The new R18+ guidelines: what's new, and why you should care

New game classification guidelines will come into effect January 1, 2013; restrictions on sex and sexual violence strengthened.

by

The Australian government has amended the final R18+ classification guidelines first released in November last year to coincide with the introduction of the R18+ rating for games in Australia.

The new guidelines have been created to stand outside the current combined Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games, and will serve to inform the Classification Board of Australia when the R18+ classification is officially introduced on January 1, 2013.

The new guidelines are almost identical to the ones released by the federal government in November last year. The most notable difference in the new set of R18+ guidlines--the ones that will be used officially--is the strengthening of the restrictions on sex and sexual violence in the MA15+, R18+, and Refused Classification (RC) categories. (See below for a breakdown of what's new).

Analysis

It is important to note that nothing in regards to violence and almost nothing in regards to drug use has been changed from the old guidelines to the new guidelines in the MA15+, R18+, and RC categories: both the old and new guidelines deemed that games will be refused classification in Australia if they contain:

a) illicit or prescribed drug use related to incentives or rewards; and
b) interactive drug use which is detailed and realistic.

However, the new guidelines have added the following restriction in the R18+ category:

"Interactive illicit or prescribed drug use that is detailed and realistic is not permitted."

Despite this addition, it's worth keeping in mind that while some games have been banned in Australia in the past for depictions of drug use, the majority of banned games have been refused classification due to violence.

The same can be said for the mention of the interactive nature of video games, in both the old and new guidelines:

"Due to the interactive nature of computer games and the active repetitive involvement of the participant, as a general rule computer games may have a higher impact than similarly themed depictions of the classifiable elements in film, and therefore greater potential for harm or detriment, particularly to minors."

Again, it's important to keep in mind that this is not a judgement. The guidelines say that "as a general rule", video games "may" have a higher impact than other media. The interactive nature of games and how this affects human behaviour has been the subject of a long and drawn-out debate, and while there is no conclusive evidence that interactivity does have a higher impact than passive media, the guidelines are very clear on why this had to be mentioned:

"Interactivity is an important consideration that the Board must take into account when classifying computer games. This is because there are differences in what some sections of the community condone in relation to passive viewing or the effects passive viewing may have on the viewer (as may occur in a film) compared to actively controlling outcomes by making choices to take or not take action."

Indeed, the Australian federal government has no agenda to hide on this matter: in November 2010 it undertook a review of existing research into the effects of violent games on behaviour and found no conclusive evidence that violent games have more impact than any other media.

What's changed (November 2011 edition vs. September 2012 edition)

MA15+

In the old guidelines, this category allowed for implied sexual violence under the condition of it being non-interactive and justified by the context.

In the new guidelines, this category will no longer allow for any kind of sexual violence, implied or otherwise.

R18+

In the old guidelines, this category allowed for implied sexual violence under the condition of it being non-interactive and justified by the context.

In the new guidelines, actual sexual violence is not permitted. Implied sexual violence is permitted only in cases where it is not visually depicted, interactive, or related to incentives or rewards. Implies sexual violence is not permitted if not justified by the context.

In regards to sex, the new guidelines specify that while sexual activity may be realistically simulated, depictions of actual sexual activity or simulated sexual activity that is explicit and realistic are not permitted.

RC

The new guidelines specify that depictions of actual sexual violence (compared to simply "sexual violence" in the old guidelines) are not permitted. Similarly, the new guidelines add that depictions of actual sexual activity and simulated sexual activity that is explicit and realistic are not permitted in the RC category.

Industry reaction

The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (iGEA) expressed "a reserved and qualified welcome" to the announcement of the new R18+ guidelines today, saying that they have been written to try and balance the concerns of two opposing sides.

"The new guidelines released today show that they have been crafted to try to balance the concerns of those who have resisted an R18+ classification and adults who want to play video games designed specifically for mature audiences and that are readily available in other developed democracies," the iGEA said.

"As we have previously stated, we are concerned with the acknowledgment in the guidelines that interactivity has greater impact on players, despite the Federal Attorney-General's office publishing a literature review in September 2010 that found no evidence to support these claims. Ultimately, we will need to wait to see how the Classification Board interpret and administer the new R18+ and revised M and MA15+ categories. We trust that they will reflect the standards of morality, decency and propriety accepted by reasonable adults, not just the vocal ones."

Discussion

10 comments
flammable_zeus
flammable_zeus

Oh, this is ridiculous! So Fallout 3 would have to have been censored even if we have R18+?!Why on earth do they think we wanted R18? So nothing would be banned! Adults can choose for themselves.

johnnyauau
johnnyauau

Will this be on OzSpot and Crosshair, tune in next time. Bang! To the rooftops!

MVan86
MVan86

In theory this sounds okay, but I have got a slight concern about if they've snuck in a few little clauses to keep some kinds of games out. Personally I'll be waiting to see how this affects us in practise.

TyrannicFeenix
TyrannicFeenix

It looks 'ok' to me at this stage. i suppose we will need to wait and see how it pans out when put into practice. My only hope is that the "therefore greater potential for harm or detriment, particularly to minors" doesn't affect games in a classification specifically crafted to be inaccessible to minors. in other words, if minors can't play R18+ games, don't block stuff in R18+ just on the off chance minors will get theirhands on it. Make the parents actually do their damn job and give us our adult content.

xlord121
xlord121

congratulations Australia, you have almost caught up with every single other 1st world country

36Chambers93
36Chambers93

Stop caring when I started importing. Still going to continue importing. The real injustice is to deal with price gouging on Aussies.

blueredandgold
blueredandgold

Is there any way to discern at this early stage if any states/territories will be markedly different in the way they adhere to these new guidelines?

 

For example, the NT.  It's a Territory (duh) that - due to the Federal Government exerting control - had a law one point which bundled RC videogames in with highly explicit adult entertainment and where this media could legally be owned.

 

Cheers.

Daemoroth
Daemoroth

 @36Chambers93 Very true, I've never looked back since I started shopping at OzGameshop. :)

 

Nice thing is now it'll be more difficult for them to filter out the "banned" R18 games coming from overseas.

raichou
raichou

 @36Chambers93 Hear Hear. For everyone, the price-point was always the issue. Even if the game was banned, importing/buying it while overseas solves it all. The ridiculous RRP for games here is ridiculous vs the rest of the world.