Legal Opinion: Is our R18+ classification really weaksauce compared to overseas?

R18+

By on November 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm

John Rau, the South Australian Attorney-General, just called for a review of the several games rated MA15+. Murder simulators such as Splinter Cell Blacklist, Killer is Dead, and The Walking Dead. Apparently these games had been released as 18+ in some countries, but only MA15+ here. Some were not happy about this lack of moral standards.

Earlier this year, Mr Rau also claimed this discrepancy meant games were not receiving rigorous attention at the review stage. However, Australia’s classification system is different from that of other countries, so perhaps we should make our own decisions. We need to develop our own Australian standard of what is fair game.

Our system is mandatory, and leads to bans

The first major difference in our classification system is that it is mandatory. Games must have the approval of the Classification Board to be sold. In contrast, both America’s ESRB, and Europe’s PEGI ratings are entirely voluntary.

Games can never actually be banned under ESRB and PEGI. Some countries, like Britain, do have additional review laws which allow bannings. But this is rarely done. Britain has never permanently banned a game, only temporarily shelved a few until they could be edited.

Therefore, despite the claim that our laws are less enforced than those overseas, there is rather a lot more rigorous enforcement in Australia. We can further explain why the ESRB and PEGI systems seem more rigorous in their application of 18+ ratings by looking at them individually.

We have MA15+, ESRB does not

We differ from America’s ESRB in that we allow strong violence into the MA15+ age range, while ESRB jumps right from “teen” to an almost-legal 17+. Strong violence is not allowed under teen, and if a game is not suitable for 13 year olds, it goes into the 17+ category, a year away from being a fully-fledged adult.

This was the case with most of the games on the list to be reviewed. Instead of going into America’s 18+ category, Splinter Cell Blacklist was rated at 17+, because there wasn’t anything lower. Maybe if they had an ESRB 15+ it would have been 15+. It’s not correct to say the game was rated at 18+.

PEGI gives 18 to everything

That’s all well and good for the 90% of the gaming market that is America, but why did these games still receive PEGI 18 ratings? That’s probably what Mr Rau and his constituents are more concerned about, especially since PEGI 16 is roughly parallel to MA15+.

In practice, PEGI leans towards being ultra-conservative with its ratings. While PEGI 16 allows for strong violence, most of the time a game is given a PEGI 18 rating when it could be quite lower.

An example is the original Mass Effect. Back before Kelly, Britain had its own classification system, but still used PEGI on top. The British Board of Film Classification gave Mass Effect a rating of 12 — so theoretically you could show Liara’s sex scene to your pre-teen cousin. However, PEGI rated it as 18, creating a rather confusing situation where a game was given ratings of both 12 and 18 on the same box.

This came about because PEGI’s answer to the flood of games it has to review is not to actually play the game, but to assign ratings based on a checklist of factors the publisher provides. In Mass Effect’s case, the possible alien sex scene the publisher highlighted meant PEGI automatically gave it a rating of 18, even though it was really quite tame and a few mere seconds in a 50 hour+ game. They probably didn’t even spend all that much time looking at the game. If Mr Rau wants a more rigorous review standard for games, he’d probably do better than make PEGI the example.

We need our own decisions

To be fair on PEGI, being conservative makes sense given it’s meant to cater to the entire European Union—from the frisky Swedes, to the frigid Icelanders. With no attempt to make culturally-appropriate decisions they err on the side of caution.

This is yet another reason why we can’t simply imitate the ERSB or PEGI systems. ESRB is the product of an American, industry-focused culture we do not have. PEGI is the bureaucratic product of no culture at all. I doubt Mr Rau would be happy with either.

Unfortunately, the Australian cultural sensitivity that our classification system is meant to provide will take time to work its way into the system. R18+ is new, and lacks significant precedent for the classifications. Even the category description in the legislation itself is kind of weak — whatever’s not suitable for teenagers just shove in here. There can be no shortcutting this process — it will simply take a few years of classification board decisions. Trying to imitate ESRB or PEGI will not accomplish anything.

21 comments (Leave your own)

“the Australian cultural sensitivity that our classification system is meant to provide”

I don’t see that as being very unique in an anglospherical context. Aside from being independent it seems awfully redundant and wasteful for culturally similar nations to process the same content through their censorship bodies.

 
Patrick Vuleta

Hmmm maybe so, and I think that’s the idea behind PEGI.

But at the same time, the criticism of games classification is often that decisions do not appropriate reflect community standards for being so lax. So I think it’s best that individual countries have their own standards.

 

jme,

Wait… Are you saying all white people have the same cultural values? That’s… Highly inaccurate.

 

How about new Zealand’s system. G, PG, M, R13, R16, R18. The first 3 anyone can buy they are more of a guideline. The last 3 classifications require ID and you will be prosecuted if you supply it to a minor which includes walking into a shop and buying call of duty for your 8 year old.

Your average first person shooter will get an R16 as they usually have strong violence and strong language which only goes that far.

Though if the games story has educational merit the rating can be lowered. Medal of Honor airborne got as low as an M which is unrestricted. Company of heros 1 got an R13 and that involved people getting blown up into small pieces, shredded into small pieces and burnt so much your limbs fall off nt to mention the buckets of blood. It was based on a true story and was one of the only games to accurately portray World War Two.

