Our resident gaming lawyer investigates how far games can go.
By Patrick Vuleta on July 19, 2012 at 2:10 pm
The Secret World, unlike Age of Conan, does not show bare breasts. Wait… it does… sort of. On the demon succubi. And the zombie broodmothers, too. You can see everything there.
But what it doesn’t show is human female breasts. And nary a male nipple to be found. This oversight—of immense disappointment to roleplayers, naturally—was explained by the game’s director as being caused by the European ratings system. The naked truth in Sweden is that games for sixteen year olds can show demonic boobs, but not human knockers.
This raises the question: how will our future R18+ rating match the American and European ratings? Each ratings system is different, making the vaunted goal of being in line with the rest of the world perhaps difficult to achieve.
What’s allowed under R18+
Once the R18+ rating for games becomes law, games will be able to show ‘adult’ material. This is everything that’s unsuitable for minors, with two important exceptions. First, anything involving explicit, offensive sexual violence, or abhorrent fetishes will be refused classification. That stuff isn’t even allowed in film.
Second, anything involving actual sex between two real people will be refused classification. Films can be rated X18+ for that, but not games. Sadly, I’m going to have to abandon my hopes for Mass Effect 4: Kelly and Shepard’s Life After The Reapers In Glorious FMV.
However, R18+ will still allow us full-frontal make-believe nudity, which I’m sure will please the makers of The Witcher. Likewise, graphic, bloody violence, as long as it isn’t sexualised, will still be allowed.
Differences with America
The American games market is huge, so America’s ESRB system will often be the first influence on a game’s content. Here we need to make one thing clear: our future R18+ rating is in no way similar to the American ESRB 18+.
America’s obsession with free speech makes government classification of games illegal in itself. Instead, games are classified voluntarily by the industry, and major retailers have agreed to only stock classified games.
This also makes the ESRB ratings somewhat… open. While our R18+ games will still have many restrictions, ESRB Adults Only (18+) is anything goes. However, only 1% of games get an Adults Only rating. Most games fall under ESRB Teen (13+) or Mature (17+).
The classification issue this causes for us is that our MA15+ games could well be 13+ in America, and our R18+ games could be 17+ in America. Games that could fit into the ESRB 18+ rating could still be refused classification in Australia.
Differences with Europe
Just as big as America, the Europe games market includes all the members of the European Union. Each of these countries is regulated by the PEGI system. PEGI has most games falling under PEGI 12, 16, or 18.
PEGI is best described as tame at the low end but hardcore at the high end. While The Secret World at PEGI 16 cannot show human female breasts, PEGI 18 is closer to America’s ESRB 18+. PEGI 18 allows sexual violence, sadism, and many other uncomfortable pursuits.
PEGI 16 games will fall under Australians MA15 rating. However, PEGI 18 games could still exceed our R18+. Incidentally, as a PEGI 18 game, Dragon Age 2 could have been much more graphic than it was. Merril could have been so, so bad.
R18+ is still restrictive
Whenever people talk about R18+, they always do so in terms of “Bringing Australia in line with the rest of the world.” However, that’s not quite true. While R18+ will open some games up, it is not a free pass for content.
R18+ will still impose on us one of the most restrictive classification schemes in the world. Much of what will be disallowed under R18+ would still be happily stocked in Britain. And if you’ve watched V for Vendetta, that is quite something.
What R18+ really does is allow the selling of games that are ‘commercially acceptable’—those games, like the refused classification Syndicate, that are graphic enough to be confronting, yet tame enough to sell.
On the other hand, a game where you play as a serial rapist may well be legal in America and Britain, but wouldn’t sell very well. So publishers wouldn’t take it on. But in Australia, it just would just be refused classification. Unlike America that uses the market to regulate, we use the government.
This, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing. Who would want to play such a twisted game? But at the same time, the arguments of those who see Australia’s R18+ rating as ‘evil’ should be put in context. We’ve still got the most restrictive classifications out of the major western countries, and we’ve still got a long way to go before someone needs to think of the children.