Everything That Will Get Your Game Banned In Australia

With the rise in high-profile video games running into the wall of Australia's classification system, it's high time we revisited an old chestnut: Australia might have an R18 rating for video games, but we also have some hugely strict limits on what can actually be classified R18.

Video games have always had a tougher time getting classified, thanks to the prevailing attitude around interactivity. The official guidelines for classifying video games notes that "interactivity is an important consideration" and that generally, computer games "may have a higher impact" than similar themes or tropes in film, TV or literature:

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.

At the higher classification guidelines, the "impact" of an element becomes particularly prominent. Impact is basically a catch-all term that covers the effect of a gameplay sequence, cutscene or set piece. It covers whether scenes are realistic (as opposed to stylised), whether some form of incentive is involved, the in-game cinematography, any repetition, special effects and the length of those particular elements.

"Impact may be lessened where reference to a classifiable element is verbal rather than visual," the guidelines say. "Also, some visual impacts have less impact than others: for example, an incidental depiction may have less impact than a direct one."

The 6 Elements Of Classification

Image: Outlast 2

Games in Australia are classified on six things: nudity, drug use, language, sex, violence and "themes". Themes basically means any social issues and topics covered by the plot or environment, like suicide, crime, death, illness, racism, and so on.

As far as the legislation is concerned, it's mostly applicable for the lower classifications — R18 games have "virtually no restrictions on the treatment of themes", while MA15 games can cover strong themes provided they are "justified by context".

The two major redlines flagged in the current guidelines are 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.

But if you read further, there's also a lot of very stringent limits on sex and violence that will also get a game banned. For instance, R18+ video games in Australia cannot have "depictions of actual sexual activity". Simulated sexual activity "may be permitted", but if those simulated depictions are "explicit and realistic", then those cannot be accommodated within the R18 guidelines, and any game with that would be refused classification. (Sexual violence is treated in a separate section, and not as lax as the guidelines for film.)

Here is the full list of what a R18+ game can have, as far as Australia's classification system is concerned:

R18+ - RESTRICTED

The impact of material classified R 18+ should not exceed high.

Note: Material classified R 18+ is legally restricted to adults. Some material classified R 18+ may be offensive to sections of the adult community.

THEMES

There are virtually no restrictions on the treatment of themes.

VIOLENCE

Violence is permitted. High impact violence that is, in context, frequently gratuitous, exploitative and offensive to a reasonable adult will not be permitted.

Actual sexual violence is not permitted. Implied sexual violence that is visually depicted, interactive, not justified by context or related to incentives or rewards is not permitted.

SEX

Depictions of actual sexual activity are not permitted.

Depictions of simulated sexual activity may be permitted.

Depictions of simulated sexual activity that are explicit and realistic are not permitted.

LANGUAGE

There are virtually no restrictions on language.

DRUG USE

Drug use is permitted.

Drug use related to incentives and rewards is not permitted.

Interactive illicit or proscribed drug use that is detailed and realistic is not permitted.

NUDITY

Nudity is permitted.

For the full list of reasons that will result in a game being refused classification in Australia. Some of the reasons are far less advertised, like the clauses around instructions on violence.

RC - REFUSED CLASSIFICATION

Paranautical Activity was refused classification in 2016 over incentivised drug use.

Computer games will be refused classification if they include or contain any of the following:

CRIME OR VIOLENCE

Detailed instruction or promotion in matters of crime or violence.

The promotion or provision of instruction in paedophile activity.

Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years.

Depictions of:

(i) violence with a very high degree of impact which are excessively frequent, prolonged, detailed or repetitive;

(ii) cruelty or realistic violence which are very detailed and which have a very high impact;

(iii) actual sexual violence.

Implied sexual violence related to incentives and rewards.

SEX

Depictions of actual sexual activity are not permitted.

Depictions of simulated sexual activity that are explicit and realistic are not permitted.

Depictions of practices such as bestiality.

Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:

(i) activity accompanied by fetishes or practices which are offensive or abhorrent;

(ii) incest fantasies or other fantasies which are offensive or abhorrent.

DRUG USE

Detailed instruction in the use of proscribed drugs.

Material promoting or encouraging proscribed drug use.

Computer games will also 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.


