Gamers, it is, unfortunately, the worst time of the year: federal election time. Surprisingly enough, Australia’s video games industry has come up during this wretched time, and not even to the tune of ‘we are going to boost the local industry.’ That’s help that typically falls to state governments after all.
We are once again talking about games and Australian classification criteria.
As reported by The Guardian, communications minister Paul Fletcher announced on Wednesday that if the Liberal Party is re-elected, it would ‘update’ the Australian classification code. As mentioned by writer Josh Taylor, the code has not been updated since ‘the VHS era’, apart from the allowance of R18+ ratings for games in 2013.
The code update would seek to address ‘a range of issues’. These include a minimum classification rating for games that include loot boxes. Games found to contain loot boxes would need to denote that they contain ‘simulated gambling.’ The update would also seek to address content that ‘sexualises children or depicts suicide or violence against women’.
Fletcher states during this announcement:
“The government’s priority is keeping Australians safe online, so having clearer advice alerting parents and other consumers to the presence of in-game purchases, such as loot boxes, will help them manage their and their children’s engagement with this content.”
This announcement could be a reflection of the government’s proposed game-focused review of the Australian Classification system. However, submissions for this review closed in February 2020 and in the period since, no public responses to said submissions nor publicly-published results of the review have ever materialised.
Ron Curry, the CEO of IGEA, reportedly worked closely with the Coalition government on the 2019 review and is also still waiting to see the results, so it seems like it could be possible that there’s a correlation, but also perhaps not. Taylor also reports that game developers ‘were not consulted’ prior to the announcement.
When reached for comment, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young replied via statement: ‘Not only has the Morrison Government say (sic) on these recommendations for the last two years, the Coalition has been in government nine years – if they were serious about this they would have acted by now. The Greens have raised serious concerns about the risk to children and vulnerable adults from developing gambling-related harms through interaction with loot boxes. We consider these risks to be of such significance that stronger regulatory action should be taken. The next parliament should get on with it, regardless of who forms government.’
Labor MP Tim Watts shared a similar sentiment, but was rather more direct. “If Scott Morrison had acted on the recommendations of two Parliamentary inquiries into loot boxes when they were made, back in 2019 and 2020, this work might already have been done and there might already be updated consumer advice.” Watts’ statement goes on to mention that the review of the Classification scheme is not the only thing the Coalition is ‘running late on’.
“The Minister says he wants to classify games that simulate gambling yet meanwhile there’s still no sign of the National Self-Exclusion Register that was meant to be up and running by May 2020 to allow individuals at risk of or experiencing gambling-related harm to exclude themselves from interactive wagering services and limit their exposure to direct marketing activities,” Watts said.
Based on the official announcement from Fletcher, it doesn’t look like this update of the code will be looking at anything else outside of the aspects listed above. While Fletcher states the move “isn’t about banning or censoring content,” and rather is concerned with “ensuring families can make more informed choices,” the proposed updates might see games with loot boxes and disturbing themes face harsher restrictions in future.