Excessive gore and pretty much tons of illegal stuff will give it an R18. So many zombie games and all of the GTA series have gotten R18s. Chivalry medieval warfare even got R18. Also MW2 singleplayer got the R18 rating becuase of the airport mission. The multiplayer got an R16.

Not many games get the R13 rating. CoH 1 did and the first assassins creed did off the top of my head. Violence wise most low level violence games get M or PG and anything above that gets and R16 usually.

G, PG and M are all unrestricted meaning anyone can buy and play them. Its just a recommendation. All the sims series games have got an M. Many racing games get a PG including some simulation games.

New Zealand doesn’t get any games that have been edited to be less gory or anything. They are all uncut versions. Including saints row 4. There was no dispute it was just instant R18.

NZ has only banned 4 games in total since 2004.
Manhunt and manhunt 2 after the horrific murder of a 14 year old bit by his 17 year old friend using ways that were in that game.
Postal 2 for being way worse than even saints row 4.
Reservoir dogs for its high impact violence. It was in 2006 when the graphics had improved significantly after the release of the new consoles so I can see why this game was banned. Currently there are games that have far worse violence and are rated R16 in NZ. Also films and magazines are classified the same way using the same system.

The Australian classification system has been messed up completely. Australia has its own Wikipedia page for games banned as there are so many. Yet games that are getting R18, 17+ and PEGI18 elsewhere are getting an MA15. Which is just ridiculous. Developers have to make an “Australian” version because of the silly system.

 

Sounds like a one way street to me. We love to compare our “horrible” classification laws to countries which are less restrictive yet don’t recognise that there are countries who are worse off than we are.

Our country, our values, our laws. Both sides (especially Rau) should stop the silly comparisons.

 

TBH the whole categorising thing should be a guideline, not an enforceable law. It’s retarded that adults cannot be judged sufficient in mental capability to say yes or no to purchasing something, on the off chance “an impressionable child” might gain access to it.

Sorry but nanny state will never be better than using ones own brain properly. If only the education system here would be adjusted to reflect that instead of dumbing down kids to provide workers who don’t question.

Rau is just shy of being a militant christian in his views and his fervour to force them down everyone elses throats. So far he’s shown himself incapable of unbiased thought or discussion and should be summarily fired from his public appointment, by the people, who still have that power should they wish to use it.

 

ooshp:
jme,

Wait… Are you saying all white people have the same cultural values? That’s… Highly inaccurate.

I think you need to look up the definition of “anglosphere”.

 
Patrick Vuleta

ralphwiggum:
Sounds like a one way street to me. We love to compare our “horrible” classification laws to countries which are less restrictive yet don’t recognise that there are countries who are worse off than we are.

Our country, our values, our laws. Both sides (especially Rau) should stop the silly comparisons.

I was going to make mention of the censorship in China but it seemed rather off topic for the piece.

 

jme: I think you need to look up the definition of “anglosphere”.

I’ve never seen that word before in my life … attempting to find definitions lead me to other non existent words …

 
Pants on the ground

jme: I think you need to look up the definition of “anglosphere”.

Sharing a language does not equal the same cultural values. Similarities may exist, however that’s where it stops. Canada, Britain, USA and Australia all speak english but each country has it’s own distinct cultural identity.

To think otherwise is ignorant and foolish.

 

spooler: attempting to find definitions lead me to other non existent words …

I don’t know why, it’s a perfectly cromulent word.

 

matty: I don’t know why, it’s a perfectly cromulent word.

That made me quagswag and kench.

 

matty,

You just have to embiggen your vocabulary.

 
CaptainCleanoff

RSOblivion:
TBH the whole categorising thing should be a guideline, not an enforceable law. It’s retarded that adults cannot be judged sufficient in mental capability to say yes or no to purchasing something, on the off chance “an impressionable child” might gain access to it.

Sorry but nanny state will never be better than using ones own brain properly. If only the education system here would be adjusted to reflect that instead of dumbing down kids to provide workers who don’t question.

Rau is just shy of being a militant christian in his views and his fervour to force them down everyone elses throats. So far he’s shown himself incapable of unbiased thought or discussion and should be summarily fired from his public appointment, by the people, who still have that power should they wish to use it.

Well said. Absolutely spot on.

 

RSOblivion,

Agree,

If we ditched our arcane classification system and just went and joined the PEGI club the would would be a less complex and more sane place.

Wont happen but it would be nice.

 

spooler: I’ve never seen that word before in my life … attempting to find definitions lead me to other non existent words …

Hint: It is not a geometric shape.

 

pantsontheground: Sharing a language does not equal the same cultural values. Similarities may exist, however that’s where it stops. Canada, Britain, USA and Australia all speak english but each country has it’s own distinct cultural identity.

To think otherwise is ignorant and foolish.

Cultural identity != cultural sensitivity

Are there any games which you would expect to be classified differently between these countries?

 

matty,

vcatkiller,

I think we should coin a new adage based on a Simpsons version of Godwin’s Law.

 

PEGI system is plain stupid. Ten seconds was edited out of Beyond: Two Souls so it would not be given an 18 rating. The bits that were removed? This top view; This arm lift; and this top view.

Do they not have shampoo commercials over in Europe?

 

jme,

I elect calling it Frink’s Law. Because Professor Frink is cool. Glayven!

 
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