Talks Have Begun About Updating The Classification Guidelines For Video Games

Talks Have Begun About Updating The Classification Guidelines For Video Games
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Kotaku Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

Following the overturning of We Happy Few‘s RC rating by the Classification Board’s review panel, the Department of the Communications and the Arts has confirmed that talks have begun to “modernise” the classification guidelines.

The department’s media team confirmed that talks had begun with states and territories. Much like the implementation of the R18+ rating, any adjustment to the classification guidelines for computer games “must be agreed by classification ministers in all jurisdictions,” the department told Kotaku.

“The Department is currently examining how the National Classification Scheme can be modernised,” the department said. “The Department has commenced discussions with the states and territories, which are joint partners in the National Classification Scheme, and will consult extensively with industry stakeholders and community organisations.”

Confirmation of the talks has followed the initial ban, and subsequent review, of We Happy Few. The indie was initially given an RC rating over the prominence of the drug Joy, which underpins the game’s dystopian society by being used as a method of controlling the populace. The Board’s initial finding found that the presence of Joy violated the clause on incentivised drug use:

A player that takes Joy can reduce gameplay difficulty, therefore receiving an incentive by progressing though the game quickly. Although there are alternative methods to complete the game, gameplay requires the player to take Joy to progress.

– Classification Board’s report on We Happy Few

As part of the review process, the Classification Review Board – a separate statutory body – took submissions from the developer, publisher, and the public. Around 88 submissions were received, the department said, adding that those submissions “are not made public”.

This is especially helpful for fans of We Happy Few: as part of the appeals process, Compulsion Games provided additional video and context that spoils part of the plot and lore. Producer Sam Abbott also told Kotaku that the appeal cost $10,000, a hurdle they wouldn’t have been able to surmount without the support of publisher Gearbox.

We Happy Few Developers: The Classification Board 'Made The Best Decision They Could'

Following the unanimous overturning of the Classification Board's original RC rating for We Happy Few, Compulsion Games has expressed sympathy for the statutory body. The studio -- and Aussie gamers -- is glad that the RC rating was overturned, but one We Happy Few producer isn't sure the Board could have ruled any other way.

Read more

The department also said that they would “consult extensively with industry stakeholders and community organisations” in any amendments to the guidelines around video game classifications, but did not provide a timeline as to when said discussions might take place.


  • $10,000?! What a rort. I don’t give a damn about cost justification, if the title had been assessed fairly in the first place they never would have been stung for that much. It was a sloppy effort to consider the gameplay as “incentivising” drug use anyway. “Gameplay requires the player to take Joy to progress” – no shit, Sherlock. It’s a dystopian society where taking Joy is mandatory. The idea that grown adults might be led astray into a life of drugz and cryme (misspelling intentional) because a video game made them take a made-up drug that doesn’t exist is ridiculous.

    • 1. Games are for kids
      2. $10,000 is so that all the games that get refused classification don’t appeal when they have zero chance
      3. I can’t keep up the sarcasm. The whole classification system’s organisation is entirely dumb, outdated and needs fixing.

    • Taking the drug isn’t mandatory though. Ironically, if it WAS mandatory, there likely would not have been an issue in the first place. The problem arose because the taking of the drug made the game easier – ie, there’s an incentive to take it. The player is given a choice and the game is made easier of they decide to take it. THAT is the crux of the original issue.

      • Which despite the context of the game is still against the policies. It’s not like they can just ignore them. The basic idea is that when something like this happens we are supposed to review things. see how we can improve the policies and ensure that games can properly be classified.

    • I don’t agree with the current classification structure around drugs because we have movies with drugs and I don’t see the difference.

      That aside, perhaps their original submission was inadequate given the current restrictions – and perhaps if they had ‘beefed’ it up it would have gone through? We can’t automagically fault the classification board.

      • Movies are passive. In the game, your avatar is taking the drugs. It’s 1/2 a step away from you shooting up heroin in real live.

    • Even then though, each country can say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to the game. The best example of this is Germany who outright bans a lot of games. Half-Life 1, for example, had no zombies in it. Instead, they were robots and had blue ‘blood’ instead of red. Not to mention any game with Nazis in them being changed so they don’t…

    • Can I tell you though – our classification symbols (ie G, PG, M etc) shit all over the awful looking PEGI ratings from a design standpoint

      • I *hate* the way our classifications look on packaging. I much prefer the PEGI design, personally.

        Definitely a matter of taste, though.

  • Unlike any other media reviewed by the Classification board, video games are treated differently and I think unfairly in some cases… they factor interactivity into their reviews way too heavily. Their is no proof that by adding an interactive element has an adverse effect on people, its a remnant of the whole video games are just for kids.

