Australian Classification Board Speaks On Games, R18+ & Fallout 3

class_left.gifThose questions for the Classification Board? They came back. Alive. The replies read a lot like paragraphs from an official board report, but it's not like I was expecting riveting prose.

This doesn't mean the answers are no good. Not at all. Yes, a few of them are extended "no comments", but for the most part, they shine a moderately-sized shard of light on our classification system - where the power lies, who makes the decisions and why certain decisions were made.

Here are a few highlights:

Who should I be contacting to push the need for an R18+ rating for games?

Currently, the Censorship Minister is the Attorney-General for each State or Territory and the Australian Censorship Minister is the Minister for Home Affairs.

Can I import games that have been refused classification?

Customs may detain or seize any items that are suspected of contravening the Regulations. The maximum penalty for this type of offence is a fine of up to $110,000.

In the eyes of the Board and the guidelines, what constitutes an incentive or reward?

An incentive may be the ability to progress faster through the game. A reward may be a gain in points or access to a wider choice of weapons.

Does the Board play the games it classifies?

An application for the classification of a computer game must include a copy of the game ... For computer games likely to be classified G to M, industry can access a scheme that permits trained assessors to provide a recommendation for the likely classification of a computer game ... Board members do not usually play a game to in order to make a classification.

This is just a taste; the full Q&A can be found after the jump. If you're even remotely interested in games classification in this country, I highly recommend you read it.

Kotaku AU: What initiatives does the Classification Board and the Government have in place to inform consumers of games classification and the meanings behind each rating?
Classification Board: Extensive information about the National Classification Scheme, including games classifications, is available at www.ag.gov.au/classificationpolicy. Classification decisions are on the classification website.

Kotaku AU: What initiatives does the Board and the Government have in place to regulate the sale of games at point of sale? Classification Board: The Board is not responsible for enforcement matters.

Regulation of the sale of games is the responsibility of the States and Territories. State and Territory classification enforcement legislation provides that it is an offence to sell or deliver a computer game classified MA 15+ to a minor under 15 years of age (unless the person selling or delivering the game is a parent or guardian). In Queensland, MA 15+ computer games can be sold to a person under 15 if they accompanied by an adult.

Kotaku AU: When was the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) title replaced by the Classification Board? Was this a simple change of name, or was the role and organisation of the office altered also? Classification Board: The Office of Film and Literature Classification was the agency that provided administrative support for the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board. The OFLC did not make classification decisions. This function has always been that of the Classification Board.

On 1 July 2007 the APS staff in the former OFLC became part of the Australian Government Attorney-General's Department.

The independent classification decision-making role of the Classification Board remains unchanged.

Kotaku AU: Are games that have been refused classification considered a prohibited item and could be potentially seized by Australian Customs? Is Customs aware of which games have been refused classification? Is this information kept up-to-date and who is responsible for keeping Customs informed of RC titles? Classification Board: The import of objectionable material into Australia is prohibited without permission under Regulation 4A of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956. The definition of objectionable material includes computer games that are unsuitable for a minor to see or play. This definition accords with the with the 'Refused Classification' criteria in the National Classification Scheme.

The Attorney-General's Department is responsible for the National Classification Scheme and provides advice to Customs in relation to games have been refused classification.

Customs may detain or seize any items that are suspected of contravening the Regulations. The maximum penalty for this type of offence is a fine of up to $110,000.

Kotaku AU: In regards to campaigning for an R18+ classification for video games, who are the best people or departments to get in contact with? Classification Board: The National Classification Scheme is a cooperative scheme. Australian, State and Territory Censorship Ministers set classification policy.

Currently, the Censorship Minister is the Attorney-General for each State or Territory and the Australian Censorship Minister is the Minister for Home Affairs.

Kotaku AU: Does the Classification Board have any say in the amendment of classification laws and guidelines? If not, is it not unusual that the office responsible for applying said laws and guidelines has no sway over their creation or alteration? Classification Board: The Classification Board is consulted on policy issues and legislative proposals. The Director of the Board attends meetings of Censorship Ministers.

Kotaku AU: Has the Classification Board expressed a desire for an R18+ classification? Does the Board feel restricted by the current classification guidelines for computer games? Classification Board: The Classification Board does not make public comment on policy matters.

