As you may already be aware, it is quite likely that Australia will soon be receiving an 18+ rating for video games come 2013. The guidelines for such a system were released today, providing us with an idea of what we can expect from the system. You can read the entire document HERE which provides a more in-depth look at what the system shall entail.
To introduce the underlying purpose of these guidelines, the aim is to bring in six levels of classification instead of the previous five – G, PG, M, MA15+, R18+ and Refused Classification. Once again, the six classifiable elements stand as Themes (Social issues), Violence, Sex, Language, Drug Use and Nudity. As discussed by Kotaku, the most interesting element of the document pertains to “Interactivity“, the differences between games and other forms of media and so forth. As quoted below:
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.
Interactivity may increase the impact of some content: for example, impact may be higher where interactivity enables action such as inflicting realistically depicted injuries or death or post-mortem damage, attacking civilians or engaging in sexual activity. Greater degrees of interactivity (such as first-person gameplay compared to third-person gameplay) may also increase the impact of some content.
In addition, a fair few of the elements that people were hoping would appear in an R18+ rating remains in the Refused Classification category. While some of these would have still fallen under the label irrespective, some of these including Drug Use may still have resulted in the classification issues a few years ago with (For example) Fallout 3. The following is the impact test for R18+ games.
There are virtually no restrictions on the treatment of themes.
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.
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.
There are virtually no restrictions on language.
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 is permitted.
For more information on what merits a refused classification, consult the guidelines document.
The iGEA (Interactive Games and Entertainment Association of Australia) who release regular documents such as Digital Australia (In collaboration with Bond University, detailing trends in gaming around Australia) have been quick to respond to the release of these guidelines and provided a reserved and qualified welcome to the release – but with comments.
“We, along with many other stakeholders, have worked for many years to have the classification scheme acknowledge that adults play and enjoy video games and are due the respect of a classification category that reflects ‘age appropriate’ content for adults. The new guidelines released today show that they have been crafted to try to balance the concerns of those who have resisted an R18+ classification and adults who want to play video games designed specifically for mature audiences and that are readily available in other developed democracies.
“Given the opposition to the introduction of an R18+ category from a vocal yet unrepresentative section of the community, along with a largely conservative group of Attorneys-General, it is no surprise the new guidelines hold video games to a higher standard across a number of categories compared to film and what originally existed for video games.
“As we have previously stated, we are concerned with the acknowledgment in the guidelines that interactivity has greater impact on players, despite the Federal Attorney-General’s office publishing a literature review in September 2010 that found no evidence to support these claims. There will be continued debate about whether the interactivity of video games has a greater impact than other forms of media, and we will continue to refer to the lack of the evidence to support these claims.
Ultimately, we will need to wait to see how the Classification Board interpret and administer the new R18+ and revised M and MA15+ categories. We trust that they will reflect the standards of morality, decency and propriety accepted by reasonable adults, not just the vocal ones.
I am holding out on my opinion for this until they implement it next year – but I remain curious if this will serve more to opening the door to more games in the Australian market or just limit games that were originally MA15+ to those under the age of 18.