Computer Games such as Aliens vs Predator, Left 4 Dead 2, and Fallout 3 are amongst a number of computer games that have been banned (at least initially) from release in Australia. Currently, if a computer game is considered by the Classification Board to be of a category which should be more restricted than M 15+, then the game may not be released in Australia. Perhaps if there was an R 18+ category those games and many others would not have been banned.

This may soon change. Late last year the federal government released a discussion paper calling for public comment on whether Australia should introduce an R 18+ classification category for computer games. If approved, it would mean that adult only computer games could be released in Australia, making Australia the last of the countries with a classification system to adopt such a classification category.

The discussion paper asks, “Should the Australian National Classification Scheme include an R 18+ classification category for computer games?” and proposes a number of arguments for and against the introduction of the R 18+ category.

Some of the reasons offered by the government in the paper as to why an R 18+ classification should not be introduced include the concerns that:

“Playing violent computer games has a greater negative effect on people than viewing the same degree of violence in films”;

“It would be difficult to enforce age restrictions for computer games”; and

“Minors would be more likely to be exposed to computer games that are unsuitable for them”.

A number of the government’s suggestions as to why an R 18+ category should be introduced have been based on improvements in technology, the increase in the average age of gamers (which is now about 30), and the shift in a number of social factors. Those suggestions include:

“A new classification will supplement technological controls on minors’ access to age-inappropriate computer games”;

“Adults should not be prevented from playing R 18+ level computer games simply because they are unsuitable for minors”;

“Consistent classification categories for films and computer games are easier to understand”; and

“The R 18+ classification category sends a clear, unambiguous message to parents that the game material is unsuitable for minors”.

Ultimately, a balance must be reached between: a) allowing adults to read, hear and see what they want; b) protecting minors from material likely to harm or disturb them; and c) community concerns about depictions that condone or incite violence.

At this stage, it appears that Australians support the introduction of the R 18+ classification. In fact, a 2009 report released by Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia revealed that 91% of Australians surveyed (both gamers and non-gamers) supported the introduction of the R 18+ classification.

It is also reported that South Australia’s Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson, is the only Minister, among Ministers responsible for censorship and overseeing the classification regime in each state and territory, who is publicly opposed to the introduction of the R 18+ classification. Mr. Atkinson has also overseen the introduction of recent changes to South Australian Law relating to classifications. See this article for more detail: South Australia's Changes to Film Classification Law.

Submissions on the introduction of the R18+ classification category are due by 28 February 2010.

Chris Chow

Simpsons regularly advises on classification regimes, freedom of speech, freedom of information requests and their impact on content providers. Please contact Adam Simpson or Chris Chow for any enquiries.

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