These guidelines were put together in 2012 when the R18 classification for video games was introduced. They're currently being reviewed by the Classification Board — and they said as much following DayZ's RC rating — but nobody knows precisely how far down the road that process is, or how long it will take.


Comments

    Isn't porn technically banned as well but everyone turns a blind eye?
    Heck, even Stan has Deep Throat on it.

      RC - REFUSED CLASSIFICATION

      SEX

      Depictions of actual sexual activity are not permitted.

      Depictions of simulated sexual activity that are explicit and realistic are not permitted.

      Depictions of practices such as bestiality.

      Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:

      (i) activity accompanied by fetishes or practices which are offensive or abhorrent;

      (ii) incest fantasies or other fantasies which are offensive or abhorrent.

        Also traditional porn is rated under the film guidelines (which are looser than those for video games).

          I looked it up and it's the X rating which is only legal in ACT and NT, but I'm pretty certain is sold everywhere.

            X-rated content can only be sold and distributed in the ACT and NT under state laws.

    I thought there was just one guideline they used:
    Does a game require the player to put their Big People Boots on and be responsible enough to understand the difference between fantasy and reality?
    If Yes -> RC
    If No -> R18+ and a follow up question:
    Does the game require adults to be responsible for the media their children consume?
    If Yes -> Sorry, it was actually RC
    If No -> MA15+ or lower
    *Removes tongue from cheek*

    Excuse me, what? "R 18+: Depictions of simulated sexual activity that are explicit and realistic are not permitted." What about porn, then? What if someone made some kind of sex education semi-interactive with 3D models demonstrating positions etc.? It's realistic, so it gets the chop? Does this mean UNREALISTIC (i.e. wild fetishes that defy physics) is A-OK but realistic sex isn't?!

      It's the interactive portion that is important to the classification board.

      3D models going at it, probably okay. Get a button prompt to switch positions? Probably banned

      Educational products (that are genuinely aimed at education markets) can apply for an exemption from classification.

        Bollocks to that! These are adults we're talking about, and the general public is in desperate need of as much education as they can get. That education needs to be fun and engaging, not made unappealing because it had to be made stuffy and academic just to be allowed to exist.. They should do away with their crusty old standards and shit wording and allow sexual content in material for adults. While I understand excluding dangerous simulations such as rape, snuff or pozzing, to blanket ban it is absurd and unhelpful.

      It's pretty simple, under current guidelines straight porn in a video game would be classified RC.

      'Realistic' refers to the correct anatomy in the correct locations, and yes, under some circumstances alien sex may be permitted.

        It's worth pointing out that 'straight porn' (which includes, but is obviously not limited to, straight porn) falls outside the R rating anyway. A separate classification, X, exists to cover such media (though it's actually very restrictive as well).

        There is no X rating for video games, however.

    These things are all neat and all, and they all make sense, it is however the consistency at which they apply them thats questionable.

    Fallout 3 - sure, encouraging Morphine is bad, but you still down MedX/Stims like no tomorrow with benefits. Doesn't that fit the RC category?

    Velvet Assassin - Morphine gives you bullet time, thats one hell of an incentive to me. No RC here.

    Saints 4 - you take fictional alien narcotics while inside a virtual world to gain super powers, no realistic context or even remotely realistic, still RC (while "fixed", I the game is now region locked to play with Australians only)

    GTA5 - where to start, crime is detailed and promoted, most certainly provides benefit, drugs are realistic and plenty, and the interactive torture scene is up there, but thats OK

    Probably my biggest gripe is around indie titles, allowed free reign on Steam to release in this country without rating classification, but blocked on consoles. So many [email protected] titles I'd love to have but can't on the console, could easily buy them in Australian currency on Steam.

    The rules seem fair, and small changes in a game design (MedX for example) do not harm the game in any way, its this country's consistency on how its enforced seems ridiculous to me.

      I don't disagree but wasn't Saints Row more about the arse seeking dildo cannon?
      On the drugs, I'm guessing a drug being fictional might not cut it if it's still portrayed as a drug and still beneficial.

