Australian Government Finally Begins Treating Gamers Like Adults; Approves New 'R18+' Rating

from the you're-only-as-old-as-the-government-will-allow-you-to-be,-apparently dept

Seeing as the age of the average gamer is hovering right around 30 (and has been over that -- most recently at 37, until the recent addition of many, many younger gamers on various new devices pushed it back several years), it's nice to see that Australia has finally decided to give them some age-appropriate games to play.
Australia's R18+ classification for video games came into effect yesterday.

Until Jan. 1, 2013, Australia was one of the few developed countries in the world to not have an R18+ classification for video games. The highest rating for video games was MA15+, which meant that any game that the country's Classification Board found too mature for the MA15+ category was Refused Classification and effectively banned from sale.

The R18+ classification comes into effect after the Federal and State governments passed legislation last year to introduce the rating.
Now, one possessing a bit of logic might ask why Australia needs an R18+ when it already has a MA15+ rating, which would presumably cover everyone above the age of 15. Well, that's where the Australian government's insistent infantilism of gamers comes into play. If the game was deemed to be too something for 15-year-olds, it was refused classification. If you were the proverbial 30+ year-old "average gamer," you were limited to games appropriate to the 15-and-under set. Sure, you could still get some of the more mature hits, but only after they'd been de-fanged, de-bloodied and de-profanitized.

South Australia's Attorney General is fully behind the new rating, which should allow many, many gaming adults to finally play titles the rest of the world has been enjoying for years already.
We've actually achieved a good balance where in effect MA15+ has become more restrictive and games that previously would have been in MA15+ are now going to be sitting in R18+. It's a win for the gamers who wanted to have the opportunity as adults to purchase these games, but it's also a win for parents because they can be more confident that games that are age-inappropriate will not be available to people under 18.
Older titles will not automatically receive the new rating and must be resubmitted. And there's still a chance that the government will choose to refuse classification on any number of games, even with this new rating in place. It's a long-past-due step in the right direction for a government that has been extremely hesitant to let gamers sit at the "adult" table.

But even as the new classification is implemented, there's concern that it's already outdated. Head of Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (iGEA) Ron Curry thinks the criteria the R18+ rating addresses no longer matches up with the issues that concern parents today:
"The current guidelines have six criteria (themes, violence, sex, language, drug use, nudity), which are slowly becoming less and less important," Curry says. "There are other things that parents are worried about: they're worried about user-generated content, they're worried about privacy, they're worried about access to children chatting with adults, they're worried about gambling, they're worried about in-game purchases and geo-locating.

"So if we're going to look at classification, we need to ask, 'Why do we classify?' We classify to give people information about content, mainly for parents, the argument goes. Are we addressing their concerns? Probably not."
In the future, it might be that parents will be better served with a list of possible "side effects" of the games their children are playing, much in the way that many apps list the "permissions" it will be granting itself if downloaded and installed. It could very well be that privacy concerns will trump hand-wringing over pixelated violence in the future, as the former becomes a scarcer commodity. But for Australia, recognizing that adults make up a majority of gamers is a good start, even if it is long overdue.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 4th, 2013 @ 3:41am

    All games are still banned by default, requiring government approval before any legal sale. The sale of games which have not been review by the classification board, even to adults, is a criminal offence here.

    We still have the Refused Classification category, which means banned, permanently, censored by the Government.

    They changed the sticker on the boxes from MA15+ to R18+ and seriously... not much more, don't believe the Goverment and Industry's PR.

    It was the South Australian Government which delayed ANY changes for years, and now they're jumping up and down for the credit over this? They can have it, everyone else has already realised nothing has changed.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:16am

      Re:

      "All games are still banned by default, requiring government approval before any legal sale."

      That's true of most countries outside of the US, most of which have released uncensored adult games that were banned in Australia.

      "We still have the Refused Classification category, which means banned, permanently, censored by the Government."

      Also true in most other countries.

