Australia's System Of Classification Needs To Change, What's Taking So Long?

Video game classification doesn't just affect our experience as consumers, it affects the local games industry as a whole. So when we continue to operate a system that was invented before video games came on CD-ROMs we're, to quote an episode of South Park, 'gonna have a bad time'.

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) made a series of recommendations as to how classification in Australia could and should evolve. Those changes included shifting some of the burden of classification to the industry itself, alongside a more streamlined consistent approach to classification across all different types of media (movies, TV, video games, etc). The problem now, it seems, is not the recommendations themselves, but convincing the government to implement those recommendations.

The iGEA, as representatives of the Australian Games industry, simply wants those recommendations implemented.

So what's the delay? The ALRC's recommendations were tabled in March 2012. That was 20 months ago. There has been little progress, in terms of classification as a large scale thing, since that report was tabled. Considering the release of new consoles and their focus on digitally distributed content, it seems as though some sort of change is absolutely paramount. It needs to happen quickly and needs to happen soon.

"[I]t is critical that further delay is avoided and that the full extent of the ALRC’s recommendations are properly considered," said the iGEA in the report, and called for the ALRC's co-regulatory recommendations for classification be implemented.

Perhaps of more importance is the inflexibility of the classification scheme itself, with its dependence on the consensus of state Attorneys-General. Some sort of shake up there is required, to ensure that change can occur in a timely manner when change is required.

Video games and media in general is a fast moving space. That pace isn't going to slow down anytime soon and, at the moment, we are completely ill-equipped to cope with that pace.


    Just make everything rated R so we can end this debate.

      Or just ban all games forever, right?

    They (the Attorney Generals) probably think that they've just introduced the R18+ rating, what more do they need to do. There's simply no-one in politics or the right office capable of keeping track of fast moving industries like gaming.

    The reason it's taking so long is that we had a change of government to a bunch of conservatives that are far more interested in slashing valuable government programs in pursuit of some mystical 'budget surplus' holy grail that's going to solve all our problems. Fixing broken old systems that work exactly as they were designed is low on their priority list.

    Most likely they'll throw away all of the work done because it was done by the Labor government, and commission a new study instead. :\

    Besides that, it took a million years to get R18+ through and I imagine this would be the same. IIRC the ALRC suggested a re-tooling of all classification, not just games. That'll take a lot of time to happen.

    Last edited 03/12/13 12:55 pm

      I'm not sure that's true. While I'm far from our current govt's biggest fan, they have only been in place two months. The blame for the other eighteen months of delay rests elsewhere...

        I'd be apprehensive to bring it up as an issue though with the current government. They are more interested in hacking and slashing public services than delivering what people actually want. I'd be worried that if this is petitioned (or what ever to get it noticed) they would just "put it up for review" just like everything else and then cut the R18+ rating again or at least limit it further.

        Like the previous hostile senate?

        There isn't a good side to choose in Australian politics at the moment.

          Agreed picking a party is like picking which eye you get punched in. It's not really a choice you want to make, but you have to choose by law.

          And if you say you didn't vote for Labor or Liberal and chose another option, the way our politics works is choosing say the arm over the eye just means your letting somebody else choose which eye.

        Indeed, much of the holdup with getting the R18 rating signed off on was down to Michael Atkinson being a dinosaur as SA Attorney-General and he's in the Labor Party. So yeah, as much as I really dislike the current Government, the previous one and its members was equally inept

    Australia's System Of Classification Needs To Change, What's Taking So Long?

    The same reason why we're not making progress on anything in general. Old men who can't let go of the old ways and are afraid of the future.

      Throw in a few vested interests and suits while your at it!

    Well it only took a decade to get the R18+ for games, let's not rush these guys... In the meantime 95% of my physical game collection has either the PEGI or ESRB rating attached.