Kotaku AU: Regarding the use of drugs in computer games - could you elaborate on what specifically made its use in Fallout 3 too much for an MA15+ rating, and what was changed in the revised version to bring it in line? Classification Board: The Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games (the Guidelines) provide that at the MA 15+ classification (the highest classification for computer games) drug use may be strong in impact and should be justified by context. The Guidelines also provide a general rule that material that contains drug use and sexual violence related to incentives or rewards is RC (Refused Classification).

Accordingly, computer games may include the depiction of drug use. However, if the use of drugs provides an incentive or reward the computer game must be RC. An incentive may be the ability to progress faster through the game. A reward may be a gain in points or access to a wider choice of weapons.

In regard to the computer game Fallout 3, the Board is of the opinion that the use of morphine in the game has the positive effect of enabling the character to ignore limb pain. This ability to progress through the game more easily is the incentive to take the drug while the reward is in the character's abilities.

The revised version of the game has been modified to remove the incentive and reward of progressing through the game more easily from the element of drug use. The revised version has fictional drugs depicted as stylised icons which will alter the physiological characteristics of the characters in the game.

In the decision of the Board, there is no incentive or reward to select drug use.

Kotaku AU: Regarding the portrayal of violence in video games - it appears dismemberment, decapitation; post-mortem damage and blood pooling are major issues for the Board, under the classification guidelines. Can you elaborate on what factors make these elements acceptable in the MA15+ category? For example, it appears to be acceptable in Fallout 3, but was deemed not so for Soldier of Fortune: Payback. Classification Board: The Classification Board is of the opinion that the violence in Fallout 3 which includes large blood bursts, dismemberment and post-mortem damage is strong in impact. Strong impact violence that is justified by context can be accommodated at the MA 15+ classification.

The Board is of the opinion that the violent depictions in Soldier of Fortune: Payback exceed strong impact. In Soldier of Fortune: Payback blood spray is substantial and blood splatters on the ground and walls. The player may target various limbs of the opponents and this can result in the limb being dismembered. Large amounts of blood spray forth from the stump with the opponent sometimes remaining alive before eventually dying from the wounds. Additionally, dead bodies and blood remains on the ground. Dead bodies on the ground may be repeatedly attacked. The limbs may be shot off, resulting in large amounts of blood spray and the depiction of torn flesh and protruding bone from the dismembered limb. Shooting the head of a body will cause it to explode in a large spray of blood, leaving a bloody stump above the shoulders. Bodies will eventually disappear from the environment.

The impact provided by the amount of blood and detail of dismemberment in Soldier of Fortune: Payback exceeds that can be accommodated at MA 15+ (such as the depictions in Fallout 3).

Kotaku AU: Why does the Classification Board not make reports freely available on its website, while reports from the Classification Review Board are? Is it possible this position could change in the future? Classification Board: Classification decisions are posted on the website and the reasons for the decision are available upon request.

Kotaku AU: Does the Board play any of the games it classifies? What materials are provided to the Board from the publisher/submitter to aid the Board in the classification process? Is it a requirement board members play the games they classify? Classification Board: An application for the classification of a computer game must include a copy of the game. Other material must also be provided and this is outlined in the application form for the classification of computer games which you can access in the computer games section of the classification website.

For computer games likely to be classified G to M, industry can access a scheme that permits trained assessors to provide a recommendation for the likely classification of a computer game. The assessors must provide a detailed report of the game and gameplay of contentious material. Contentious material is material that is likely to be classified M or higher. In order to use this scheme, industry assessors must attend training that is approved by the Director of the Classification Board, and once trained, the Director authorises the assessors to make recommendations. They are called authorised assessors.

Board members do not usually play a game to in order to make a classification. Applicants submit recordings of game play at each level of complexity to assist the Board. The Board may also request a demonstration of the computer game by the applicant to ensure they experience all aspects of game play and can assess all elements.


Comments

    As a result of this shortfall in classification criteria, I wonder what their stance is on increased demand for illegal means of getting games (i.e. torrents) that have a detrimental impact on a company's income...

    I'm assuming Kotaku will now be contacting the Censorship Ministers to take this further?
    You have my encouragement and support in this quest.

    A fine of up to $110,000 for importing a game unsuitable for children!? Disproportionate punishment much?
    I was planning on importing the game so that the developers wouldn't get ripped off, but now I'll think I'll go and download it instead. Much safer that way.
    Thanks for encouraging piracy Australian Government! :)

    Thanks for the info kotaku!

