An R18+ Classification for video & computer games – A discussion of the facts


An R18+ Classification for video & computer games – A discussion of the facts

May 1, 2009

What is the IEAA’s position on the issue?

The Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia (IEAA) believes that the introduction of an R18+ classification is essential to:

  • Future-proof the computer and video games industry in light of technology convergence which is blurring distinctions between different types of media;
  • Cater to the rising age of computer and video game players in Australia (in 2008 the average age of Australian gamers was 30), allowing adult gamers to be treated as such and have broad choice in the types of games they play;
  • Provide parents with a complete toolkit to manage children’s game playing;
  • and Bring Australia into alignment with the rest of the world.

Harmonisation of the national classification scheme will provide Australians with a consistent and uniform system which will allow consumers to make educated and informed decisions on their entertainment choices, regardless of the medium or delivery method.

Discussion of arguments opposing an R18+ for games

The following concerns have been raised in the media by lobbyists and politicians

An R18+ classification for games will greatly increase the risk of children and vulnerable adults being exposed to damaging images and messages

    There already exists a considerable body of works containing potentially damaging images and messages, including films and publications, to which children and vulnerable adults may be exposed. Games that should be restricted to adults are already widely available to Australians through the internet. Adding an R18+ classification will not increase the amount of adult material available, but will provide labeling information to assist parents to make informed decisions.

The interactive nature of electronic games means that they have a much greater influence than viewing a movie does

      This is a mistaken belief created 20 years ago as video and computer games were emerging as a mainstream form of entertainment. Research indicates that the relationship between depictions of violence in the media and subsequent acts of violence is extremely complex, with a number of variables, such as family circumstances, parental influence, poverty, health and substance abuse, determining who will be affected and in what way.

Research not only fails to provide concrete evidence that there is a connection between violent media and aggressive behavior; it also fails to distinguish between video games and other forms of media. There is no known psychological peculiarity of the video and computer game experience which indicates that a differential classification system should be applied to this medium.

The absence of an R18+ classification keeps the most extreme material off the shelves; it prevents children and vulnerable adults from being exposed to sexual abuse, criminal activity, and extreme violence in video games; it prevents children and vulnerable adults from virtual participation in sex, criminal activity, and extreme violence

    An R18+ classification for games will not make any of this type of material available to children and vulnerable adults. The combined classification guidelines for films and computer games have been written in a non-media specific manner and are applied to both games and films. The R18+ classification guidelines for films can be applied very simply to games – just as the other classifications are. The R18+ classification prohibits sexual abuse and extreme violence. The Refused Classification category in the guidelines already specifically prohibits material that promotes or provides instruction in criminal activity.

In cinemas, the age of moviegoers can be regulated, and at the video store people must provide ID to hire R18+ videos. Once electronic games are in the home, access to them cannot be policed and the games are easily accessible to children. These days, older children (18-30) are often living in the family home with younger children (under 18). This means games belonging to older children or parents can easily make their way into the hands of those under 18.

    Computer and video games can be accessed by children in the same way as films on video and DVD. There is no logical reason to suggest that the restrictions and sanctions that apply to films and already apply to MA15+ classified games cannot apply to R18+ classified games. Equally, R18+ films brought into the home by older siblings can make their way into the hands of those under 18.

Why isn’t there an R18+ already?

In the early 1990s, Australia, along with many other countries, made the decision to create a classification or ratings system for computer and video games. Australia was one of the very few countries to decide on a legally regulated system. At this time, there was little understanding of the medium amongst regulators and the Censorship Ministers made the decision to exclude an R18+ classification for computer and video games from the national classification scheme based on three assumptions. Those assumptions have subsequently been shown to be incorrect:

Incorrect Assumption 1. – Computer and video games are only for children

    There is a perception that computer and video games are only for children, but more than 70 per cent of players in Australia are older than 18, and 20 per cent are more than 39 years old. The average age of computer and video game players in Australia is 30 years. This is a natural progression of the first generation of computer and video game users.

Incorrect Assumption 2. – The level of technology involved with the use of computer and video games means that many parents do not necessarily have the competency to ensure adequate parental guidance

      Australian research between 1994 and 2007 (the current life of the computer and video games classification scheme) indicates that Australian parents are comfortable with the technology and content of computer and video games.

Parents do not require government policy to provide any more tools than exist for other media to assist them in managing their children’s access to computer and video games. This is in part because parents are gamers too.

Incorrect Assumption 3. – Due to their interactive nature, it was thought computer and video games may have greater impact, and therefore greater potential for harm or detriment, on young minds than film and videos.

      There are still too few studies on the influence of computer and video games to draw any safe conclusions about their effects. Some studies indicate that playing computer and video games can lead to aggressive behaviour. Other studies do not support that conclusion.

Whilst research is inconclusive, there is no known psychological peculiarity of the computer and video game experience which indicates that a differential classification system should be applied to this medium.

If the government learned that the reasons for creating a system without an R18+ were wrong, why don’t we now have it?