    Here are my ideas for how to solve the classification system problem:
    Step 1. Completely dissolve the existing system.
    Step 2. Move to an industry-driven model ala. the ESRB
    Step 3. Ensure all forms of media are classified by the same set of rules (none of this "interactivity" crap)
    Step 4. Substantially reduce (or entirely remove) any costs associated with getting a product classified.
    Step 5. Ensure that the classifications are for INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY - NO CENSORSHIP
    Step 6. Have an auditing body for any complaints about a given rating.
    Step 7. Change the G, PG, M, MA, R and X ratings to suggested age ranges, ala PEGI
    Step 8. Reduce the size of the rating stickers. Colour coding is OK(ish) but they don't need to take up a 1/4 of the box.

    That's all I can think of for now, but if even just a handful of those things were implemented, the system would already be hundreds of times better.

      I mostly agree with that, the only change I'd make is keep it governmental rather than straight industry driven. Companies submit a recommended rating with video proof that the rating is consistent, costs a hundred bucks or so for review & filing.

      It could be kept in check by a complaint based review system. If, for example, a new gears of war is rated as suitable for kids and parents complain about the graphic violence, the board can review it in detail and when found to be glaringly inappropriate for kids, they could levy fucking enormous fines for misrepresenting their product.

      That'd keep it as a valid force of law which I think is a good thing, it'd reduce the workload of the OFLC, reduce costs to the submitting parties and have significant impact for breaches.

      Last edited 03/12/13 1:47 pm

      What would be ideal I think is if they could import or map from other industry bodies for a classification. PEGI's ratings track very nicely relative to ours - same number of categories, roughly the same age ranges (except where we have two 15+ ratings but only one is restricted) and most of our classifications end up in the equivalent PEGI bucket as well.

      I agree with everything except #8. Having boxes appropriately labelled helps consumers make decisions. Also, current rating labels aren't THAT big.

      I disagree with changing the ratings to suggested age ranges. If its a game with boobies, or even just straight up porn, If its a suggestion, then in theory my theoretical 7 year old could go off and buy it. There is a reason why some games are restricted, and its so theoretical (or real) kids can't go off and buy wildly inappropriate games or movies.

      As laid out here, you would have four year olds watching explicit nonconsensual sex.

      Censorship of material for adults is one thing, but limiting material available for small children is not entirely pointless. Early exposure to explicit porn can be fairly traumatic.

      Steps 4 & 6 lead to the question of who pays for the audits?

      "Step 1. Completely dissolve the existing system."

      Bit rash isn't it? We should just make some changes to it.

      "Step 2. Move to an industry-driven model ala. the ESRB"

      It'll never happen. Australia is not America. We aren't hung up on the whole liberterian, freedom of business thing as the US is. In Aus it's more about the community than individuals. Also we like government control.

      "Step 4. Substantially reduce (or entirely remove) any costs associated with getting a product classified."

      Not possible. Everything costs money. How are you going to pay the classifiers? They won't bother turning up for work if they're not getting paid. If it's an industry-driven model then the industry pays.

      "Step 6. Have an auditing body for any complaints about a given rating."

      As long as people/groups who have absolutely no idea about gaming aren't allowed to complain / get a rating reviewed :) An auditing body should be there for distributors and publishers only. The auditing body should also be incorporated within the Classification Board, just another team of people from the first team in order to cut costs. Government Pollies should absolutely NEVER be able to have a rating on ANYTHING reviewed. If the Ned Flanders groups complain then the complaint should be tossed into the garbage where it belongs. You can't please everyone.
      The choice of classifiers should be people from ALL walks of life in Aus (even those who aren't lawyers or Liberal Party people) but the game classifiers should be gamers themselves.

      "Step 7. Change the G, PG, M, MA 15+, R 18+ and X 18+ ratings to suggested age ranges, ala PEGI"

      You may be interested in the ALRC's initial set of recommended ratings which included a T13+ rating replacing M although the rest of the ratings were unchanged. They scrapped the T13+ recommendation after Foxtel (and probably Free TV too) lobbied them and told them that replacing M with T13+ would screw with commercial TV drama of the M kind which is aimed at adults.
      I don't know why they have to watch all that porn. Just scrap the X 18+ rating and trust that the sex shops won't have anything too extreme or illegal on the shelf. Let individuals complain if they find something that shouldn't be there but be wary of the Ned Flanders groups abusing this rule. If they abuse the rule too much then withdraw it.

      How about a C or P rating for things like Hi-5 or Purple Dinosaur DVDs ?

