Australia's guidelines around the classification of video games are changing - and there's one last day to have your say. But while anyone can make a submission, there's a way to actually make your voice heard. So for advice on how to best pitch the government, I reached out to the people who know them best.
This story has been republished to coincide with the deadline for submissions into the classification review, which closes at 5:00pm AEDT today.
We've talked to the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) a lot in the past: they're the official lobbyists for the video game industry in Canberra, and as a result they're closed aligned with the classification system in Australia. IGEA's support was essential in getting an R18+ rating established, and they're working on getting the guidelines amended so games like We Happy Few, DayZ and Katana Zero don't run into so many roadblocks when trying to be classified in Australia.
Games don't get banned all that often, and every time it happens there's a surge of interest in Australia's archaic classification system.
As a reminder, here's what the guidelines review will be looking into exactly:
- How best to harmonise the regulatory framework for classification across broadcast content, online content and physical product such as DVDs and boxed games.
- Whether the criteria for classifying films and computer games are still appropriate and useful and continue to reflect community standards and concerns.
- The type of content that should be required to be classified.
- Who should be responsible for classifying content and what level of government oversight is appropriate.
So when making submissions to the inquiry - which close on February 19 at 5pm AEDT - those are the main beats you need to keep in mind.
When you go to fill out the form on the Department of Communications and Arts site - or the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications now because all those things don't need separate departments or anything - here's what you'll get:
If you're looking for guidance on the submissions themselves, they look an awful lot like this. Here's the first page of the public submission from Dr Marcus Carter, the University of Sydney's lecturer in Digital Cultures, on the loot box inquiry.
Not all submissions follow the same format, of course. IGEA's submission has a cover and a table of contents, introducing IGEA and establishing their position before going into a bolded, bulleted executive summary with background information on terms before specifically addressing the terms of reference.
Liquor & Gaming NSW's deputy secretary, on the other hand, addressed the committee in the form of a standard letter, while former Good Game host and Kotaku Australia alumni Jeremy Ray wrote his submission in a more traditional essay-like form.
So that's the structure of how to make a case to the government. But what's the best way to make your case heard?
Ron Curry, CEO of IGEA, says the biggest key is to take the emotion out of it. "I think the first solid piece of advice, and we learnt this through the R18 debate, is that any submission should be factually based, not emotionally based. It’s important to understand the questions being asked and really consider if the reply addresses the question," Curry told Kotaku Australia over email. "Any opinion (support or not) should be cogent, well-structured and politely crafted. You don’t need to be a great writer to make a submission, so don’t let that stop you."
Curry also recommended being practical when thinking about change. Government isn't known for moving quickly, thanks to the necessary machinations of government, and it helps if gamers tailor their ideas to that timeframe.
"Consider what’s doable in the short, medium and long term and perhaps structure any suggestions around this," Curry said. "Offer solutions, don’t just point out problems. Stating that something is unworkable, without suggesting an alternative isn’t helpful."
The IGEA CEO stressed that it's important for people to "read the guidelines and the Classification code", since the wording of the two have some "competing priorities". "Remind the government that the majority of game players are over 18," he added, noting that the most recent Digital Australia survey from Bond University has a lot of material that is useful. An older report from the Australian Law Reform Commission is worth reading as well, and can make for a great reference when thinking about suggestions or how suggestions should be framed.
I reached out to the Classification Board and their department for comment, and a spokesperson echoed a lot of Curry's sentiments. "Before you make a submission, read the consultation paper, the classification guidelines for films and games and the National Classification Code," a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications told Kotaku Australia.
"Clearly outline what aspects you think should change and why," they said.
The spokesperson's statement is fascinating in that it provides a very clear distinction. Cross-check the guidelines for films and games, see where the differences lie, and if you don't agree with them, ask: why?
IGEA's Curry, however, stressed once more that people need to be realistic with what this review will accomplish. "[Reviews] can take time and are often the first step in a change process," he said.
"Often big changes are iterative and the conversation will ebb and flow. This is only the first step and we assume there will be further consultation after this."
The department intimated something similar, noting that the reviews would help design recommendations on new guidelines. Those will then have to be approved not only at the federal level, but the states too.
"The Review will inform recommendations to Government on a new classification regulation framework that meets the needs of industry while providing appropriate information and protections for consumers," a spokesperson for the department said.
In other words: don't expect change tomorrow.
"Policy and politics is a long game; nothing happens quickly," Curry said.
For more details and links on where you can make a submission to the classification guidelines review, all the details are below.
The review of Australia's classification guidelines has formally begun and the Department of Communications and the Arts - and the Classification Board - would like you to have your say.