R18+ Classification: What you need to know

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Image: Shaun Greiner/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Yesterday was a day to celebrate if you are a gamer. Not only because of the fact it was a brand new year, but also because video games finally now have an R18+ classification. It may have taken ages (mainly because of South Australia’s opposition), but Australia now has an adults only video game rating.

So, what happens now? Here are the things you need to know about the R18+ classification.

If you live in Queensland, you’re not getting any R18+ games right now.

The state government over there has not passed the relevant legislation to let stores legally sell them in stores; while every other state has. This is because while the federal government has the power to classify material, enforcing classification law is a power of the states. I should stress that the amendment has already been introduced in Queensland’s Parliament, but the government is waiting for a committee report to advise them on whether or not to pass the law. They are expected to hand over the report by February 7.

The Classification Board might not have the final say

While the Classification Board is the body that does all of the classification for Australia, some states do have their own boards that can, in effect, “override” the Board’s classification (again, because states enforce classification law). These states and territories are Tasmania, Northern Territory and, you guessed it, South Australia.

For example, South Australia could theoretically ban an R18+ game by giving it a refused classification – creating some inconsistency. In fact, it can even push new MA15+ games into the R18+ classification if they want to.

Remember, R18+ does not mean everything previously banned gets through now

While R18+ is an “adults only” video game rating, there are still some restrictions – mainly around violence, sex and drug use (similar to film). In terms of sex, depictions of “actual sexual activity” and “simulated sexual activity that are explicit and realistic” are not allowed in an R18+ game. While drug use is permitted, you cannot show it being detailed and realistic, or use it as a reward or an incentive.

In terms of violence, it depends on the context. If the game features violence that is gratuitous, exploitative and offensive, and not in context, then the game is likely to be banned from sale. In addition, implied sexual violence is allowed if it is in context, and not used to reward or be an incentive.

Mortal Kombat 9 is likely to be RC (unless they bundle a DLC)

The Classification Board offers a thirty-day window for publishers to contest a classification decision – and this is done by a separate Classification Review Board, which has the power to override the previous decision. Otherwise, you will have to wait two years before the Board will reclassify anything – and because of that, it might not be in the interest of Warner Brothers to sell Mortal Kombat 9 in Australia because it probably won’t sell as well as if it had been released in 2011.

That is not the only avenue of starting a review – a Government minister can also refer a case to the Classification Review Board at any time, either a request made by them or by the relevant State or Territory minister. The Board can also initiate a review themselves, but only in rare cases. For instance, Dead or Alive: Dimensions had its PG classification revoked after it found out that their Swedish equivalent had banned it because the female fighters were underage – something that was not mentioned when the Classification Board reviewed it. It soon then received an M rating.

There is a loophole if you do not want to wait for the two years to pass. If they make modifications to the original game, then it is technically a new product. It can be as basic as integrating all previous DLCs into the game and repackaging it as a “Special Edition” or “Game of the Year”; and then it can go through the normal review process.

Any game that is currently MA15+ is not affected by the changes (yet)

Again, the two year rule applies. Games that were given an MA15+ rating that probably shouldn’t have will still keep their ratings. Any new game that is going through classification will be marked according to the new guidelines.

That being said, we might see an instance where a game previously classified MA15+ could have an “extended cut” classified R18+. It is a rare oddity, but it could happen.

Some states ban advertising R18+ games, all states ban demonstrating the game in public

While demonstrating the game in public is nothing new – the same restrictions apply for MA15+ games (in addition as selling video games to a minor), some states have restrictions on how you sell R18+ games. In Victoria and South Australia, you cannot advertise an R18+ game in a “public place” (so, for instance, if Grand Theft Auto manages to get an R18+ rating, those stores cannot advertise the game in store).

In addition, South Australia and Western Australia have restrictions where you cannot keep R18+ computer games with other computer games of lower ratings. You will have to put them in a separate section. And it appears that South Australia is really serious, because while WA’s penalty is $500, it is ten times that amount in South Australia.

There is no push for an X18+ classification

Why? X18+ is typically reserved for pornography. According to the Classification Board’s website, X-rated material contains “only sexually explicit content. That is, material which shows actual sexual intercourse and other sexual activity between consenting adults.”

And because mainstream publishers won’t publish anything that is essentially interactive porn, it is not necessary.

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