The Classification Act – Computer Games And Beyond
Lately theres been media attention around computer/video games; particularly the prospect of a new R18+ classification code and its effect.
In fact, the whole classification system is currently under review. That means the laws around the classification of films, computer games, publications (eg. books, exhibited artworks) and online content. The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) began the task in April and has received over 2,400 submissions thats far more interest than these inquiries typically generate.
Passionate gamers have evidently submitted a fair portion of those.
Currently, the Australian Classification Board (ACB) is the federal body that classifies material. Australias National Classification Code is based on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act. By law, all material has to be submitted to the ACB for classification before its released. Ratings allowed here include G, PG, M, M15+ and R18+. RC (Refused Classification) material is banned.
States and Territories enforce these laws. It gets confusing though because there are also some state-based laws (eg. X18+ films are available in the ACT and NT but not elsewhere). And internet content comes under a different federal Act again. Theres also variation in the way classifications are applied to different mediums.
Much has changed since the last inquiry into classification laws 20 years ago. For a start, the internet has taken off and theres been more research into the effect of media violence on kids. We now have online music videos and mobile phone apps. One question is whether the current ratings categories are sufficient or whether we need new ones. And how to control access to online content is an especially thorny issue.
Computer games have always been treated differently to film because its a more interactive medium. Youre not just watching violence; youre making it happen. Adult computer games have therefore been banned here. But some argue that this has resulted in some material rated R18+ overseas ending up with an MA15+ rating here, giving teens access to inappropriate material.
In July each State and Territory agreed in-principle to introduce an R18+ code for computer games (except NSW still considering). The rating looks set to be implemented later this year.
Many consider that a positive step as it means better advice to parents about suitability for kids, and it delights adult gamers. On the flip-side, it means more graphic and violent games being available, with potentially negative effects on the community.
Regulation around classifications isnt easy. One argument is that the computer game and film industries should self-regulate (ie. set their own ratings), with an overseeing body to investigate when complaints are made, instead of the ACB classifying everything. Others believe the ACB should classify material across all new technologies.
The ALRC has much to consider.