The new guidelines for the R18+ rating have just been released, giving us a concrete idea of what the new adult rating for video games will look like. It's difficult to tell precisely how these will be implemented by the Classification Board when the rating comes into being in 2013, but at first glance, it does not look promising.
To begin with, the issue of interactivity increasing the impact of violence — yep, that old chestnut — rears its ugly head.
Interactivity is an important consideration that the Board must take into account when classifying computer games. This is because there are differences in what some sections of the community condone in relation to passive viewing or the effects passive viewing may have on the viewer (as may occur in a film) compared to actively controlling outcomes by making choices to take or not take action.
Due to the interactive nature of computer games and the active repetitive involvement of the participant, as a general rule computer games may have a higher impact than similarly themed depictions of the classifiable elements in film, and therefore greater potential for harm or detriment, particularly to minors.
Interactivity may increase the impact of some content: for example, impact may be higher where interactivity enables action such as inflicting realistically depicted injuries or death or post-mortem damage, attacking civilians or engaging in sexual activity. Greater degrees of interactivity (such as first-person gameplay compared to third-person gameplay) may also increase the impact of some content.
And it looks as though some games that were banned previously in Australia, without an R18+ rating, would most likely be banned under the new R18+ rating. Particularly with relation to in-game drug use.
Computer games will be Refused Classification if they contain: (i) illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards; (ii) interactive drug use which is detailed and realistic.
It's too early to make judgements — we'll have to wait and see precisely how the Classification Board applies these guidelines — but the R18+ rating, at this stage seems to share similarities to the previous MA15+ rating.
You can read the new guidelines in their entirety here.