    Maybe the Classification board should look at the following:

    http://www.ezydvd.com.au/item.zml/800444

    The limited edition Season 2 box set has been marketed as 'Serial Killer Survival Kit'

    Now I am not knocking the show or it's content but this is a clear indication of different rules for different mediums. With a classification of MA15+, teenagers can get their hands on a survival kit for a serial killer.

    Clearly ridiculous.

    Looks like I've been technically breaking the law. I work in retail, and I ALWAYS ask for ID or parents permission for MA15+ games.
    I was of the understanding that getting permission from the guardian was fine, but looks like thats only fine in QLD.
    Oh well, not like anyone enforces the law on these things. Drives me crazy that they don't.

    Keep pushing them Logan! You're doing a great job. Maybe when you start working for Tantalus you can push a bit harder.

    I fully support Kotaku on this issue and i hope you guys do take this further. I did some research in 2006 on violence in vidoegames. I asked university vidoegame students their thoughts about Australia not having an R18+ rating for videogames. I think this is a huge issue for both Australian gamers as well as the videogame industry in Australia. Keep up the good work guys.

    If i ever get a life ending disease like Cancer (They way i am going, chances looking good)I will be saying no to Chemotherapy and will be taken it on myself to rid certain people from the Human Gene pool before my Time with the pearly gates comes.

    I wonder if they watch an entire movie to determine its rating, or just a highlight reel of its questionable material.

    Bear in mind the only person blocking the introduction of the R18+ to include "computer and video games" is the South Australian AG.

    "Board members do not usually play a game to in order to make a classification. Applicants submit recordings of game play at each level of complexity to assist the Board. The Board may also request a demonstration of the computer game by the applicant to ensure they experience all aspects of game play and can assess all elements."

    So at the end of the day, they review games in the same way they do film. In fact, I imagine they would watch a film in its entirety. How ignorant this board is, to be honest, is an utter disgrace to our nation.

    I also fully support any quest for an R18+ rating.

    The definition of objectionable material includes computer games that are unsuitable for a minor to see or play.

    What if you are over 18+ then surely you cant be considered a minor?

    It's good to get some info on how their decisions are made. It shows there is less randomness to it than most would have suspected. I think most people probably agree with how they make the decision on what is MA and what is RC, it's more the fact that the RC category is not R18+ which annoys people.

    @petey - It takes some specific skill and effort to play games and progress to various points to see all aspects of a game whereas it takes no particular skill to watch a film so they would watch it all.

    I've always been concerned about the whole R-rating for video games, but now I am a father its even more concerning.

    Compare it to movies the likes of Saw, Hostel and even old classics like Caligula. Movies have had an R-rating for longer than I've been alive. As video games never had a rating in the good old days - and with family friendly content like Donkey Kong and Galaga, there was no need for one.

    When the rating system was introduced, again - there were only a handful of titles worthy of an R-rating (Mortal Kombat?). Now that one wasn't introduced back then, we're being punished now. While its out, its easier to leave the system as it is than to add in something new.

    I say bring in an R-rating for games, stop pretending they're childrens toys. Enforce their sale like alcohol, cigarettes and adult books/movies/toys. Games like Jericho and Condemned made it into the country under an MA15 rating when they most certainly deserve an R-rating - but because they weren't as popular as the other titles, they slid under the radar.

    Given we're the only country in the world that doesn't have an adult rating on video games, our classification board needs to wake up, though I seriously doubt their competency anyway. Two recent examples - Star Wars has always been marketed as a childrens movie, yet in the (relatively) recent Episode 3 we see numerous dismemberments, decapitations, electrocution out a building window, and children being shot and killed - yet this not only fits into an M-rating, but is advertised during cartoons and as part of kids meals at fast food places.

    On the subject of kids meals, lets look at the Dark Knight. Love the disappearing act Heath, where *did* that pen go? With a body count in that film of over 30, mostly police and innocent people, how does that fit into an M-rating suitable for advertising during childrens programs? They even go out of the way to say the main character in the film is not a hero.

    $110,000 for importing a game suitable for humans in every other country in the world. Thats your standard persons wage for 3 years. Importing with the intent for the sale/distribution to minors is one thing, but to play a game that the rest of the world views as being suitable for adults is utterly ridiculous.

    I feel that our incompetent classification board is making decisions as though we're in a dictatorship. Why are Australians in need of such protection and shielding from the harm of the rest of the world, when our founding country does not.

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