Why Australia’s outdated classification system doesn’t work and needs to be overhauled

by Ben Salter 28 Comments 35 Likes 19,561 Views 02/08/2013 Back to Xbox One articles Xbox One

The Australian classification system is in disarray. In the space of a few weeks, we’ve seen Saints Row 4 banned for incentivising drug use, and Grand Theft Auto V rated R18+ because Rockstar did a better job of explaining how it’s relevant in the context of the story and why it won’t make the average 32-year-old gamer start abusing heroin.

Why is this happening?

The system is broken. Australia’s Classification Scheme is running on legislation devised in the ‘90s, before the CD-ROM was mainstream, and long before anyone thought a 15GB game could exist, let alone be downloaded from a foreign country, bypassing Australian classification laws.

All entertainment — games, movies, TV and publications — are classified by just eight people. Although, since I began researching the Classification Board, a further 13 have been listed as “temporary members”. I’m unsure of their exact role.

Our system works on [the viewer] being 15. G, PG, M and MA15+ are all related to a 15-year-old.

 Eight permanent staff determine what you watch and play, and they’re mostly middle-aged women with university degrees that used to be teachers or journalists. Of the eight people on a board which claims to be diverse and representative of Australia, five are women in their 40s or 50s with another that is 33. Of the two men deciding what’s okay for you to play, the youngest is 27.

They’re all far out of touch with a 15-year-old; all content is classified based on how a 15-year-old will interact with it.

”Our system works on [the viewer] being 15,” Interactive Games and Entertainment Association CEO Ron Curry told MMGN. “Even a PG rating is based on a 15-year-old, it’s not an 8-year-old as some people think. G, PG, M and MA15+ are all related to a 15-year-old.”

Mr Curry believes the system has become dysfunctional and no longer works in a digital environment. Local developers aren’t going to bother spending thousands of dollars on an Australian classification when they can release it to the world for free through a US store — and we all saw how easy it was to play Telltale’s The Walking Dead without a classification last year through Steam.

It begins with the legislation. It needs to be overhauled to be consistent in a digital environment and across all forms of media instead of treating games more harshly than movies or TV.

”The legislation was created in the ‘90s,” said Mr Curry. “We’ve patched it all the way along, putting band-aids on it, and the Australian Law Reform Commission said last year that it’s broken now, it can’t be patched anymore. It needs to be tossed out, which includes tossing out this notion that the states and territories need to be unanimous in everything that happens with classification, because that doesn’t allow any sort of progress at all.”

But that doesn’t mean games like Saints Row 4 aren’t going to continue to be banned. The IGEA expected some games to be refused classification, and point out that “context” is a key word when it comes to violence and drugs. The onus is on publishers to show the classification board members — many of which aren’t gamers — why these fit the context of a game.

”When we pushed for an R18+ rating we always said there would still be an outer limit, there will still be games refused classification,” added Mr Curry. ”We weren’t quite sure where that line was going to be and when we saw the new guidelines come out to allow R18+ we were a bit disappointed that games were held to a higher standard than, say, movies.

The people classifying the games don’t get games. We have to ensure we really contextualise it well for them.

”The people classifying the games don’t get games. We have to ensure we really contextualise it well for them.”

That probably wasn’t the case with Saints Row 4 because it’s not an easy game to contexualise; although there is also the issue with “rewarding” players. While Grand Theft Auto V may not reward players for using drugs in the eyes of the board, Rockstar must have done a better job of convincing the ACB of that than Deep Silver’s local distributor.

Mr Curry told MMGN that the government-run Australian Classification Board isn’t the answer. He proposes a system similar to PEGI in the UK that would see publishers classify their own content using guidelines formed by the government.

"Government needs to form a framework that says 'these are the acceptable guidelines' and those guidelines should be informed by research, which hasn't been done in a long time, by speaking to parents and the general public to find what is important.

"The government should put that together and then tell the [entertainment] industry to self-classify based on these criteria."

After all, classification is designed to help parents decide what content is appropriate for their children to consume. Not act as a firewall blocking adults from playing games made for them because they could fall into the hands on children. After classification, it really comes down to how parents use the information. 



The current system isn’t clear enough. I remember my parents confused by the difference between an M and MA rating over a decade ago and it doesn’t seem any simpler now.