When the Parliamentary Committee and censorship ministers created the system without an R18+ they admitted they were doing so, at least partially, in ignorance. They requested that research be commissioned to address their concerns and assumptions. Australian government research completed in 1999 confirmed that the three assumptions were wrong – as noted above.

In 2000 censorship ministers decided to review the classification guidelines and included the issue of an R18+ classification for games in the review. The experts who managed the public consultation for the review found that Australians support an R18+ classification and agreed there was no reason to exclude it from the national scheme. At the end of the review, in 2002, censorship ministers decided to continue the classification scheme without an R18+ for games – ignoring their own analysis and the concerns of the original architects of the scheme.

The reason given for excluding the R18+ for games was that “not all Ministers were satisfied children would not access games classified as suitable for adults”. Using this reasoning to exclude only an R18+ classification for games from the national scheme is illogical. Computer and video games can be accessed by children in the same way as films on video and DVD. There is no logical reason to suggest that the restrictions and sanctions that apply to films and already apply to MA15+ classified games cannot apply to R18+ classified games.

What type of games will be R18+, and what content will they have?

Only the Classification Board (and Classification Review Board) can make decisions about what will or won’t be classified R18+, and they won’t speculate on the classification of a publication, film or game until they have seen it. However, an analysis of the classification system can provide a reasonable indication of likely R18+ content for games.

How Classification Works

The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 requires that computer games (and films) are to be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code and the classification guidelines. The classification guidelines, approved unanimously by all censorship ministers, specify a hierarchy of impact that determines classifications:

Classification Categories

In addition, the RC guideline also describes specific content that will always be RC (Refused Classification). Therefore, films and games with high end content have to pass two tests. Firstly is the impact of the content so high that it exceeds the “high impact” requirements of R18+. And secondly, they must not contain any of the extreme violence, sexual abuse, instruction/promotion of crime, etc. specified in the RC guideline.

The Classification Board must look at the whole publication, film or game. They have to consider the impact of every part of the work and the cumulative impact of all of those parts – but they must consider the impact in the context of the whole publication, film or game.

Analysis of Recent RC Game Decisions
In all classification decisions the Classification Board makes reference to the National Classification Code and/or the relevant Classification Guidelines. It is notable that all of the RC decisions for computer games since the current guidelines were introduced in early 2003, except one, clearly state that the games are Refused Classification, not because they contain content that meets the requirements of the RC category, but because they exceed the level of content permissible in the MA15+ category – suggesting they may have been classified R18+ if it was available.

Most of the Classification Board’s reports state specifically that the content is high in impact – matching the requirements of the R18+ category. None of them state that the Board considered the content to be Very High in impact, as required in the RC category. All but one also specifically state that the games are Refused Classification only because the content is not suitable for a person aged under 18 years.

Two of the three RC decisions by the Classification Review Board since 2003 state that the content exceeded the MA15+ classification rather than meeting the RC requirements, and one states explicitly that the RC decision has been made purely because there is not an R18+ (restricted to adults) classification category for games. An earlier 2001 RC decision by the Classification Review Board specifically advises censorship ministers to create an R18+ classification for games.

Examples

Classification Board

Fallout 3 – Refused Classification – 4 July 2008

    “In the Board’s view the drug use in particular the use of a proscribed drug via means of selection from a menu, is related to incentives and rewards as the incentive to take the drug is to progress through the game more easily and the reward is an increase in the character’s abilities and as such is Refused Classification.”

Fallout 3 would therefore still be likely to be Refused Classification even if an R18+ classification category was introduced. The guidelines state that as a general rule the use of proscribed drugs related to incentives and rewards will be refused classification.

(NOTE: Fallout 3 is the only recent RC decision of the Classification Board to state that the game is Refused Classification not because the content is not suitable for a person aged under 18 years, but because the content meets the Refused Classification parameters of the guidelines.)

Silent Hill: Homecoming – Refused Classification – 19 September 2008

    “The game contains violence that is high in impact and the game is therefore unsuitable for persons aged under 18 years to play.”

Silent Hill: Homecoming would therefore be likely to be classified R18+ if the category was introduced. The guidelines state that High Impact violence requires an R18+ classification. If the game had contained excessive violence the Board would have noted it and even with an R18+ category it would still be RC.

Classification Review Board

Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure – Refused Classification – 14 February 2006

    “The computer game is Refused Classification as it promotes the crime of graffiti.”

Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure would therefore still be likely to be Refused Classification if an R18+ category was introduced. An R18+ classification category will not alter the RC guideline requirements for promotion in matters of crime.

Manhunt – Refused Classification – 29 September 2004

    “The impact of specific interactive game play scenes … was of high impact. As such, the material was beyond that which minors should be able to play. As no classification is available restricting games to adults, as in the case of film and videos, the Review Board determined in the majority that the game should be refused classification.”

Manhunt would be likely to be classified R18+ if the category was introduced. The guidelines state that High Impact violence requires an R18+ classification. The Review Board noted that the game should be restricted to adults.

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