South Australia's Attorney General Challenges The Classification Of 12 Video Games

We've just received word that the John Rau, the Attorney General for South Australia, has raised concerns regarding 12 video games previously rated by the Australian Classification Board and has asked the board to review these decisions.

This is consistent with earlier statements made by John Rau. In September this year he complained that up to 13 games were classified MA15+ in Australia despite receiving adult classifications in other countries. At that time he challenged the Attorney General to "have a look at the way the Australian Classification Board is assessing these games and assure the community that the rules are being applied appropriately."

John Rau was keen to state that he wasn't suggesting the government "remove R18+ games from circulation", merely asking for the ratings to be applied more stringently. He did mention, however, in a press release sent out in September of this year that the lobby group Australian Council on Children and the Media had alerted him to the issue of these games.

"It is quite obvious to me that some games should only be played by adults," he said back then.

"Unlike movies, children can be active participants in the content of video games and the effects, whilst largely disputed, can not be positive."

The games up for review are as follows:

- Alien Rage - Borderlands 2 Expansion Packs - Company of Heroes 2 - Deadly Premonition: Director’s Cut - Deadpool - Fuse - Gears of War: Judgement - God Mode - Killer is Dead - Splinter Cell Blacklist - The Walking Dead - The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct

All 12 of these games were rated 18 by PEGI in Europe and 17+ by the ESRB in the US.

Ron Curry, CEO of the iGEA, expressed his shock at the review. None of the games listed had received any consumer complaints for incorrect classification. The cost of reviewing the classification of 12 video games, the iGEA informed us, was upwards of $330,000.

"Most people don’t realise that before a video game lands on a store shelf, it has already been rigorously examined against a set of guidelines set out by our Government," explained Curry. "In fact, Australia is one of the few developed nations to have classification guidelines determined by Government.

"Not only have these games already been examined against stringent guidelines, we also haven’t heard of any formal complaints made by parents or adults who think the video games are wrongly classified. The review is a hundred thousand dollar exercise to satisfy a vocal yet unrepresentative minority."

Each of the 12 games listed above were given higher classification in different countries but, according to Ron Curry, that isn't an issue: each country's system is designed to appeal to specific cultural differences within that country. These games were classified based on an existing set of guidelines which John Rau himself agreed upon.

"[We] need to realise each classification scheme is structured differently and takes into account cultural differences," he said.

Ron Curry and the iGEA believe this review is reflective of a broken classification system. The ALRC has already recommended that a vast majority of classification be industry led, but that review also called for a complete restructuring of the system of classification in this country.

"This is an example highlighted by the Australian Law Reform Commission of the dysfunctional nature of Australia’s classification system," said Ron. "Like the ALRC, IGEA calls for the urgent modernising and nationalising of content classification in Australia."


Comments

    I'd be absolutely bloody amazed if he's played them and knows the extent and context of the content that he finds objectional.

      There was no specific content identified as objectionable. It was all about comparing our classification decisions to ESRB (US) and PEGI (Eur). They ignored NZ which were close to our decisions and omitted that the US classification isn't their 18+ classification.

        A lot of people need to understand it is kind of disingenuous to compare our rating system to it's international counterparts. The ESRB, PEGI and even the CERO are all fundamentally different in how they rate games and even what their ratings stand for.

        What the ACCM would like you to believe is that if the ESRB has given a game their 'M' rating then it should likewise be rated R18+ here, there is two things wrong with this idea. The ESRB 'M' is not adult only but rather for 17 and above, the 'AO' Rating is their adults only rating, and as it currently stands Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony refuse to allow AO rated games on their systems, so anything not suitable for an American 17 year old isn't going on any of the big three consoles anywhere in the world, R18+ rating or otherwise. The second problem is to assume that all rating systems are identical, when they're not. In the ESRB, the next rating down from 'M' is 'T'. While the ACB has the MA15+ rating which is restricted for people aged 15 years and above, the ESRB 'T' is for people 13 years and above. What that means is if a game is not suitable for a 13 year old, then it automatically gets bumped up to their 'M' rating.

        Of course me saying this here is kind of like preaching to the choir.