      "Step 8. Reduce the size of the rating stickers. Colour coding is OK(ish) but they don't need to take up a 1/4 of the box."

      HELL YEAH !!! I completely agree. They should incorporate the BBFC design which has a small (by comparison) '18' or whatever on the front of the box and consumer advice on the back.

    There needs to be someone standing up saying they won't play by this system any more. Right now nothing is changing, because there's no resistance to the current system. The industry body, and consumers complain about it all the time, but that's it. It's time the industry took some real action here. That means start selling games without submitting them for censorship. Just sell them. Online, in-store, whatever. There needs to be a MAJOR change to the way this regime works, no-one who has the power to make this change is interested in it, because there's no real need to make a change, everyone is complying to the existing system anyway...

    Us consumers all too often are left taking risks to import unclassified or RC'd games, just to give publishers our hard earned money. We take all the risks they get all the reward. If they want to continue receiving my money, it's time they stood up as well, stop leaving it to us to take risks parallel importing RC'd games, actually sell it to me directly, within Australia, stand up to this regime of censorship.

      While I usually like to agree with rampant anarchism, I have to point out that our ratings system is federally enforced law. Big industry players would never in a million years knowingly and willingly break that law, if for no other reason than the stakeholders (ie. shareholders) would have a fit of biblical proportions leading to a lot of top people losing their jobs.

    A Simple Graphic explaining what we had, what we wanted, and what we got

      The problem with your graphic is that many gamers believed that quite a few MA 15+ titles (pre-R 18+) should have been rated R 18+ instead, if only that rating had existed at the time.

      Also.. the bar between what isn't banned and what is.. is just a little bit better now than it used to be.. due to the fact that Mortal Kombat is R 18+ now and the exact same game was banned in the time before R 18+ was introduced.

      We were never, ever going to get the "What we wanted" graphic. Let's be realistic here. Incidentally the "What we wanted" graphic is exactly what Michael Atkinson thought the system would become as well. Other than that the graphic is pretty good :) I've saved it.

    The people who get elected to run this country are conservative right wing bastards for the most part, and they give all the jobs to their conservative right wing mates. It's surprising you can buy anything not approved by the catholic church ladies groups outside of canberra, where whole piles of crap is legal so the kids of the dinosaurs in charge don't spend as much time in holding cells waiting for daddy to get them off. Apparently canberrans are so bad at growing weed they need 5 plants for personal use, which is decriminalized there.

    Last edited 03/12/13 2:34 pm

    Simple graphic detailing what we wanted, what we had and what we got

    There is a media classification focus group on this month, guess we will have to wait for that to complete

    It's a shame our government is to busy considering legalizing marijuana for teens to stop binge drinking, using the new bikie laws to harass innocent people with tatttoos or a motocycle and cutting early childhood, disability, education and science from the cabinet.

    Maybe then we could stop living in the fucking stone age (by comparison)

      " It's a shame our government is too busy considering legalising marijuana for teens to stop binge drinking "

      What on Earth are you talking about? No they aren't. Not in a million years.

        Do you even google? Check that shit out!

          Please explain to me what kind of "shit" I should be checking out then?

          Do I even google? WTH are you on about?

          Sometimes I google, yes.

          The internet has about 8 gazillion pages. Show me some links then . Your posts couldn't be more random. I don't think you're putting enough effort into your posts.

          Prove to me your claim that "our government is to(o) busy considering legali(s)ing marijuana for teens to stop binge drinking".

          I'm guessing you can't.

          I repeat what I said before: "What on Earth are you talking about? No they aren't. Not in a million years." Your statement is crazy.

          You seem to have confused Australia with Colorado and Washington.

          If you're talking about the news articles from July 2013 that begin with - "THE head of Australia's leading alcohol research body has called for marijuana to be legalised to reduce the harm of drinking."

          That doesn't mean squat. Australian government is not considering, has never considered legalising marijuana. Just because the head of some body is "calling for" something doesn't mean our govt. is considering it. Now I'm saying that the mere 'considering' will never happen in a billion years.


          Happy to clear things up for you.

    Sorry about that abuse ^ I apologise.

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