      As for GTA5, it has drugs but they aren't beneficial in any way which seems acceptable, crime being beneficial doesn't seem to be an issue either.
      The torture scene is very much a debatable subject but like the crime aspects of the game it's open to a lot of context and deeper themes.
      As silly as it sounds, the fact it does illicit such a negative response from people kinda means it might've been doing its job.

      The MedX one is weird no matter how you look it at, I always wonder if Fallout drugs with positive effects are allowed because of the potential for getting an negative addiction status.

      Who knows, seems to be very RC first and ask questions never.

        The Rectifier was a "day-one DLC" as a Season Pass bonus and not included in the Australia version, which was fair enough (unless you count that Destroy All Humans has the very same weapon and was perfectly fine). The silly thing is that in both cases, the stigma for anal probing and aliens has been around since the '60s. Again, its the consistency over the RC thats most annoying.

        Promoting a negative response still isn't grounds to make it acceptable (according to their guidelines at least), agree with the negative response for sure, but what about that 1% that enjoyed it? Much like "No Russian" in Modern Warfare 2. I think if the scene in GTA5 was non-interactive, it would have been fine, but given you're pushing buttons and making choices, would that be any different if it was a sex scene and you got to interact in the same degree? I personally thing interactions of sweet sweet love are far less harmful than strapping up to a car battery and waterboarding...

    Many years ago, a friend of mine and I had to apply to the Classification Board for a set of "festival ratings" so that we could show unreleased anime in Australia at an anime convention. The thing we learned during this process is that context is everything when it comes to classification.

    You can essentially have anything you want in media in Australia, as long as you can present it in the correct context. Basically everything that gets banned fails (in the eyes of the Classification Board) to contextualise the content. 90% of the time the context can be as simple as "look at these characters doing this bad thing", but sometimes you need a little more nuance (you truly haven't lived until you've had to explain to the Classification Board the context surrounding why two lesbian lovers transform into a car at the end of the film).

    For video games it does seem a little tougher. The restrictions around sex don't apply to film content (you can have depictions of actual sex on film, which is why Australians were allowed to see In The Realm of the Senses uncut in 2001), and there's the weird belief that "interactivity makes things more impactful".

    Anyway, long story short, we should abolish the Classification Board and move to industry based classification schemes that actually classify, but don't censor, content.

      There are also problems with industry based management as well. Look at loot boxes.

    What does 'actual' mean in this context? Is 'actual sex' limited to real people having real sex?

      Think more graphic (forgive me) penetration and other porn-esque shots directly in the frame, as opposed to implied scenes like what you get in The Witcher etc.

    Proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards
    Still don't know why Dr Mario isn't rated higher or banned?

    So I can have sex in real life but can't play a game that depicts actual sexual activity, however, I can't murder someone in real life but I can play a game in which I murder someone?.... righto

    So many comments, so much churning of the usual indignation... but what is the wider context here? The Conservatives are in power in Australia - both State and Federal governments are conservative (bizarrely called LIBERAL in Aust but anything but when it comes to controlling people's private lives. The state NSW government is now so conservative that a bill decriminalising abortion was delayed yesterday.)

    Some gamers vote conservative I'm sure. Perhaps it's policies like anti-immigration or pro-gun, or pro low taxes and removing shackles from big business. Well censorship and interference in media, particularly things involved with sex and drugs (less so violence, conservatives love their violence) go hand in hand with those inherently conservative views.

    But you don't ever see a political blowup when it comes to Australia banning games.. and we should start seeing such debates. Gamers are spread across every community and political outlook. Rather than these discussion sections 100% filled with anti-government vitriol, why don't the gamers who voted for those conservative governments step up and explain why they continue to do so?

      Only some state governments are Liberal right now. Victoria, Western Australia, the ACT, and Queensland have Labor governments (though Queensland's Labor government seems hell-bent on bringing back the Bjelke-Pedersen regime).

        You don't think it's curious that this is all happening a week after the conservatives in the US were blaming videogames for the mass shootings? The influence happens quite directly via the penetration of the US evangelical churches into Australian political parties; and the classification board will have representatives from each state.
        I'm just hoping for some more complexity in these online discussions other than "1.that sux 2. I'll be importing this one then"

          I'll be honest... I think you're seeing patterns where none exist, there.

          Classification Board's gonna Classification Board. This would have happened regardless of events in other parts of the world.

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