ALRC Supports Industry Regulated Classification For All Games Rated M And Below

The introduction of an R18+ rating for games has been approved by the Attorneys-General, with amended guidelines currently in the process of being finalised, yet the ALRC are still discussing precisely what recommendations will be put to the Australian Government when they present their findings early next year on general classification. A discussion paper has just been released with some early proposals for discussion, and heavy industry regulation of video game classification is among those recommendations.

“In an age of media convergence, Australia needs a 21st century classification system that is more platform-neutral, concentrates government regulation on media content of most concern to the community, and a system that can be adapted to accelerated media innovation,” claimed Professor Terry Flew, the Commissioner in charge of the review, in an introduction to the discussion paper.

The paper itself discusses a pressing need for some sort of industry regulation, to help shoulder the burden of classification, and proposes that only games expected to be rated MA15+ or higher need be referred to the Classification Board.

The ALRC proposes that while most content does not need to be classified, the new Act should provide that the following content must be classified before it is sold, hired, screened or distributed in Australia—whether delivered online or offline: • feature-length films produced on a commercial basis; • television programs produced on a commercial basis; and • computer games produced on a commercial basis and likely to be classified MA 15+ or higher.

The paper recommends that "Authorised Industry Classifiers" should be responsible for classifying content rated M or below.

The ALRC proposes that, apart from the media content specified above that must be classified by the Board, all other media content—including the remaining content that must be classified and any content that a content provider chooses to have classified—may be classified by authorised industry classifiers.

Such media content will commonly include: • feature-length films and television programs not for cinema release (for example, films on DVD, the internet, and television); • media content classified by the Classification Board but later modified; and • computer games likely to now be classified G, PG and M.

At other points in the discussion paper the need for some sort of referral system, as a failsafe for any incorrect decision made by said industry classifiers, is discussed, but the system is designed to help manage the balance of protecting children with the huge burden currently placed on the Classification Board - specific mention is made to the large amount of content currently being created and consumed on mobile devices.

This is consistent with the ALRC’s principles for reform concerning protecting children from material likely to harm or disturb them and providing consumers with classification information. Content providers may choose to classify other lower-level computer games voluntarily. There are arguably too many games developed and released each year, and developed by too diverse a range of persons, to formally classify before they are sold or distributed in Australia. Hundreds of thousands of small games, often played online or on mobile devices and developed by small developers or individuals, are now available for sale.

Interestingly, the paper makes specific reference to the incredible length of time it took for an R18+ rating to be passed by the Attorneys-General - citing it as a direct example of why the current system is unsubstainable.

The Classification Act provides that Commonwealth, state and territory ministers must agree to any amendment to the National Classification Code and on classification guidelines or amendments to those guidelines,and the Intergovernmental Agreement under which the scheme is established and maintained may be amended only by unanimous agreement. This process is time consuming and poorly designed to deal with significant changes in either community expectations or technological advances. Agreement among the Commonwealth, states and territories to the introduction of an R 18+ classification for computer games took over a decade to achieve through the framework of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General meetings.

It's worth bearing in mind that these are only early proposals, and are designed to inspire discussion surrounding the larger issues of classification. The ALRC are currently encouraging people to respond to these recommendations - more information on how to respond can be found here.


Comments

    "This process is time consuming and poorly designed to deal with significant changes in either community expectations or technological advances."

    They don't say!

    This is a sound idea, freeing up limited government resources for the most difficult cases of classification or where the difference between MA15+ and R18+ is very important. Not to mention avoiding wasting resources on re-classifying a modified game.

    Plus, some sort of review scheme for games incorrectly classified by industry is definitely needed.

    It's just one possible recommendation, but good to see the ALRC is taking submissions into account and developing policy ideas.

      Reading the proposal, modified games only need to be resubmitted if the modifications are likely to alter the rating.

        Even better. Less resources used but there's still scope to have oversight if people file a complaint about it.

    *Applauds*

    Nice to see some common sense here. Here's hoping that sensible heads prevail over the "Won't somebody think of the children"/"The sky's falling in"/"This is the first sign of the apocalypse" brigade.

      The WSTOTCTSFITITFSOTA brigade?
      ACL is much easier to type.

    A huge improvement on the current system. Indie developers should reap the benefits here.

    I'll be putting in my response over the weekend, once I've had a chance to read this.

      At a glance, I'm happy to note that the guiding principles still has "Australians should be able to watch what they please" is still number one and the bit about potential harm to the kiddies is down to third on the list (it was second). Should make it clearer where the emphasis lies. Well, not really, but I'm sure as hell going to exploit that just for the lulz.

      Unfortunately, the new item two contains my least favourite phrase when discussing classification:

      communications and media services available to Australians should broadly
      reflect community standards, while recognising a diversity of views, cultures
      and ideas in the community;

      It is a manipulative and horribly misleading term that allows for naysayers to be given a disproportionate voice.

        Oh, something further on that makes me a lot happier.