I don’t think it’s clear for parents,” said Mr Curry. The system, to me, is dysfunctional. The Law Reform Commission said we need to go back and work on classifications that are meaningful. If I see an M game or movie, is that suitable for my 9-year-old? I’m not sure.

”I’d rather something like ‘General, 8+, 13+, 15+ and 18+’. That’s simple and easily gives me a feel for who that content is appropriate for,” he suggested.

Even with a reformed classification scheme, offering tools so parents can make informed decisions about digital games on Steam and the App Store is a global issue that the IGEA is working towards solving with PEGI in the UK and the ERSB in the US among others from all over the world.

When we saw the new guidelines come out to allow R18+ we were a bit disappointed that games were held to a higher standard than, say, movies.

There were 40,000 games released digitally last year. No classification board can handle that.

”The international industry is working on a project at the moment looking at a solution to develop a global classification scheme,” explained Mr Curry. “That doesn’t mean one classification for the whole world. What it means is when a developer or publisher wants to digitally sell a game, let’s say on the iTunes Store, they will answer a series of questions and those will determine the classification for any given territory.

”It may be that a game is high in nudity, so it may get an MA15+ rating in Australia, an adult rating in the US, where they’re a bit more sensitive, and an M in Europe because they’re not as sensitive about nudity.”

The games would always be self-classified so parents can make their decisions, and work as part of the proposed system to replace the Classification Board. The government would act as a watchdog randomly checking games and imposing penalties if publishers and developers are being dishonest.

It’s either that, or digital-only games continue to escape classification.

An R18+ rating for games was only the beginning. It didn’t solve the biggest problems and merely masked the underlying issue of an outdated classification system that doesn’t have a place in the digital world.

Note: Aside from the direct quotes, the thoughts above are my own and not necessarily the view of Ron Curry or the IGEA.

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Why Australia’s outdated classification system doesn’t work and needs to be overhauled Comments

  • Tano 337950 XP 02/08/2013
    It mostly needs to be overhauled because it's government initiated. That's reason enough. I'm uneasy about a board determining what fits within our own individual standards of morality. They're applying group think to something that is relative to the individual.
  • M@ndyz 243233 XP 02/08/2013 +2
    They need to be all fired and gamers should vote maybe on people who should be on the board. I'm so keen to play the new saints row.. no one stopped me from watching porn last night so why cant I play a game. :(
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  • Tano 337950 XP 02/08/2013 +1

    @M@ndyz said: no one stopped me from watching porn last night



  • Huddo 29707 XP 02/08/2013
    australia is always trying to do everything for ourselves. we have such a small population yet we are trying to implement a system similar to one that services the US or the entire continent of europe??

    perhaps we should just adopt one of their classifications and stick with it. the government here wont review anything because it will cost too much and not benefit any political gains.
  • Tano 337950 XP 02/08/2013

    @Huddo said: australia is always trying to do everything for ourselves. we have such a small population yet we are trying to implement a system similar to one that services the US or the entire continent of europe??
    perhaps we should just adopt one of their classifications and stick with it. the government here wont review anything because it will cost too much and not benefit any political gains.



    What he said.
  • Atar 62525 XP 02/08/2013
    Australia is broken
  • MX_Xizz0R 3468 XP 02/08/2013

    @Atar said: Australia is broken


    common it is just video games, it not like they declared marshall law
  • Huddo 29707 XP 02/08/2013 +2

    @MX_Xizz0R said:

    @Atar said: Australia is broken


    common it is just video games, it not like they declared marshall law


    who is marshall and what is his law??
  • J Bourne 25 XP 02/08/2013
    Everything based on a 15? WTF system is that?

    Come on Australia get your shit together.

    PEGI makes so much more sense.
  • Pact 21911 XP 02/08/2013 +1
    Lets just use PEGI since we are the PAL region, I already buy enough games with the PEGI sticker slapped on.
  • Tj866 490 XP 02/08/2013

    @Pact said: Lets just use PEGI since we are the PAL region, I already buy enough games with the PEGI sticker slapped on.

