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.