry is well aware of the stakes.

"One of the things we were aware of from the outset taking on the inquiry," begins Terry, "was that there was considerable dissatisfaction with the R18 classification issue - that this issue had been on the agenda for over a decade and, as you may well be aware, gamers were a very important group in making submissions to this enquiry. So we’re certainly aware of the importance of the issue."

According to Terry, R18+ was an issue that really exemplified and exposed the difficulties of using 20 year old legislation to navigate a post-internet age.

"The issue around R18 computer games was an important one, not just in terms of the gaming sector itself but in terms of ratings and wider concerns over what might be termed the platform specific nature of classificaion that we have," he continues, "like the assumption we should treat games differently to other forms of media.

"Issues like the over classification of some media, and the absence of classification in other types of media are also pertinent. The most obvious one being that console based games are classified by the classification board, but mobile games are largely unclassified. We want to work from the assumption that classification doesn’t work on the basis that one platform gets classified more than the other."

Terry himself envisages a classification scheme that takes a far less static approach to platforms and content.

"It really doesn’t make sense to be drawing upon the platform based distinctions that the system currently has. So with the discussion paper currently released we have identified potential future guiding principles that say, where possible, classification should be as platform neutral as possible."

In other words, if Terry has his way, we won't have to worry about games being treated differently when compared to other types of media.

The Moral Panic

We mention to Terry that much of the frustration felt by gamers was spurred by the overwhelming feeling that gaming, as a hobby and a culture, was being discriminated against, compared to more traditional forms of media, like movies or television.

Again, Terry understands - which is encouraging considering the power he has to change how games classification will function. He blames our current situation on what was a fundamental misunderstanding back when the Classification Scheme was first drafted.

"Games have an interesting status in terms of the Classification Scheme in two respects," claims Terry. "Firstly, the assumption that computer games were considered to be more akin to films and broadcasting proved to be historically significant – you have to remember that decisions were being made in what was largely a pre-internet era.

"Secondly there was a range of what some sociologists and others call ‘moral panics’, particularly with regards to the interactive nature of games. There was the idea that games impacted on individual behaviour," he continues.

"This was all, in a sense, amateur psychology - before anyone was playing the kind of games with which we would eventually become familiar. But there was a sort pre-emptive set of assumptions made about the impact of interactivity that continued to resonate through the decisions being made about video game classification."

Future Proofing

But it's difficult to blame the ALRC, whose initial recommendations became the framework of the Classification Act in 1995. It's difficult to future proof legislation in general, but that's the challenge that Terry and the Classification Review faces - creating the groundwork for a new Classification Scheme that will remain relevant for the next 20 years.

"In terms of future proofing – it’s a very obvious challenge. It can be quite foolhardy to try and predict what’s going to come in the media space over the next two to three years – let alone 15-20 years. I think an important point we endeavour to make in the discussion paper is the value of guiding principles – recognising the balances that a classification scheme deals with, while thinking in terms of cost effectiveness. We need legislation that can be adapted, minimising the way legislation is tied to particular platforms – trying to avoid broken concepts."

According to Terry, the main focus of any new classification scheme should be clarity and focus - making the best use of limited resources is another priority.

"I think we need a certain clarity of view in regulatory purpose," says Terry. "Given the proliferation of media content, and given the fluid nature of the relationships between media content providers and users , resources need to be focused on areas of the greatest public concern."

One Step At A Time

Allowing the games industry to co-regulate is one way of managing those resources - allowing the Classification Board space and time to focus on borderline titles that require extra attention.

"We're recommending that games classified MA15+ and above should continue to be classified by the board," claims Terry, "but games below that? Well, we believe that classification responsibilities should be devolved to industry itself."

That simple distinction could increase the efficiency of the Classification Board by a huge margin.

"In terms of resource implications, we estimate that distinction would reduce the work of the Classification Board by about 80%," says Terry. "In a lot of these instances classification is going to be quite self evident - I don’t think we need a large amount of activity around how we classify Nintendogs!

"Of course games like Grand Theft Auto or Mortal Kombat, for example, there is sufficient public interest in being sure there are third parties involved in that process, so we are recommending that be the focus of the Classification Board."

If we want sensible, pragmatic solutions to the problems caused by video game classification in Australia, then convincing Terry Flew is a solid first step. Now it's simply a matter of convincing Government that such proposals make sense - which may be more difficult considering the vocal opposition of certain constituencies and lobby groups.

"In terms of the larger uptake of the proposals, we certainly consult with the relevant government agencies in an ongoing way throughout the course of the enquiry," states Terry. "There’s always value to presenting findings that come from an evidential base instead of just suppositions and what not.

"But I think it’s important to be aware that the enquiry process and the policy making process work to completely different rhythms - so the question of government uptake is something that will occur subsequent to the release of the report. Our role is to bring out the evidence base and community views. We bring our legal expertise to questions of what a suitable legislative base for classification could look like.

