The attorneys-general from the states and territories, in addition to their federal counterpart, have now agreed to create an adult classification rating for video games sold in Australia, finally aligning the system with its other Western counterparts.
All states and territories, except for the NSW Government, have agreed to support the proposal to create an R18+ classification for video games. The current system sees the highest classification rating for video games is MA15+ and anything beyond would be “refused classification” – in other words, banned from sale.
NSW’s decision to abstain from voting was because the decision must be made by the state’s cabinet. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith said that he would “consult with community groups” and will negotiate what content should be in R18+ and what should be banned.
If NSW refuses to go along the lines of its state counterparts, it could see NSW as the only state that would not sell R18+ material as the Government appears to have a firm commitment of getting this through. This is in similar case with the X18+ rating, where states have banned the sale of any DVD that has been classified as X18+, whereas territories have not.
The long-overdue decision to update the classification system was delayed due to a policy that all changes to the classification system must be an unanimous decision. The states have powers to enforce classification, while the federal government has the power to rate material. That being said, the NSW has not given a firm position on the matter.
The video gaming industry in Australia is obviously pleased with the announcement.
“An in-principle agreement for an R18+ classification is a big step towards a robust ratings system that best equips parents to manage their children’s access to appropriate content, as well as enables adults the ability to play games of their choice within the confines of the law,” CEO for the industry group Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, Ron Curry said.
Curry said that he looked forward in discussing the issue with the Smith.
“It is entirely reasonable that each Minister should have taken the necessary time to fully understand the underlying issues and to grasp why Australia so desperately needs an adult classification for video game, and we look forward to entering into a dialogue with NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith,” he said.
One of the big opponents for the R18+ classification, the Australian Christian Lobby, has said that it “cautiously welcomes” the decision but wanted to know why it was not deferred until a review of the classification was done.
“ACL was surprised that the issue was not deferred until the Australian Law Reform Commission completes its review of the National Classification Scheme, which includes examining the classification of games,” its spokesman Rob Ward said.
However, if the decision was delayed until reforms were done – which would be competed in January 2012 – it could be until middle to the end of next year before we would have seen something into law, assuming all the states had said yes.
“With some tightening of the MA15+ category, the retention of the existing RC category and no liberalisation of the existing games market, the outcome today is a significant improvement from what had been previously put to ministers for their approval,” Ward added.
Ward also added that restrictions to sales of violent video games to minors would also have to go along with the proposed changes to classification law.
While it has been an issue since 2002, the public outcry over the lack of an R18+ classification rating intensified when high-profile titles such as Fallout 3, the Left 4 Dead series and, more notably, the new Mortal Kombat were given refused classification ratings by the Classification Board.