        Chapter 10 outlines the relevance of the RC category to this Inquiry and describes the
        legislative framework for RC content. The current scope of the category is discussed
        and criticisms are noted of: the breadth of the current RC category; questions relating
        to its purpose, including the validity of ‘community standards’ and ‘offensiveness’ as
        bases for refusing classification of material; and whether the scope should be narrowed
        by focusing on content which is illegal to create or possess, such as real depictions of
        actual child sexual abuse

        This was one of the big points I made in my submission. Content should only be RC if it is illegal to produce or own. Things like watersports and female ejaculation are currently RC despite being entirely legal for people to do in the privacy of their own homes.

        Looks like this proposes that RC is pretty much only illegal to produce and own content:

        The Classification of Media Content Act should provide that,
        if content is classified RC, the classification decision should state whether the
        content comprises real depictions of actual child sexual abuse or actual sexual
        violence

        YAY!

          Exactly. "If it's that objectionable, why isn't it illegal?" is one of the key questions/points. Which, when flipped around, translates to "if it's not illegal, how can it be so objectionable as to be refused classification?"

            YAY!

            Yeah, I'm not so sure that's a line to be celebrating about, more watching very carefully. I'll need to go through and read the actual full paper, but that implies to me that it's a chance of how RC content is described to the public. It's simply saying that, if the content is RC, we should be told if it's actually required the commission of an illegal act to create it or not. This does not imply any change in the definition of RC.

          Agree with yay about the RC change.

          *A lot* of people were unhappy about that. Not to mention that much of it was nonsensical ('sexualised violence' could be something as little as a newspaper headline suggesting violence in an adult movie).

          As for community standards, I agree that it's probably too nebulous (some would even say slippery) and it can validate some of the extreme positions held by moralists.

          But given that there's usually clear overwhelming public support for less strict classification, and not tighter controls, I don't think it should present a problem. Community standards doesn't, and shouldn't, mean conceding to every placard-waving fearmongerer, no matter their political influence.

            The problem with community standards is that it is too vague.

            It's a meaningless definition that means that people who are creating controversial content do not know if they are crossing over the invisible threshold of what is not acceptable because what is not acceptable has never been clearly established.

            It also allows for a tyranny of the majority type situations (or vocal minority acting as the voice of the "silent majority"). If 90% of people in Australia objected to public displays of affection between siblings, then we've just banned Empire Strikes Back.

            Somewhat hyperbolic, but you get the idea.

            What is not acceptable should be clearly stated and why it isn't acceptable needs to be well reasoned. That means if people skirt the line, they are able to defend their position by showing that the context it is presented in does not make it unacceptable under the reasoning presented.

            I'm sure I could use A Serbian Film here as an example, but I need more coffee if I'm going to get into this.

    ALRC stands for 'Australian Law Reform Commission' for anybody who doesn't know and couldn't be bothered looking it up.

      I had it in my intro but it made the sentence feel too clumsy!

        Reread the intro after reading your post; good call.

    It took such a bloody long time, they might as well get it right.

    *Sees face in mirror*
    heh
    heheh
    HahahahHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA
    *cough*
    Seriously, this sounds like a great alternative to having a single agency responsible for every scrap of entertainment media from shovelware to AAA releases and short films to full-length features.

    While the ACL will doubtless say this is putting the fox among the hens, probably before the end of the day, it creates a balance of responsibility where it's needed and respect where it's missing.

    It also gives the Classification Board a clearer purpose and more time to dedicate to serious work.

    Sensible. I don't see the need to exclude MA/R from industry rating, though.

    The CB should lay down the guidelines for each rating and the publishers can just apply the ratings accordingly based on those guidelines. Publishers should be able to submit them for classification if they're in doubt about what rating should apply, otherwise the board should only get involved if they get a certain number of complaints about a specific rating at which point they can review it.

    "The paper itself discusses a pressing need for some sort of industry regulation, to help shoulder the burden of classification, and proposes that only games expected to be rated MA15+ or higher need be referred to the Classification Board."

    "The paper recommends that “Authorised Industry Classifiers” should be responsible for classifying content rated M or below."

    I'm pretty sure that's already the case actually, except games expected to be rated M or MA (rather than the proposed MA or R) are classified by the board. Interesting how the M category is moving lower down the food chain with these proposals.

    Looks like they're finally considering dropping the M rating and replacing it with T:

    The Classification of Media Content Act should provide that
    one set of classification categories applies to all classified media content as
    follows: C, G, PG 8+, T 13+, MA 15+, R 18+, X 18+ and R

    Of course, it's simply ridiculous to have the age recommendation for PG and T ratings because the reason that was dropped from the M rating was because it caused confusion over whether the content was recommended for people aged 15 or over or restricted to people aged 15 or over. The age should only be there is there is a restriction.

    A small disclaimer on the back of the DVD case/game case/poster clarifying the recommended age would be a much neater solution.