        Last edited 07/11/13 6:51 pm

          One of our major arguments when lobbying for the R18+ classification was international parity with classification systems. We continually provided arguments such as "This game was classified 18+ in the US but squeezed into our MA15+ category here, so we need an R18+ category to stop this from happening". I myself said that on multiple occasions.

          I guess we can't have our cake and eat it too. If we change our argument now to say "Oh but the overseas classification systems are different, you can't compare them" then we'll be seen as hypocrites.

          Last edited 07/11/13 8:33 pm

            but it's not changing the argument?

            we aren't saying you can't compare them (in fact you can compare their differences and applications), we are saying you can't treat them as exact counterparts, I can compare an apple to a grape and find that they are different and one makes good wine while the other makes good cider, I cannot however compare them and say that because grapes make good wine apples should make good wine as well

              Yes it is.

              We were saying "We need to be the same as overseas systems". Now we're saying "We don't need to be the same as overseas systems".

              It's one or the other. As we were campaigning for the R18+ we were constantly saying games classified 18+ overseas were being classified 15+ here when they shouldn't be. Now that we have a 18+ category, someone steps forward and says hang on, these games were classified 18+ overseas but only 15+ here even though we have this 18+ category now, shouldn't they be 18+?

              It needs to be consistent.

              Last edited 08/11/13 10:21 am

                Who's "we"? I don't remember using any such argument. Just saying "oh EVERYONE wanted it because of this" doesn't make it true. I also don't think you actually understand the reasoning of others as well as you think you do. Many people (obviously not you) are and were aware of cultural and locational differences that could affect the ratings. It isn't "one or the other" because the issue doesn't only have two sides, just like most issues involving art, expression and creative work.

                but they aren't being classified as 18+ over there, they're being classified 17+.

                comparing two things in one way does not mean you have to maintain the premise that they are exactly the same in every way possible, if that were true you would never be able to use a metaphor.

                we needed a system that acknowledged adults and not just children, like much of the world had already done, we now have that (although it's being applied stupidly with censorship still being a thing which it shouldn't) but that doesn't mean our system is identical to everywhere else, we don't have a 17+ rating here, only 15+ and 18+, so you can't use other systems as an exact guide, something that might be appropriate for a 17 year old there might also be appropriate for a 15 year old, but they don't have a 15+ bracket they have a 13+ bracket, so it gets bumped up to 17.

                you can compare things without saying they are or should be exactly the same, just because in one aspect we needed a system more similar to other countries does not mean that we now have an identical system or should have an identical system. you cannot treat two dissimilar things as the exact same.

                we should have a system that acknowledges adults like theirs to prevent unnecessary censorship but we shouldn't use their system as an exact equivalent because the age brackets and cultural biases are different, where is the hypocrisy in that?

                we should go get balaclavas like those bank robbers to keep our faces warm, but we shouldn't rob a bank because it's illegal. according to you that is hypocrisy in action.

            I thought the original argument was that we had a lot of games that were refused classification or had to be edited to fit into MA which would not have happened if we had R. I also agree with a lot of other people who are arguing the point of different countries have different levels. We have M and MA and R, where as others only have one or two.

          " MA15+ rating which is restricted for people aged 15 years and above "

          Not quite. MA 15+ means "Not suitable for people under 15. Under 15s must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian".
          http://www.classification.gov.au/Guidelines/Pages/MA15+.aspx

          MA 15+ has a restriction for people under 15 but it's not an outright ban. They just can't access the content on their own without parent / parental figure giving their OK and accompanying the under 15 throughout if it's a movie being screened publicly. Or the parent / parental figure has to be there to authorise the purchase/hire of a MA 15+ movie or game to their kid.

          In QLD anyone aged 18 or over qualifies as accompanying adult basically and they don't even have to be the kid's parent or guardian.
          http://www.classification.gov.au/Industry/Documents/Understanding%20classifications%20-%20home%20entertainment.pdf
          In the other states/territories the under 15 has to have someone who exercises parental control over them to accompany them into the cinema or game/film purchase/hire.
          http://www.classification.gov.au/About/Pages/State-and-Territory-Legislation.aspx
          I read that in QLD the MA 15+ restriction is for ages 2 to 15 and the R 18+ restriction is for ages 2 to 18. They took that pdf down from their website though.
          In WA there are also minor changes to the laws.

