Australia’s Game Classification System Needs an Overhaul
It’s time to stop partying like it’s 1995
You may or may not have heard recently that Kingdom Come: Deliverance and We Happy Few have been refused classification and banned as a result in Australia. While it appears this is no longer the case (with both games now appearing as R 18+ on the Australian Classification Board’s [ACB] website), the whole affair raises interesting questions about the nature of game classification in Australia.
My response (as an Australian myself) was much like the general public’s when rumours poured forth about Kingdom Come’s ban recently. Fury unleashed, I sent dozens of messages to my fellow gaming compatriots down under, blasting the ACB for what I believed to be a blatantly stupid decision. I soon realised though that my anger wasn’t about the decision itself, but rather intense frustration toward an antiquated system censoring a game because of outdated laws and structures.
The anger about the alleged classification refusals for Kingdom Come and We Happy Few was also fueled by the recent outcry in Australia over DayZ being refused classification because of marijuana’s presence as an in-game health item. In a statement released a couple of weeks ago, the ACB stated it was ultimately the “incentive or reward” aspect of the marijuana item in DayZ that led to the game’s initial classification refusal. They further noted that cannabis use in-game without an incentive or reward could be allowed within an R18+ rating and that the absence of marijuana would enable a MA15+ rating.
Regardless of your views toward drug use in games, the item hadn’t even made it to the current build of the game. As a result, Bohemia Interactive, the developers behind DayZ, modified the game globally to rectify it, and DayZ will remain available to Aussie gamers on Steam. It isn’t the first time a developer’s had to do this — back in 2008 when Fallout 3 was released, Bethesda decided to remove morphine from the game and replace it globally with a fictional drug in order to placate the ACB’s standards.
This isn’t to say that all the ACB’s decisions have been misguided— a serious consideration about the place of drugs and other mature content in games is clearly necessary. The issue here is the lack of apparent clarity in Australia when it comes to the classification of games. Kingdom Come had already received an R18+ rating, and it appears as if it isn’t banned (for now). Unlike the US (ESRB) and Europe (PEGI), Australia doesn’t have a standalone game classification board. The ACB makes classification decisions regarding both films and video games, and in some cases, publications.
Considering the classification scheme is still based off the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, it’s no wonder gamers feel like titles are being banned unnecessarily. Games have changed radically in the last five years, let alone in twenty-four. 1995 was the year Toy Story was released and Mortal Kombat III was the best-selling game. Put simply, the entire landscape has changed. Having one body classifying multiple mediums that are incredibly diverse within their own categories, let alone comparatively, is never going to end with an effective process.
The only solution is that Australia recognises the limitations of the current system and creates a new body specifically for reviewing and classifying video games. This way it could also better address recent questions over the status and legality of loot box mechanics within video games. It could also expand and improve upon the current IARC tool, which enables developers to obtain ratings for games being distributed digitally, at no cost. Gaming has progressed more than far enough as a past time, hobby and now competitive sport to warrant a separate organisation.
This is currently an important and interesting space to watch for gamers, both in Australia and worldwide; yet, it remains to be seen if any reform will actually take place. With laws and structures for other technologies and digital content constantly being re-evaluated, it’s crazy the same principles aren’t applied to the classification of games. I believe it doesn’t make a lot of sense to apply the same exact classification rules to both film and video games, given the obvious differences between the mediums. Australia needs to ensure it isn’t lagging behind the rest of the world, and inadvertently punishing gamers as a result.
It’s time to move on from 1995 and bring Australia’s approach to gaming classification into the 21st century.