    There is an R18+ classification, use it as you would a movie… not treat it differently. Let adults make informed decisions, not allow the board to make ill informed ones.

    They don’t judge songs that way, if you sing along, is that not interactivity. Considering what some song lyrics say, is it right for a person to sing along to a song about drug use… yes!, but in an electronic medium is not right for your character to mimic another character on screen and take drugs.

    If a scripted event in a movie has sex/drug references that’s fine, but a scripted event in a game is not okay cause your holding a controller and may have to push a button during it.

    • Even if there aren’t any studies to support it (or rather, even if the majority of all the conflicting studies produced don’t support it) I can intuitively buy into the idea of interactivity having a heightened impact on a child’s psyche, if not influence on their behaviour. After all, most of our legal/governance systems take into consideration that young minds are less capable of distinguishing between reality and fantasy, and have not developed a full awareness of consequences for their actions.

      But that’s irrelevant to an R18 classification, because R18 is for adults. The very existence of interactivity as a factor (by way of different standards between film/video games) in the adult classification is very clearly supporting the point of view that adults are affected by the degree of interactivity afforded in games that we can’t be trusted to experience the same things in games that we can on less interactive screens.

      I just don’t buy that, and can’t support it. The core, underlying requirements of adulthood is taking responsibility for our own actions and awareness of the consequences of our actions. Video game standards for R18 need to be brought into line with other media, or credible evidence provided to support the view that adults are significantly more at risk from video game depictions of questionable content than other media.

      • This. So very much this. I can also easily accept theres a heightened level of interaction with games as well, but dont buy into protecting the adults from adulting.

        Currently it seems the R18 rating is mostly lip service, and does little to break down the problems that led to it being introduced in the first place. Which were the same thing – let adults be adults and make the decision for themselves.

        At least this is a game we can get behind to adjust rules and fix the issue that isnt so negatively controversial that it splits everyone. It would be that much harder if it was something like GTA 5 that drove the debate.

      • Also for @grunt.

        You can thank Michael Atkinson for that. He effectively coined or took ownership of the term vulnerable adults.

        Even if his focus of the term was on those with intellectual impairments, it was still a very weak counter claim even if there was solid evidence in its support.

        • Yeah, I remember Atkinson’s role. I dont think many gamers shed a tear when he stepped down. Thing for me is that for many impaired people games are a release. They arent as handicapped as they might be with other parts of society.

          A few impaired friends I play cards with love playing GTA 5 for example. They get to drive for starters, something they fully understand is not happening in reality. And they’re damn good at it to. And almost without fail, they have someone responsible keeping an eye on their money for them who would have been with them when the game was bought.

          With cards, the tournament poker we play is another one of those things that are a release for them. Its not gambling, but it lets them imagine the feeling of playing those high stakes tables you see in the movies. And they compete on an equal footing with everyone else. They dont feel second rate, and thats a good thing. Games do the same thing.

  • I always expected the drug use clause would be what tripped the next panic, but I thought one of the main reasons it was RC’d was that the classification board either didn’t read the guidelines properly, or believed that “Joy” was a real drug?

    The point in the guidelines being referenced specifically states “illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards” – Joy, being a fictional drug, is not illicit and cannot be proscribed. Fallout 3’s change to “Med-X” demonstrated that the clause doesn’t apply to fictional drugs, and the clause has not changed since then.

    Unless, of course, there actually is a drug on the streets called “Joy,” in which case… wow, that’s really bad luck.

    • You missed an important part of that bolding.

      illicit or proscribed drug use

      The key factor is HOW the drugs are used, rather than whether or not they are real. In this case, the drug Joy was being used as a way to, lore-wise, suppress the populace, but mechanically, it made the game easier and therein lies why it was RCed. It’s not because there were drugs, but because the drugs benefited the gamer. It’s the same reason they pulled a mission from Saints Row 4. One of them had you take a drug, and hen you got superpowers.

    • As I’ve said elsewhere, its not hard to do. The board has a pretty short turnover (term is only 2 or 4 years from memory), and it only takes the wrong emphasis in training someone new to focus on the ‘drug use is bad’ part, and undersell the ‘illicit or prescribed’ part for this to happen.

      With humans involved, mistakes happen. This is just a good example of where they can tighten up the process and do better in future.

      Personally, I think any media that gets RC’d should instantly be peer reviewed by a panel, just like this did, to see if its the correct rating. Then focus on the issues that led to the RC.

      Its not hard to communicate with the developers to say “there are concerns with X, the process will take a little longer”, and avoid needing to resubmit a second time. Any that deserve an RC will be pretty obvious on that second screening as well.