    If there's been no complaints,t he obvious question is: Who supplied him with the list?

      If you look at the Sth Australian AG's press release it suggests the ACCM:
      http://www.agd.sa.gov.au/sites/agd.sa.gov.au/files/documents/Initiatives%20Announcements%20and%20News/2013%20-%20MR%20-%20violentgames.pdf

      Lobbyists or other 'self-interest' groups.

      A complaint has to meet certain criteria - which is why none has been received.

      He did mention, however, in a press release sent out in September of this year that the lobby group Australian Council on Children and the Media had alerted him to the issue of these games.

      Probably just a follow-up on that

    I think this muppet has way too much time on his hands and should give me his job

      Agreed. Please use your power wisely and maybe spend time working on something that matters.

    Killer is dead? What could he have to complain about the classification of killer is dead

      The name perhaps.

    None of the games listed had received any consumer complaints for incorrect classification.

    Well duh, what parent who's only buying these games to keep their kids out of thier hair would pay enough attention to notice the ratings of what they're buying or even the content within those games?

      True. And if a parent, like myself, knows enough about games to realize that Gears of War Judgement is too mature for a 15 year old, they don't need a rating to warn them.

        You can bet your ass if I had a kid I'd be sitting in with them on a Walking Dead playthrough to monitor reactions. Even a 15yr old.

          I hope your joking about that, in this day and age, outside of a saw type game or something filled with rape and explicitly vile content (where they are the perpetrator not victim, which i dont even think currently exists here in aus) I would let a 15 year old play any game they liked.

          I mean seriously a 15 year old is old enough to stand an adult criminal trial in my eyes and yet you would supervise them about a video game?

          A 10/12 year old playing gears of war sure, see if they can "handle it"(some can some can't) but a 15 y/o , just seems really odd.

          But then my parents never bothered to watch the games i played so It would all seem odd to me xD

          Last edited 08/11/13 7:41 am

    Splinter Cell?? Amazed he hasn't added CoD and BF to his list in that case.

      Public backlash would be too high, he thinks he can slip this under the radar using games that have provocative titles and maybe win some votes from people who don't know any better.

    I wouldn't mind them being more stringent with R18+ raitings. I see violence often in games that makes me question why it's somehow an M or a MA.

    I do however, think its dumb, that it costs us that much to reclassify games. I don't think we should bother, just tighten up the standards for future games. I think that is the main purpose of this exercise, it's a pity it's going to waste that much (surely one person can do this and not a review board?).

    I also don't agree with this iGEA guy who clearly just wants what is better for the video game industry money wise. He spends half his article talking about cultural and national differences and how we shouldn't have to classify them as the same raiting as other countries, then tries to argue we should have a similar non-gov system to other countries. BAH.

    Last edited 07/11/13 5:44 pm

      IGEA would like a scheme that works better for everyone. As far as having a similar industry led scheme, yes that's our ask. However, we want that scheme to be in context of Australian sensitivities, benchmarked against locally defined guidelines.

        So more sex, less violence? I'm all for it.
        Where's an Alvin Purple game when you need one?

    Normally I'd call him an idiot but I'm actually kinda surprised The Walking Dead (assuming we're talking about the TellTale one here) is only MA15+.
    I haven't played many of the rest but judging from what I have seen (and the few I have played) I'm guessing it's just the violence-factor which is debatable really.

      Yeah, Deadpool I can probably note has some pretty heavy foulness - language and themes, pretty well sexualized, too, though most of it being gross is down to toilet humour and violence. God Mode's got a pretty foul mouth on it, too. Borderlands DLC less so...

      But in general, while it might be foul, I don't think it's dangerous to 15yr old minds. Most of them are already pretty far gone by then. I think they're overestimating how much protection 15yr-olds need from juvenile nonsense.

        Australian classification system doesn't care about foul mouths :)
        Same with TV classifiers.
        Many, many movies (and games too?) with only M advisory rating with super amount of F words, CS words, etc.
        I'll assume the mindset when dealing with games is similar.
        I don't want more conservative rules for language, I'm a lefty :)
        Just pointing it out.
        Australian 'censors' are soft on foul language.
        I realise that foul language isn't the only kind of content you mentioned.