      "They changed the sticker on the boxes from MA15+ to R18+ and seriously... not much more"

      Unless you know something not covered in the article, they've had 3 days since the 18 rating was available. What else did you expect them to do in that time?

      Is see your concerns, but it's *way* too early to be making real judgements. Let's at least see what happens with the releases of games like GTA5 in the next year to see if

       

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        PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:17am

        Re: Re:

        to see if changes actually happen.

        /whoops

         

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        The Rufmeister-General, Jan 4th, 2013 @ 8:03am

        Re: "most other countries"

        Games are not banned by default in "most other countries".

        Here in the Netherlands, ratings of games are voluntary, and plenty of stores will stock unrated games. The government has *NEVER* banned sale of a game or movie that I know of. If there is an exception, then it has to be something so culturally unexceptable that it's not allowed into our country in any form, e.g. snuff films.

        Unfortunately, I am not sure how "most other" countries handle this, except for maybe the US, where I think the ratings are voluntary, it's just unlikely a lot of stores will stock unrated games.

        So, since I don't know of any countries (except Australia, which I learned today) that ban unrated games, please enlighten me of any concrete examples of countries that do this, or some other indication of what you're basing this on?

        Otherwise, I am afraid, I shall have to call bullshit.

         

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          PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 8:31am

          Re: Re: "most other countries"

          "Here in the Netherlands, ratings of games are voluntary, and plenty of stores will stock unrated games."

          Well, you guys have always been ahead of the game :)

          However, it's a complicated thing to quantify due to the different ratings systems, sometimes multiple in individual countries (for example, until recently games were voluntarily rated by PEGI, but could also need to be rated by the BBFC for adult themed titles). I may be wrong as to how many countries actually require such ratings for legal release, but there's certainly many that do.

          "So, since I don't know of any countries (except Australia, which I learned today) that ban unrated games, please enlighten me of any concrete examples of countries that do this, or some other indication of what you're basing this on?"

          As a quick example, the chart in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan_European_Game_Information

          A"s of 30 July 2012,[21] PEGI is the legally enforcable system for game classification in the UK.[22]"

          To give a quick example I personally remember off the top of my head - Manhunt 2 was refused a BBFC certification when Rockstar first attempted to release it, and could only be legally supplied after resubmitting a censored version. Until the BBFC passed the title, it was effectively banned. For releases now, the same thing applies, only PEGI ratings are used instead of the BBFC duplicating the work.

          That link also shows a great deal of different ways in which the PEGI ratings are treated, but many countries seem to require at least one rating. Even where a rating is not legally required before release, many countries seem to retain the power to ban games outright - which can happen before release.

          I'd have to do further research on many individual countries as I'm only directly familiar with the way things work in the UK, Ireland and Spain (the latter seemingly similar to the Netherlands' way of doing things), but such requirements definitely exist in some countries.

           

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            G Thompson (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 9:06am

            Re: Re: Re: "most other countries"

            I seem to remember Wolfenstein (the original and the cruddy latest one) was aslo banned in Germany

            And Manhunt 2 was placed as RC (Refused classification) in Australia too as was Mortal Kombat (though strangely somehow I have a copy from the UK *whistles and looks innocent*)

            Here's a brief rundown of the Announcement of legislation way back in June 2012 http://delimiter.com.au/2012/06/19/its-official-r18-game-legislation-passes/

            Here's also Geodie Guy's (a well know Aussie IP solicitor and thorn in the arse of industry lobby groups) < a href="http://www.geordieguy.com/2012/06/a-simple-guide-to-how-australias-new-r-rating-for-games-work s/">info graphic on the legislation of what's legal and not. Also he has a nice recap of the laws in perspective that he just wrote three days ago too.