      I think the problem was more a case of having 2 ratings with the same letter and also the same age. M15 and MA15 most people would look at and think it was practically the same thing.

      Personally I like having a suggested age but I understand need need to differentiation so maybe something else lie dropping the + for PG and T.

      + means Restricted where no + means advised

        There was research done on this back when they introduced the current coloured classification labels.

        There was confusion over the M rating in general, from having the 15+ despite not being age restricted to the similarities in appearance to the MA15+ rating.

        People didn't know what the M and MA stood for and which was restricted and recommended (PG was also recommended that those under 15 have parental guidance, which made it more confusing having three classifications reference that same age).

        The research came to the conclusion that the MA15+ should be replaced with A15+ and M15+ become M to reduce confusion. This is going the other way, changing M to T and keeping MA15+ as MA15+ but reincluding the age for the new T rating only brings back one of the original problems.

        Unless it is absolutely clear that one is a recommendation and one is a restriction, I just can't understand why you'd give them equal billing.

      Nice find!

      As I understand it 'C' already only applies to children's television programs.. but I could be wrong.

      T13 is interesting, it's almost a middle ground between very tame PG content and the not-for-kids stuff in MA15+. Probably a good move, although I agree about the age rating.

        I think C and AV15+ are currently TV only classifications. AV15+ looks like it'll be scrapped in favour of just bringing in R18+ for TV (AV15+ is the slightly censored for TV edits of films). Programs that are C on TV tend to be G when released on DVD, at least, I don't remember seeing anything classified C at the shops, but I didn't look too hard.

          You ae correct sir - TV only. TV plays by it's own rules to a large extent which is why you have DVDs of Seinfeld (classified by the ACB) which are rated M yet the TV series airs as PG.

          Hell even that episode of Star Trek Next Gen where a guy's head explodes has been PG everytime it has been on Television (including on 11 earlier this year) despite been one of the most graphic and gory things ever shown before CSI made that kind of thing passe.

      I like the idea of a T rating rather than an M, but so many movies that get M are pitched at kids - all your superhero movies these days are M, anything with a toy line attached seems to be M rated and how many people let their young kids see M rated movies like Avatar or Spiderman?

    WHAT? Some common sense is being proposed? We will not stand for this. Call the ACL immediately and get those pitchforks. Somebody think of the children!

    That review is absolutely disgusting. There is NO place for a mandatory censorship (or classification) system in a free nation. The ALRC's only submission should be the abolishment of this all together.

      The purpose of the classification scheme came up and is mentioned in the proposal.

      It basically says that a lot of the submissions said that the purpose should be to inform consumers of what they're about to view, not to censor and it appears the ALRC supports this.

      are you kidding me?

      i don't think censorhsip is neccessary, but classification is extremely important, its informing me what to expect, for example, i'm not a big fan of gory horror movies, so i like that when looking at movies, its rated R for high amounts of gore, and i think "i don't want to watch that". i'm not saying that they should remove the gore, because i'm sure other people may enjoy it. also, there is the "think of the children" aspect to it as well, which is also really important.

      A proper society needs proper morals, and i for one am grateful of what the government and OFLC do!

      P.S: please don't use the "free country" saying, because it means nothing, you could justify killing someone with "it's a free country" so the term is just invalid...

        Classification should not be mandatory. It should be a selling point for consumers, but there should be no obligation for it to be done.

    For all you budding reporters out there (and for those working on Kotaku) - the first time you use an acronym, spell it out. Like any professional writer, you should assume that your reader is starting from a position of ignorance, and if you fail to help them you fail to do your job. Mark Serrels.

      If it is too difficult or awkward to fit in the intro, then you include it in the second line and let people know there.
      (I'm learning this stuff at the moment)

    Do they not realise that this is pretty much already in place?

    Yes it still needs to be ratified by the COB, but individual publishers set the ratings for M and below after being trained on how to do it.

    Only MA expected titles front the board.

    So, nothing to see here really. Aside from the fact it will remove a huge cost to publishers to pay for a classification to be ratified AND it will reduce government income, so probably won't happen.

      If they don't do it, then they will not have a functional system. Requiring a $2000 or so fee be paid for every iOS game for example would effectively destroy that platform in Australia.

      I'm not sure that classification is an income stream for the government either. Would expect the opposite actually, that it costs more money to run than the fees cover.

    Seeing the word Professor rather than Pastor before the name of the commissioner in charge of the review puts me at a great deal of ease.

    "The Classification of Media Content Act should provide that one set of classification categories applies to all classified media content as follows: C, G, PG 8+, T 13+, MA 15+, R 18+, X 18+ and RC"

    So first off, does that mean there would be a X18+ for games aswell?

    Secondly, bravo ALRC on FINALLY getting this done.

      Given that X is for Non Violent Erotica I can't think of too many games that need this category at all!

    What happens if a game that should be MA is thought to be M and given to the industry to rate?

    1. When do we get MK9.
    2. When do we get MK9.
    3. When do we get MK9.

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