        Also I really, really hate being one of these people. I shouldn't be typing this, but this is not America. "Sexualised" not "Sexualized" :)
        *hides*

      Came here to post this and mention I pointed this out when Walking dead first came out. It is extremely violent.

      Gonna agree with you on the Walking Dead game, having played it through I was surprised to not see an R18 slapped on it now that the rating is available though did it come out before it was introduced? I can't remember.
      The others I am not sure about having only played BL2 though it seems strange to just target the xpacs for it.
      In short, not the facepalm fest I thought I was in for when I clicked the link

        Yeah that confused me too, Borderlands 2, that's fine at MA15+. But Captain Scarletts Booty or Mr Torque's Campaign of Carnage where just too far.

        Consider this though, while yes you might think it more suitable to have an 18+ rating, is the content in any of these games "too much" for a 15 year old? Because that is the ONLY thing that actually matters here.

    Who keeps voting these backwards fuckwits into office? We should be going to opposite direction, removing censorship, yet here we have one of the people that are required to have a say on this matter claiming things don't go far enough.

    Bring on voluntary classification and get rid of these backwards people imposing their morals on everyone else.

      Classification and Censorship are not the same thing. There's nothing inherently wrong with the government being responsible for the classification of media, nor in calling for all media to be classified fairly and equally.

        You're totally right however I think in the sense @moonhead is talking about classification is being used as a loophole for censorship.

        Classification is just that, classification. We do not have that in Australia, we have censorship. If you want to release a film that doesn't meet the standards set out by the government, you are not allowed to. The same goes for Books, Games, Magazines and TV. If we had a system of classification, anything could be classified, and adults would have the opportunity to decide on if they wanted to consume that.

      I sure didn't vote for him! WTF is with these AGs in SA? Replace one dickhead with another dickhead.

        Yeah, YOU didn't, I didn't, but there are a lot of dickheads out there who did. Christ, if a mincing squirt of anal discharge like Chris Pyne can be re-elected here in SA, someone of Rau's calibre is bound to get in. It's depressing. :S

    I was actually sympathetic to Rau's argument up until:
    “Unlike movies, children can be active participants in the content of video games and the effects, whilst largely disputed, can not be positive.”
    Of course they can't. Because that would conflict with your intuition.

    I wish people spouting this based on their intuition instead of research (some of which DOES actually show positive effects) would accept that already, or at least admit they're going with their gut in defiance of research.

    Other than that, this is a surprisingly good dialogue. Guy raises genuine concerns with some flawed-but-understandable reasoning and almost no scare-mongering or attacking the concept of adult games. Opposition replies with logical, reasonable arguments explaining why that reasoning is flawed.

    The only thing left to happen to completely blow my mind would be if Rau were to then publicly reply that the explanation makes sense and he can see how there would be confusion from some concerned members of the public who weren't taking into consideration the difference in nations' ratings being based on their own individual (and different) social mores.

    Last edited 07/11/13 6:18 pm

      Can I point something out here?
      Psychologists AND Media Academics are still arguing about the impact of television on children. They both arguing with each other AND against the "other" school of thought.
      We can't accurately measure what impact violence has to a media consumer in a non-participatory one to one communications system. HOW can we accurately measure the impact of violence to a media consumer in a participatory one to one, or considering online games, one to MANY to one (as the consumer is the end point however the game...you know what just think about it for a sec, you'll get it) communication system?

      Go read Waddington (2007), McCormick (2001), Frost (2010), Joseph (2008 - about GTA), Schulzke (2010), Burch (2009) or just go read Gee, the godfather of video games studies (his stuff focuses more on how to teach video games - he's very pedagogically focused, but he has good points in his books).

      ALL these guys are taking an academic viewpoint (read: pretty neutral but to be frank everyone has their own bias creep into their articles) on studying the morals presented within video games and most of them focus on ultra-violent video games. Miguel Sicart is the other one I'll mention - he couldn't finish Manhunt due to the feedback required from the player to finish an execution.

      So all these guys look at video games and you know what their findings were on the impact on the audience? Mostly undetermined. Because it's difficult to prove anything when it comes to media.