  • Playing Life is Strange: Before the Storm, I’m left wondering how the merry adventures of my favourite stoner managed to get away with only Strong Impact drug use and an MA15+ in comparison.

  • I plan on writing to my states attorney general, I believe they are the ones in charge of the rating system (feel free to correct me if I am wrong). If anyone else feels as strongly as I do, then I suggest you do the same.

    I plan on pointing out the double standard of rule when compared against other media and the hypocrisy currently existing in how the rulings are made where large developers are not affected yet smaller developers are forced to tow the line. As well as some stats about the what the average gamer is and some anti censorship points for good measure.

    If you are planning on doing this as well, I would recommend being respectful, as tempting as it would to do otherwise. Impolite letters or emails will be ignored immediately.

    • I believe they are the ones in charge of the rating system (feel free to correct me if I am wrong)

      From memory, change to our ratings guideline require unanimous support.

      So why they are the ones to pressure, it is also where the major flaws lie.

      Atkinson not only used his position to veto the move based on his own religious grounds, but he even had a tendency to drag out discussion of provided papers and even changed his calendar on more than one occasion just to use his absence to block the change.

      I covered this in detail before but one of the elements to change is the process itself. Not the assessment and the application of the guidelines, but the government process that allows it change.

      As it stands, a single person can stall the process indefinitely so the process has to be updated first to stop this happening.

  • does the R18+ category allow for any forms of references to sexual violence or sexual activities related to incentives and rewards? Because it’s all over the South Park fractured but whole ratings advice.
    I thought sex as a reward or incentive was a no-no?
    Because that is what is says in the guidelines under RC

  • Sex for rewards is fine in the R rating, it was under MA that it was an issue! Sexual violence must only be implied, not visualised and cannot be related to rewards in the R rating. I think the ACB and politicians in general are all about semantical games and technicalities. Something can be described one way and be banned, while explained another way it can be fine, despite the end result being identical. If ratings were a privatised industry body then things would be much better, more efficient and more consistent. its simply a result of being a government department that there are so many issues. But the govt will never relinquish the control they have, unfortunately.

    Many things that people think are “essential” in society would be a heck of a lot better if they were privatised, but due to the govts love of control and the public’s illusion it *must* be handled by the govt, means many things will remain public and inefficient forever. When bodies aren’t tied to profit/feedback they inevitably remain shite. It’s the discussion I try to have with idiots who are in favour of evil systems like communism/socialism; you would be MUCH worse off if the govt handled EVERYTHING in society. Imagine the supermarket being run like Centrelink is run? Or Immigration? It’d take a week and 20 forms later to get a carton of milk! Want a steak? Pay $10 for an admin fee, fill out a form S and that wait time will be 1 month! (really takes 2 months). You MIGHT get it in the mail 2 months later and 5 calls to “customer service” later.

    So yeah, my point is, if you want things to get better with the ratings system then demand it be privatised! PEGI or the ESRB will do!

  • I love how you can smoke cigarettes which science has proven to vastly increase your chances of dying early and causing long term health effects that the govt will have to pay for…. That they sell in 100 thousand locations around Australia, which is A-OK, but a game that might sell maybe 10k copies in Aus you have to take anti-psycosis medication (Pretty much, lets be honest!) and suddenly it’s a big deal.

    • …. What are you talking abeet? Our gvt has worked harder to curb the sale and consumption of cigarettes than pretty much any other in the world. We banned advertising, tax the crap out of them, implemented plain packaging laws, and fought to keep them in international courts. We set a precedent that has allowed other countries to follow.

      • (I don’t support the sale of cigarettes btw, it’s gross) But you can still buy it…. Just say cigarettes were to not exist prior to now, and it were to come out now, do you think they would allow it still? Or would they request sciencitific studies showing it almost always leads to lung cancer over prolonged use and say NOPE. Trying to point out that just because it’s bad the govt regulates some things 1 way because socially it’s acceptable, but with other things it’s flat out banned. Let adults be adults, you can go to war for your country, you can kill for your country, but you couldn’t play a video game because it involves drugs that heal you or make the game easier…. 😐

  • The best thing to ever happen to this game was the temporary ban, it’s gotten people excited and wanting to buy it because of the controversy, it’s certainly not excitement for the actual game which is below average at best

  • $10k to review?
    It’s hard not to see this as anything more than revenue raising, really. What an extortionate amount of money.

  • Yeah, $10,000 for a couple of people to sit around a desk debating the merits of video game content for an hour lol. Like anything the government does, its blindly inefficient, pointless and a total rort for the sake of greed! $10,000 is only a little more than my wife’s partner visa which took 4 years and a million pieces of paper.

    Obscene. Just obscene.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!