"But quite rightly, final decisions of what form that takes are determined through the political process," he says finally. "And that can take some time."


Comments

    Hi 21st century views, we are still stuck in the 20th century.....

    That was as refreshing as a sea breeze full of mojitos.

    I'm so glad this guy has taken this on, he appears to be fully versed with both sides of the coin and I cannot see any real bias in his responses!

    Terry, you are now my favorite person ever and i am sending you a telepathic high-five for your modern day rationale and understanding.

    Excellent article. Sooooooooooooooo whens the R rating implemented?

    Great article Mark. It's good to know that those responsible for everything going forward are well aware of what was so wrong in the past.

      Also
      "I don’t think we need a large amount of activity around how we classify Nintendogs!"

      I think he underestimates the physcological impact of Nintendogs
      http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/03/the-3ds-diaries-day-two/

      RIP Poopy

        RIP Poopy

    A great read, thanks Mark. Good the see that a fellow - far more decorated - QUT alum is looking after this process.

    great read this guy sounds awesome and i agree to third parties be involved aslong as their not involved with the ACL,family first or anything similar because ya know family first premotes unprotected sex by banning condom advertisments off topic but somewhat releted XD

      not even true, they just didn't want condom ads at bus stops where kids frequent.

    Prediction: he will table an excellent report outlining a much-needed change to the system which will benefit everyone.

    The government will thank him for his work, and then proceed to ignore him, implementing their own hacky system to effectively do absolutely nothing on the issue, declare the problem 'fixed' and put it to bed for another decade.

      No wonder they call you NegativeZero!

    "We’re recommending that games classified MA15+ and above should continue to be classified by the board,” claims Terry, “but games below that? Well, we believe that classification responsibilities should be devolved to industry itself."

    Wow. That... that sounds ingeniously simple.

      Not to mention cost effective. I'm sure there are plenty of developers who are put off by the cost of classification or even cancel their release here (see Shantae: Risky's Revenge). Those costs are so much better spent on developing or marketing these games.

        How do you decide, though, what's an MA game and what's an M game? If in doubt, rate it?

          The way I would imagine it working is that if a title is put through at an M rating (which would not require the classification board to look at it, assuming that there will be distinct M and MA categories), and enough complaints are put forward that the game is not suitable for the rating it has, not only would all copies of the title need to be removed from sale until the rating issue is cleared up (which would cause all sorts of issues for retailers, publishers and the developers), but if the title is found to require a higher rating, the title would either need to be reclassified before it can be put back on sale, or the developers would need to make changes to the title in order to get it back to the original rating (if they wish to go this route). On top of that, I imagine they would have to pay the Classifications Board a fee in order for this process to occur as well, as any developer who wishes for their title to be reviewed that would be rated MA or above would have to do.

          2K lost a ton of money on the whole San Andreas 'Hot Coffee' fiasco, so I imagine this would be a great deterrent to developers attempting to slip titles through at a lower rating than they should be, while saving the honest developers money on titles that don't require classification by the Board, and the Classification Board time and money which could go towards dedicating the time to rating MA and higher titles correctly and fairly.

    “Of course games like Grand Theft Auto or Mortal Kombat, for example, there is sufficient public interest in being sure there are third parties involved in that process, so we are recommending that be the focus of the Classification Board.”

    So long as there are multiple third parties... from different ends of the spectrum.

      Please, please, please, please, please do not let ACL or Famly First be involved.

    Rational, level headed view of not only the broken classification system for games but for the entire system as a whole. I had really forgotten what it was like to have someone like this weigh in on the R18+ plus debate.

    I love the idea of letting the industry self regulate games below MA15+, that makes it so much easier for independent developers in the Australian market.

    This article has made my day :D

    I want this man to father my children.

      I want this man to father your children as well.

      So good to see someone not affilliated with the Panic Peddlers making the decisions.

    sounds good, i tend to space out reading political mumbo jumbo but i got the gist and im happy. I guess by industry regulated ratings he means devs will decide? It makes sense to basically ignore the games rated under MA15, its a simple idea but if it actually saves the ALRC from all that work then do it!

    Even with more people devoted to MA15 and higher, that's 20% of the funding.

    Even if that increases, you're slashing total game classification funding in HALF.

    How can the government NOT love an increased surplus?

    Wow, this came out of left field. I almost didnt read this article, because I was looking on my phone and couldn't see the Samus/Snake high 5. I was thinking this was going to be another negative article about someone tearing the classification scheme to pieces.

    Thankfully I did read it, and now I'm actually confident going forward that this will get resolved positively.

    Excellent write-up Mark, you're doing a fantastic job, as usual

    Actions speak louder than words.

    I've been a big fan of his for a long time. I used to study Terry's books in university. He's got an excellent head for media and really knows what he is doing.

    I can't even begin to describe how happy I am that he of all people landed this position. The best person for the job by a mile.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now