      To use television as a "hey video games are worse than this because people interact with video games" argument is faulty and misleading and should be put to bed. Television came around in the 40s and 50s and was effectively saturating the world by the 60s/70s and we still don't know about it's long term effects.

      TL, DR: Academics are still inconclusive about how television affects minds, let alone how video games do it.

      Also, sorry for wall of text. I did my Honours on Morality within Video Games.

      Last edited 07/11/13 6:51 pm

        Is your thesis on Trove, by any chance? I'd love to have a look - I've read a bit of Gee and I think McCormick, but that's about it. Did your paper cover earlier instances of moral concern - such as books in the 1910s, cartoons in the 1930s, comics in the 1950s, etc. - and whether academic investigation produced the same inconclusive results?

          I wanted to examine the whole history of moral panics about the media, but it was an Honours project, so I had to be incredibly specific - I examined whether morality systems/engines within Video Games could accurately depict real world morals by including a completely neutral point of view. I did manage to get a large lit review in there about morals and ethics within video games (Hence all the video game ethicists).
          As for the inconclusive results, as explained to me by my supervisor it comes down to: As soon as academics get a handle on something, a new methodology or a new development in the media pops up and they have to go back and look at it all again. It's like...scientists discovering that a car can move at 60kmh so they study it and reach a finding. Then somebody sees it moving at 70kmh. So they have to go back again. As Psychology has developed (and Media Studies as well) they constantly go back to look at it again and again and again (aside from Radio, because studying radio isn't sexy and the money from grants isn't there).
          As for Trove, that name rings a bell but I can't find anything via my library and it isn't in my Thesis anywhere...I might have heard it during my Bach degree. Got any pointers on where to find some articles?
          Also I'd be happy to share my project, but have to look up the copyright ownership (I think my uni owns my project, but I can't remember submitting it to the library...)

            Trove is the National Library of Australia's "Great Big Site of Everything" - including theses - http://trove.nla.gov.au/general/theses . These are the results for a search of "morality in video games" theses:

            http://trove.nla.gov.au/result?q=morality+in+video+games&l-format=Thesis

      Nice point. We really don't call out that 'TV rots your brain because look at it, of course it does' attitude enough. It's easy to just let it slide as something wrong they've said, maybe throw a link to a study they're not going to look at, rather than actually challenging the core of it like that.

    Of that list I've only played Borderlands and GOW Judgement. In my opinion, Gears of War: Judgement could probably be deemed R18+, it's about as violent as you can get for a shooter.

    But hasn't this ship sailed? Seems a it of a waste of money to try and do something retroactively.

    Election coming, need to generate headlines for myself, it worked for my predecessor.

    My question is now this : Say by some ridiculous freak of nature that one of these games was suddenly refused classification, what would happen to those that say... purchased it digitally on xbox/PS, would they then be blocked, would it be refunded? I assume nothing would happen with content already acquired, but the question needs to be asked.

    Secondly : Borderlands 2 expansion packs... does that mean Borderlands and expacs, or just the expacs?

    Teenagers always get so screwed over when it comes to things like this. They're more than capable to play and handle the themes of these games, yet you'll still get adults crying "protect the children" and trying to deny these sorts of things to them. Protect the children? Yes. Protect teenagers? Not so much. There's no reason a sixteen year old shouldn't be able to enjoy The Walking Dead.

      'protect our children!' in one breath, then a teenager does something wrong its 'Try him as an adult!"

      there's plenty of reasons people shouldn't enjoy The Walking Dead (not the Telltale one), because its a shitty game

      I dunno. I'd say that about some people I knew when I was a young kid, but there's also others who even after they grew up continued to be influenced negatively by the media they consumed. When I was 10 I knew the difference between reality and games. A magician doesn't think he's actually sawing his assistant in half, right? It's not even fantasy it's just a game. Kill an enemy, shoot a hoop, steal a base, they're all just terms that sound negative if you don't understand the rules of the game.
      Meanwhile when I was a teenager I watched tons of teenagers, not just the 13-15 crowds, turn into lame 90's gangsta wannabes for a few months following GTA: San Andreas' release. I remember getting a ride friends older brother and thinking 'holy crap, this rich white boy actually thinks he's a street smart hustler'. Granted I don't pin that on one game/movie/song and even if I did he was old enough to drive.