  • Kaogen 128 XP 02/08/2013
    "context is the key word here" Not sure they know what that word means. When you swing a sword at someone, its in context that they bleed. or get dismembered. they don't seem to realise that.
  • monolocco 1553 XP 02/08/2013 +1
    haha not worried.... nor interested about this ^_^
    I could always just get it from overseas
  • monolocco 1553 XP 02/08/2013
    :D
  • Doles 37482 XP 02/08/2013
    Great job chasing this down Ben :)
  • W84NO1 30085 XP 02/08/2013
    Would be cheaper n less frustrating for gamers if we all moved out of AUS....
  • George561 59 XP 02/08/2013
    Why don't they just use the ESRB
  • Matrix6 76032 XP 02/08/2013
    I think that entire staff should also be overhauled and replace with educated people who understands what is needed.
    I thought an overhaul of the system was to be initiated after the new classification had passed??

    Huddo said: australia is always trying to do everything for ourselves. we have such a small population yet we are trying to implement a system similar to one that services the US or the entire continent of europe??


    And yet NZ apparently has a system that's been implemented long ago that works even though the nation's population is almost only 1/6 of Australia's?! X_X
  • PS3sR2Dear 665 XP 03/08/2013
    Lets face it the Board is made up of Government appointed paid-off old women who have been handed a cushy fat payroll to do F#$% All.
    Sack them all and have the whole system Self Regulated.
  • MrShreddlz 4 XP 03/08/2013

    @M@ndyz said: no one stopped me from watching porn last night so why cant I play a game.



    That's because porn has "context"... lol.
  • downsinner 1016 XP 03/08/2013 +2
    I honestly can't see why games are held to a different standard to movies or TV, just because there interactive doesn't mean there going to be any more or less influential or accessible. FFS Australia get with the times!
  • punk 12345 XP 03/08/2013
    Would GTA V been classified MA +15 with the old system?

    The drug use case etc hasn't changed when the new R18+ rating came into place.

    That is what annoys me the most if it would have been classified MA+15.

    Im old enough to play R18 so its not a big deal but its a bit insulting for adults who should be able to deem these general (social) issues (not so extreme issues) and decide if we want to watch/play it or not.
  • just_EZY 4 XP 04/08/2013
    lets ban adult games incase children get their hands on them?

    ok then..ban tv,movies,cigarettes,alcohol,porn magazines from your local newsagent,scratchie tickets..ffs where does it end?

    the system is a FARCE.
    [Rage] [Rage] [Rage]
  • gamerguy 5408 XP 04/08/2013

    @punk said: Would GTA V been classified MA +15 with the old system?



    It most likely would've got an RC rating, then Rockstar needed to modify or 'tone down' aspects in the game to satisfy the classification board.
    Anyway, in GTA there's always consequences for doing illegal things. Just like if you mow down groups of pedestrians, you'll end up getting the entire police force after you.
  • zurczner 8108 XP 04/08/2013
    Australia is still lucky to have age classifications and restrictions. Here in the philippines, you can see 12 year olds playing GTA 4 on computer shops.
  • RobbieBM 287 XP 05/08/2013
    I thought the whole idea for the R18+ rating was for instances like with Saints Row 4 to be given that rating. The classification board is basically saying a big **** you to any gamer over 18, in that we can't decide for ourselves if a game is suitable or not. How is it our (18+ gamers) fault if some idiotic parent buys an R18+ game for there underage child? I understand it could "fall into a young childs hands" but what is getting done to stop say a pornographic magazine or film, alcohol, drugs or anything else deemed obscene and in my opinion far worse and life-like, than a videogame from getting in their hands aswell? I'm 100% positive if you did a poll, all 18+ people are aware you do not get rewards in real life for doing drugs. Who are they to solely decide on the mentality of the whole country?! Does the government not realise by having this failed system, the amount of money Australia loses in people importing those games that get unfairly classified? Also what/when was the last crime committed in Australia "because of gaming"? Maybe if the ACB showed and had a little more trust and worked with the community we might be able to do something about this problem.

    Sorry guys and gals, I assume like most of you this topic means a lot to me and I could go on forever arguing that something needs to be done.
  • Jojo372 20 XP 19/08/2013

    @monolocco said: haha not worried.... nor interested about this
    I could always just get it from overseas


    and if they decide to ban imports on games that dont fit the australian restriction?
  • Wingwire 6 XP 22/08/2013
    Australia really needs to stop and realise that the main audience of these games are an adult one, so therefore should be treated as such and just slap a frikin' R18+ sticker and get it over with. C'mon! I don't want to miss ALIENS!
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