            Personally I think the R18+ rating is a good educational tool that has been long overdue (and was held back by mostly religious interests) though it is really in practice only a guide for parents and others. It's not illegal for a minor to view or play such material (like R18+ rated movies - "X" is another matter entirely though) nor illegal for a parent/guardian to allow the minor to play it. Just illegal to sell to one so it's more an onus on the retailer than anything else, and as Geordie says this does not still disallow importation for personal usage (one at a time) or unclassified micro transaction or even Freeware games.

             

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      Anonymous Coward, Jan 4th, 2013 @ 8:11am

      Re:

      The sillier thing about this is that darryl would jump at the chance to boast about how he's a being of higher intelligence over this.

       

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      btr1701 (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 11:56am

      Re:

      > They changed the sticker on the boxes from
      > MA15+ to R18+ and seriously... not much more

      I have to admit, it's been decades since I played a video game, so I don't know much about that world, but aren't most games sold over the internet now as downloads? If so, how do they even know how old you are in the first place?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:12am

    The classifications here in Australia are only suggestions, and have no real legal standing, you will not be forced to show ID if you want to purchase R18, and you are free to watch MA15, it is up to the parents discretion.

    If you 14 year old kid is caught watching a 15+ show, or game they will not be changed, neither will the parents.

    As it is a suggested rating only, and rather than 18+ it should be unclassified.. that would be better..

    but it's not really an issue here in Australia, and it did not even gain a mention in our news, no one really cares here about classifications. But they do look at them as intended as a suggested rating.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:18am

      Re:

      Don't games have to get a rating to be legally supplied in the country? Maybe nobody cares once the game is released, but if they're not available to buy in the first place (but are available everywhere else) due to the rating not being granted, isn't that the problem being discussed?

       

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      G Thompson (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:28am

      Re:

      Wrong wrong and absolutely wrong.

      The R18 Classification has an absolute legal qualification for all resellers in that if they get caught selling R18 games to anyone that is under 18 they can be fined and even gaoled.

      The classifications like the ones on Movies/Video's and Books have full legal standings. What you might be thinking about is instead the American classifications that are ONLY suggestions and not a mandatory requirement under law.

      As for your statement that you will not be forced to show ID, you are correct in one respect only. There is no legal requirement to show ID (mainly since we have no actual ID system Australia wide - Australia Card was stopped thankfully) under the Act but resellers can require it before they sell it and will be asking for it for all those who look under 25 (like they do with cigarettes) Also they now require only 18yr olds to work in games shops (or game departments of places like BigW, Target, Kmart etc) since they don't want to be liable for that either.

      As for your "its not an issue" where the friggen hell have you been for the last 18months? It was a huge issue and the R18 rating was implemented middle of last year to be binding for Jan 1st. The papers have already talked about it at the time.

       

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    Ninja (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:14am

    Wouldn't it be simpler to add an 'unrated' category that would warn parents to proceed with caution but let it be sold to the 18+ audience?

    Or rather making the vendor describe clearly if a game contains sex, nudity, drugs, violence and whatever could make a parent not buy that game and just dump the useless rating and let the parents, well, be parents?

     

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      PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:25am

      Re:

      "Wouldn't it be simpler to add an 'unrated' category that would warn parents to proceed with caution but let it be sold to the 18+ audience?"

      That's not how it works in most countries outside the US - ratings have to be granted in order for a game/movie to be legally sold, usually to legally enforce a ban on sales to minors and to block unrated imports that have bypassed the country's censors.

      However, an 18 rating usually means at least the equivalent of the US "mature" or "NC17" ratings, and so there's no real reason why a game with that rating shouldn't be treated as adult material. In practice, as long as anything that contains those things is rated appropriately, there's the same level of work and bureaucracy involved in your suggestion as there is in implementing this new rating.

      "let the parents, well, be parents"

      Most parents don't bother, or claim ignorance of the content of the media they're buying, hence the need for ratings in the first place.

       

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        Ninja (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:40am

        Re: Re:

        Most parents don't bother, or claim ignorance of the content of the media they're buying, hence the need for ratings in the first place.

