Australian R18+ final guidelines released

Federal Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor has released the final guidelines for the introduction of an R18+ classification for games in Australia; restrictions on violence and coarse language strengthened.

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The final guidelines for the introduction of an R18+ classification in Australia will have strict restrictions on violence.

Today, the Federal Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor announced that all states and territories have signed off on the guidelines, green-lighting the federal government to move ahead with the introduction of the R18+ rating for games. The guidelines were also made public, outlining the yet-to-be-introduced R18+ rating, as well as changes to the existing MA15+ category.

"The major changes in the final guidelines are to do with violence and coarse language," O'Connor told GameSpot AU. "Games with strong violence and aggressive strong language are no longer permitted in MA15+."

O'Connor also made it clear that any game with sexual violence would be automatically refused classification (RC) and alluded to NSW Attorney General Greg Smith's recent comments in the media, saying he agrees with Smith.

Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor.
Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor.

"Any game with sexual violence will be refused classification. [Smith] need not worry, sexual violence is refused classification now, and it will be refused classification once R18+ passes."

O'Connor said the R18+ legislation did not make it into this year's final parliament session, but he plans to introduce it in the February 2012 session.

"I am confident we'll have R18+ passed in the first few months of next year. I know some people are concerned about the time, but it's been going on for a decade, and we've made great progress. Everyone is working toward legislating for change."

As for what happens after R18+ is introduced by parliament, O'Connor said the Classification Board of Australia will have immediate powers to begin classifying games as R18+ and will also have the power to reclassify any past games in the MA15+ category.

"Normally, games can only be considered for reclassification after two years, "O'Connor said. "It's up to the Classification Board whether they want to reclassify those games. I think people know that there are some games now that are rated MA15+ that should be reclassified, but I am not going to name any."

Under the final guidelines, the criteria for an MA15+ game will now be:

THEMES:
The treatment of strong themes should be justified by the context.

VIOLENCE:
Violence should be justified by the context.
Strong and realistic violence should not be frequent or unduly repetitive.
Sexual violence may be implied, if noninteractive and justified by the content.

SEX:
Sexual activity may be implied.
Sexual activity must not be related to incentives or rewards.

LANGUAGE:
Strong coarse language may be used.
Aggressive or strong coarse language should be infrequent and not exploitative or offensive.

DRUG USE:
Drug use should be justified by the context.
Drug use related to incentives or rewards is not permitted.
Interactive illicit or prescribed drug use is not permitted.

NUDITY:
Nudity should be justified by the context.
Nudity must not be related to incentives or rewards.

Under the final guidelines, the criteria for an R18+ game will now be:

THEMES:
There are virtually no restrictions on the treatment of themes.

VIOLENCE:
Violence is permitted. High-impact violence that is, in context, frequently gratuitous, exploitative, and offensive to a reasonable adult will not be permitted.
Sexual violence may be implied, if noninteractive and justified by context.

SEX:
Sexual activity may be realistically simulated. The general rule is "simulation, yes--the real thing, no."

LANGUAGE:
There are virtually no restrictions on language.

DRUG USE:
Drug use is permitted
Drug use related to incentives and rewards is not permitted.

NUDITY:
Nudity is permitted.

In July this year, Australia's federal, state, and territory censorship ministers reached an in-principle agreement to introduce an R18+ classification for video games in Australia.

This agreement was made on the basis that all states and territories approve a set of proposed guidelines to introduce the new classification. At the time, it was announced these guidelines were once again amended at requiring some jurisdictions to seek approval from their respective cabinets.

Despite recent comments by NSW Attorney General Greg Smith in the media, O'Connor's office confirmed NSW is still part of the in-principle agreement to introduce R18+ for games. In August, NSW announced it would back the introduction of R18+ but stated its priority would be "to ensure any proposal was in line with federal and state ministers' agreement to not dilute Australia's Refused Classification (RC) category."

An earlier draft of the guidelines was released in May this year, highlighting significant changes in the MA15+ category. While most of the guidelines for the rating were retained, several were added, including:

*Strong and realistic violence should not be very frequent.
*Sexual activity must not be tied to rewards or incentives.
*Interactive drug use that is detailed and realistic is not permitted.
*Nudity must not be related to incentives and rewards.

The R18+ classification issue has been on the Australian government's agenda since 2002. In December last year, the federal government announced its public support for the rating, before postponing another vote on the issue before the end of the year.

Earlier this year, O'Connor's hinted at seeking other options should state and territory censorship ministers fail to reach consensus on the issue soon.

Other states have been ready to adopt the adult classification for games since April this year, with South Australia and the ACT eager to "go it alone" if necessary, provided the commonwealth finds a way to introduce R18+ at a federal level without the unanimous agreement of all states and territories. South Australia went a step further, proposing to abolish the MA15+ category in the state and fold it into the R18+ rating.

Stay tuned for an update on the final guidelines.

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