"If you shoot someone in a game ... that's fine, but if you had to like, molest a kid, obviously that's not fine," one Adult Gamer from Melbourne was quoted as saying.
As Kotaku Australia reported earlier, the Government noted that the Classification Board had commissioned a report into a range of issues. The report was effectively a series of focus groups run by Whereto Research Based Consulting, with the sessions taking place in-person and online at the end of June 2018.
29 people took part in the online discussions, with around 70 to 80 people taking part in-person for approximately 90 minutes. The idea was to get a bunch of insights from gamers about their concerns around loot boxes and microtransactions, the links between loot boxes and gambling, how society's approach to gaming has changed, and how people feel about content in games in 2019.
In a nutshell, the idea was to help the Department of Communications and the Arts (of which the Classification Board is a part of) understand gaming a little better, particularly when it comes to violence in video games, kids being exposed to the internet, and loot boxes especially.
Some takeaways from the discussion, at least from what the report quotes, were really good. Attendees were asked to give more context about gaming as an activity in the modern age, with participants talking not just about platforms like YouTube, Twitch and more, but also how games have matured as well:
The report noted that even though games are more photorealistic and immersive than before - partially because of new technology, but also the natural evolution of games design in general - most attendees said that this was something that should be celebrated:
For most across our groups, this was not an area of worry, but was instead an aspect to celebrate, allowing games to explore complex and taboo topics in a way that other media cannot, providing social discourse and commentary. But for some, this was concerning, with young people potentially being exposed to themes and graphic scenes that they may not be developmentally ready for.
So, largely what you'd expect from a government focus group into video games.
But then you dig deeper into the report, where participants are asked about their experiences with microtransactions, violent or objectionable content, and the experience of playing games online.
It's here that multiple kids from Wagga Wagga begin to appear. The report has multiple banger quotes from "Young Gamer, Wagga Wagga", which are better experienced than explained.
Here's some Young Gamers, talking about playing GTA and buying games off Steam using their grandmother's credit card:
And here's more young gamers talking about the matrix being broken:
Adult Gamer from Melbourne, who knows where to draw the line on content:
Two Young Gamers from Wagga, comparing items in CS:GO (or other online games) to the social validation teenagers used to get for the rims on their car:
The way the focus group was run was pretty interesting as well. The company selected a bunch of games for four categories - loot boxes, strong themes, online interactivity and "other simulated gambling". The general idea was to ask everyone assembled clips from those games, and gather their reactions, concerns as to whether the content was appropriate for the ratings given, how that content fit in with other broadcast content in the current day and age, and particularly whether parents thought said content was something that should be regulated more strongly.
At one point in the survey, people were shown two clips. The first one was the domestic violence scene from Detroit: Become Human, taken from the first hour of the game. After gathering their reactions to that content, whether it should be rated differently and how that fared to content shown in other mediums, attendees were also shown a clip of Battlefield Hardline.
For the segment on online interactivity, the organisers began with a brainstorm about how people interact online. Literally: they sat people in a room and asked people if they'd heard of some online games, and how people communicated in those:
After getting everyone's responses, they then showed the group a clip of Roblox as an "example" of normal online interactivity in games.
I promise you, you are not ready for this. Watch the below video with sound.
The Department of Communications and the Arts paid taxpayer dollars to a company, which then got a bunch of Australians and sat them down in front of that.
The focus group also touched on "simulated gambling", which is basically instances of actual slot machines/gambling appearing in video games. Candy Crush was brought up, being visually similar to slot machines, but attendees were also asked for their opinions on the Casino Forest level in Sonic Forces while watching the below clip.
Fortunately, Young Gamer From The Internet was not particularly troubled by Sonic doing Sonic things.
People were also asked to sit and watch a video about a game called Flip Diving, a game about diving backwards off a rock into a pool and doing as many flips as possible. It is, by most people's standards, fairly rubbish.
The most troubling part was stories from gamers or parents discussing how they'd racked up hundreds of dollars on their credit cards for various microtransactions. One parent mentioned spending around $600 for a particular mobile game, with another mentioning that the daughter of a friend spent around $800 without their parents realising. Those surveyed, however, didn't feel like the federal government was well placed to do anything about it, but parents questioned said in-game purchases should be something clearly identified on a retail box (or through the classification system).
Most of the responses were rather positive about games and the experience of video games, although that wasn't helped by the way the whole forum was structured. In the appendix for the report, the authors note that the whole session started with a brainstorm about "what kind of content can be problematic in gaming these days":
But even with that, the conclusions were pretty warm. Those surveyed said that games were generally rated appropriately, although more qualifiers could be applied when it came to microtransactions (a view also held by state gambling regulators). Games that used casino-like imagery were seen as fairly benign, with more education around the potential nature and dangers of online interactivity preferred.
The biggest red flag in the conclusions came from the view that Australian parents still felt that all games were designed for younger people, rather than a wide range of audiences, or specific subsets:
However, parents are not necessarily aware of the range of socially sensitive material that computer games can include, and there were indications that parents use restrictive ratings on games more as a guide than a legal restriction, assuming that all games are designed for young people.
You can view the full report, as well as the questions posted to the group, specific clips shown and some of the responses recorded, on the Classification Board website.