news After a hard-fought campaign lasting several years, Australia’s video game industry and community has achieved a major victory with the passing last night of landmark legislation which will introduce a new R18+ classification for video games in Australia.
The lack of an R18+ classification has resulted in various popular video games such as Mortal Kombat and Left 4 Dead 2 being censored for the Australia market or refused classification so that they are unable to be sold locally. In the past, the highest legally available classification category for computer games has been MA15+.
However, the new legislation amends the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 and makes a consequential amendment to Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, to introduce an R18+ classification for video games, as there is in other media such as film and TV. The R18+ category would inform consumers, retailers and parents about games that are unsuitable for minors to play, and also act to prevent minors from buying unsuitable material.
Strong support for this legislation has been evident during wide-ranging public consultation conducted over the past two years. The Attorney-General’s Department received 58,437 submissions in response to its recent discussion paper on the establishment of an R18+ classification category for computer games. Of these responses, 98 per cent were in favour of the introduction of such a category.
The Federal Government has collaborated with State and Territory Governments on this issue, which will introduce complementary legislation. The Federal Government’s legislation is scheduled to take effect early next year. The States and Territories will pass their own complementary legislation to ensure that R18+ computer games are appropriately regulated.
In a statement announcing the passing of the legislation, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice Jason Clare said the new legislation constituted “important reforms over 10 years in the making”.
“The R 18+ category will inform consumers, parents and retailers about which games are not suitable for minors to play, and will prevent minors from purchasing unsuitable material,” Clare said. “The reforms also mean that adults are able to choose what games they play within the bounds of the law.”
In a separate speech this morning to the Gametech conference in Sydney, Clare said the news was “a big win for gamers across Australia”. “I’d like to congratulate all of you who have argued for this for a long time,” he said. “It’s an important reform, 10 years in the making, that will help the Australian gaming industry compete internationally and continue to grow.”
Clare said he personally had grown up playing video games. “The first computer game I was given was Donkey Kong – on an old orange hand-held,” he said. “I then moved up to a Commodore 64 – playing games like Leaderboard Golf, Summer Games and Frogger.” “A lot has changed since then,” the Labor MP added. “It’s not just that the games are better, or more exciting. It’s about more than just games, or entertainment, or getting fit. It’s not just a bit of fun – it’s a very serious business.”
Devices for computer games are now present in nine out of 10 Australian households, according to research conducted by Bond University. The average age of Australian computer gamers is 32, and women comprise almost half (47 per cent) of computer game players. The Australian gaming industry is predicted to grow at a rate of 10 per cent per year and to reach $2.5 billion annually by 2015.
Clare also intimated this morning that the video game industry and community could also impact on broader Australian classification changes under way.
“This isn’t the end of our reform plans,” he said. “The last time our classification system was updated was 16 years ago. Our classification system is based on the forms of media delivery that dominated the 1990s: films in cinemas, videos rented from the shop down the road and computer games sold in cardboard boxes.”
“That’s all changed. Media is now delivered to the handset, via social media, or it stays up in the cloud. That’s why we asked the Law Reform Commission to take a look at the classification system and suggest changes. They handed down their report a few months ago. They’ve made 57 recommendations – and the government is now considering these. You have an important contribution to make to the discussion about what our future classification system looks like.”
Update: The Interactive Games & Entertainment Association has issued the following statement:
The video games industry has today welcomed the introduction of an R18+ Classification for video games with the legislation passing through the Senate with bipartisan support yesterday. The news follows 10 years of hard work from industry organisations, specialist press outlets, retailers and consumers that have strongly supported the introduction of an adult classification for games.
According to Ron Curry, CEO of the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association, while this legislation is long overdue, the success of an adult classification for video games will depend both on the states and territories following suit as well as a set of classification guidelines that adequately reflect an adult rating.
“Key to this rating has always been the notion of harmonisation and while the amendments to the legislation are a true milestone, we need to be cognisant that we still require the timely support of all states and territories as well as workable guidelines to underpin a successful classification system.”
“One of the key arguments in this debate is that we need a consistent classification to better equip all consumers in an increasingly global environment and where the digital delivery of games is ubiquitous. It would be very counterproductive to start splintering the classification system now that an R18+ rating has been passed by the Senate.”
“We would also like to acknowledge the Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare as well as the previous Minister Brendan O’Connor who have both been pivotal in ensuring that this issue stayed on the agenda and was given due and proper consideration, despite some intensive lobbying from a small, yet vocal, percentage of the community. With an adult rating, we can now can now focus on the wider and more important issues that are impacting our classification system,” added Curry.
I would like to strongly congratulate all of those who have contributed to the campaign for video game classification reform in Australia over the past few years. It has been a gargantuan effort for the entire industry and community, and now we can look forward to a future where we can (legally) buy and play all of the games which we want to. The passing of this legislation is truly a landmark event in Australia and evidence that Australian industry and community can enact positive change in cooperation with Australia’s Government, when there is a strong and concerted effort to do so.
Image credit: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment Australia