        If it's clearly written in the game box/site/wherever that the game contains x, y or z and they claim ignorance it's just that they are inept to be parents. Ratings can exist but unrated games should not be blocked from being sold.

        Also, as ignorant as you can be, if you supervise your children online and while gaming (ie: watch them playing to check if the game is suitable or research online) then you can prevent kids from most harm. As I said, let parents be parents and let adults be adults.

         

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          PaulT (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 5:19am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "If it's clearly written in the game box/site/wherever that the game contains x, y or z and they claim ignorance it's just that they are inept to be parents."

          ...and sadly, being inept as a parent doesn't stop people from breeding in great numbers. I'm addressing reality here, not what I'd like to see happen in an ideal world.

          "Ratings can exist but unrated games should not be blocked from being sold."

          That's a very 1st amendment American POV which would be nice, but the reality is that it doesn't work that way in most countries. Nor is it likely to, especially in countries with a well established legal censor.

          "if you supervise your children online and while gaming"

          Again, most parents don't bother. If most parents did, I'd agree. But, they don't, and like to point at easy scapegoats (e.g. game publishers) if they do something wrong.

           

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    identicon
    Michael, Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:32am

    Side Effects

    Caution! This video game may cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, skin irritation, or anal leakage.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:35am

    Banning games is sad it kills freedom of expression and creativity even if it's in a fucked up way lol.

    If a person cannot differ between reality and fantasy they don't need to be playing them in the first place.

     

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    FreeCultureForFreePeople, Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:39am

    WWW - that means WORLDWIDE WEB

    MA15+?? R18+??

    www.insert_your_favorite_torrentsite_here.com >> find censored_game.torrent >> click >> wait for download to finish >> install >> play >> enjoy.

    MA15+?? R18+??

    Alternativeley, put an American/European/Asian/whatever proxy ip address in your browser settings >> surf to your favorite online_gaming_platform.com >> pick censored_game >> enjoy.

    Again - MA15+?? R18+?? Who cares? WTF??

    Looks rather like a case of "too little, too late". Adult Australian gamers, who have so far had no alternative but to - ahem - "borrow" the games they wanted to play (online, at no cost, DRM-free) will find it hard to fork out their hard-earned, perfectly working, non-DRM-crippled money for pricey, DRM-riddled plastic disks or legally downloadable but equally pricey and crippled digital media.

    Seriously - do any of you believe the Australian Government came up with this to benefit adult gamers and not because some games companies realized there were "underserved adult customers" and thus unclaimed money left lying on the table?

    Much as I despise the constant lobbying efforts of the MAFIAA and their pushing for stricter Imaginary Property laws and enforcement thereof, in this case I - for once - appreciate gaming industries' intervention.

     

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    nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile), Jan 4th, 2013 @ 4:47am

    Is there any point to ratings agencies?

    Is it just me or are ratings systems just a get-out for lazy parenting?

    Personally I'd prefer to see the reverse enforcement - everything is available and select products should have a label that simply states "Certified safe for Kids and/or Teens".

    I mean, the standards of ratings agencies have fallen in line with changes in culture (some 12A rated movies would have been 15/18 20 to 30 years ago), which kind of makes them arbitrary to me, and hypocritical in trying to assert any moral meaning.

    Ironically my parents ignored any ratings and let me watch whatever I wanted apart from The Exorcist because my mum believed it screwed people up. I loved watching horror movies as a kid, when I finally got to see The Exorcist, I was left disappointed that it wasn't really as scary or mind-altering as my mum hyped it to be.

    Ratings are a waste of time. The parents who want them are too lazy to engage with or monitor their kids exposure to media, and then the parents who ignore them it has no effect on anyway.

    Has Australia banned the Bible? There's far more sex, violence, gore, incest, murder, blasphemy, curses and rape in it than any videogame currently on the market.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 4th, 2013 @ 7:20am

    Leisure Suit Larry is finally legal in Australia.

     

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