Outdated Guidelines for Australia's Rating System
by Lars Warn
The newest installment of the top-selling Saints Row series is the first in the franchise to be banned in Australia. It was received by Australia’s Government Classification Board in May and was rated Refused Classification, prohibiting the game from being sold within the country.
Despite the recent introduction of the R18+ Rating at the beginning of 2013, Saints Row IV was deemed to contain material unsuitable for an R18+ Rating. Depictions of prostitution, drug use, or gratuitous and exploitative violence are all potential factors that will lead to a Refused Classification rating. This R18+ Rating is believed to reduce the number of games which are refused classification in the future, but Saints Row IV is the first game to have a Refused Classification since the R18+ Rating was introduced.
The open world zombie survival horror game State of Decay has been the second game to receive the Refused Classification rating since January, and was banned within 24 hours of the Saints Row IV ban. In the case of State of Decay, the depiction of drug use was the main factor, as was the initial ban for Fallout 3 whose ban was lifted after changing Morphine to Med-X.
The Classification Board’s main reason for choosing to refuse classification to many games is due to long-standing legislature that determined ratings at the time that video games were first introduced. These guidelines are still in place, and the Classification Board follows these rules in determining the rating for any game to be sold in Australia. When these ratings were first introduced, games were simple and still considered ‘toys’. The maximum rating at this time was MA15+. The video games of today are extremely realistic and can depict extremely realistic and will not fit within the guidelines of a MA15+ Rating, therefore they are considered 'refused classification.'
Six of Australia’s state Attorney Generals need to agree unanimously in order for the guidelines governing the Classification Board to be amended to a modern rating system. Five of the six have been in favor of changing the rating system, but Michael Atkinson of South Australia has been vehemently opposed to any change in the rating system and strongly opposed the recent introduction of the 18+ rating.
Here is a quote from Michael Atkinson from a letter on the Rating Classification system in Australia:
I am well aware that many game players are adults… However, it is important you do not confuse the classification rating of a game with the game’s sophistication, or the challenge or interest to the player… It does not follow that a game is more interesting to an adult simply because it contains extreme violence, explicit sexual material or highly offensive language. Indeed, with all the effort and money that goes into game development, coupled with the effects and graphics now available, there is no need to introduce these extreme elements. I am baffled and worried about why proponents of R18+ games are putting up their hands and saying ‘Give us more cruel sex and extreme violence!’
Until the guidelines governing the Classification Board are amended or until developers censor their content, many games will continue to receive Refused Classification Ratings in Australia.