      Although all that said I think protect the children when it applies to teenagers is usually just code for I'm so out of touch with society that I'm scared of anyone younger than 30.

    Our games have content removed; in other countries they don't, so they get higher ratings, while we get removed content with a lower rating. It's that simple.

      I don't think you understand how that works. Only a couple of games have been altered since the R18+ came into effect. One was State of Decay, the only alteration was that items in the game were renamed, so the content hasn't been removed. And the other notable was Saint's Row 4, where one mission and one weapon were removed. Apart from those titles, we get the exact same games as the US and UK.

        My bad, I thought he was talking about the games that were released before the R rating. To get an MA rating here, many develoelrs had to cut content from their games, but with the new R rating they don't have to (as much).

    Ah the ALP Strikes Back.

      I wish they stop trying to micro-manage people's lives because they really aren't good at it

        If South Australia don't like it, then South Australia not have it.

    This is EXACTELY the kind of government interference the pro R18+ lobbies and gaming media signed up for. You guys used the protect the children argument for years because you believed it was the only way to get our beloved watered down "adults only" label.
    I don't blame the government, nor the family lobbies for this mess. We all know what they are. I blame the gaming websites, lobby groups, and some gamers themselves for accepting a slight improvement to the archaic institution of mandatory government classification.
    Independent, industry run advisory classification is the only rational future, and we just ensured that it won't even be looked at for the next 10 years.

      No, it was a means to an end. It is PROGRESS. The argument is not over.

    What about the last 20 years when games like cod passed as ma15+ when they were 18+ worldwide.. get over it

    Well if they won't allow games like left 4 dead 2 for re-submission, the attorney general can suck a d***

    In looking at the press release from September, I think the real concern is that the South Australian Attorney-General feels that he and the ACCM have better judgement than the ACB:

    “I will be asking the new Commonwealth Attorney General to have a look at the way the Australian Classification Board is assessing these games and assure the community that the rules are being applied appropriately. If the standards are not more rigorously applied, I will be referring each of these games to the South Australian Classification Council for review

    To me, that is basically him - as a member of the South Australian Government - publicly declaring that the ACB got it wrong, is directing the Commonwealth A-G to interfere with how the ACB makes decisions, and demanding that new ratings be applied. That alone seriously compromises the ACB and their claim that "The Classification Board is independent from government" (http://www.classification.gov.au/About/Pages/Who-We-Are.aspx). Even more so if the Classification Review Board - which also claims it is independent from government - overturns the original ratings.

    Sad to see tax payer money funding these fools instead of investing in the nbn we needed

    Even though I partly agree with Ron Curry, I think it's rather hypocritical of him saying we shouldn't be comparing our classification standards with other nations' standards, given that the IGEA did the exact opposite when lobbying the Government for the introduction of an R18+ rating. I recall reading media releases published by them pressing the need for Australia to observe the types of classifications typical adult games were given overseas, and used those as reasons for why it was not appropriate that many of those same adult games in this country had been - and were - receiving MA15+ instead.

    Last edited 07/11/13 10:45 pm

    The part I wonder about is how it costs that much money to evaluate the games again. Considering how many game testers there are, with long hours and awful pay, surely they could manage to bring that down somehow?

    From my perspective our ratings system is pointless anyway. On my last 2 trips to a game store there were parents there buying GTA V for kids who looked like they were 8 years old. The guy on the counter was explaining the content and how it was unsuitable for children and the parents just didn't care.

      IAgrred, I have seen two instances of parents not caring at all in the past week. Nearly identical situation where the staff explained content in detail clearly indicating the mother should reconsider purchasing GTAV for her 10 year old son, she ignored the advice and purchased the game. Then with ACIV the staff indicated to another mother that the game was rated MA15+ and her response was "what does that mean?", a sad day for humanity.

    This is ridiculous!, we are paying our hard earned tax payer money for this trash, we are being goverened by IMBECILES!

    Biggest question: Who cares?

    Of the games I've played on that list, I agree. Why are you people in such an uproar about this? He's not trying to get them banned, just trying to use the ratings for the reasons they exist, to get certain content away from children.

    Seems like they're judging the games based on their name rather than the content.

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