Australian Classification Board is Taking Away Your Consumer Rights

Demand a better system

Yesterday the Australian Classification Board brought down the ban hammer on yet another video game.

This time the game in question is Saints Row IV, and its Refused Classification status effectively makes it illegal in Australia.

This follows just six months after the Australian Government introduced an adults only R18+ rating January 1. And as it turns out, means absolutely nothing.

The point of an R18+ rating as argued for years by many, passionate and level headed gamers, is to allow Australian adults the choice to purchase video games that deal in, to use the Board’s own phrasing, “high level impact” sexual themes, violence, drug use and so on.

It should be underlined, and in bold, that not for one second the adult gaming population of this country, nor the Aussie-Gamer editorial team, condone and support the content that appears in Saints Row IV, or any other game of its nature.

No. this is an argument about consumer choice and the right to purchase content as we, consenting adults over the legal of 18, see absolutely fit.

To take inspiration from Ty’s example; a 19 year old Australian can legally go to a bar and consume as much alcohol as he sees fit. That same 19 year old Australian can then choose to go and watch a strip show, or attend any one of the gentlemen bars populating our major cities. Or, he might even decide to go home and simply watch “high impact” sexual themes and violence on free-to-air TV.

According to the Australian Classification Board, however, this consenting adult who, is more than capable of doing any one of the above, and more, is unable to walk into a retail store and decide for themselves which video game product they want to purchase.

In response to the ban of Saints Row IV, local industry body iGEA (Interactive Games and Entertainment Association) released the following statement;

We can’t specifically comment on the Classification Board’s decision to issue Saint Row IV with a Refused Classification as we aren’t privy to the specific content of the game. Broadly speaking though, one of the key reasons an R18+ was introduced was to ensure that we strike a balance between giving adult Australians access to adult games while protecting children from inappropriate content.

Under the new guidelines, we celebrate the fact that adults can now access age-appropriate games which may have otherwise been refused classification, but as we have argued, we also must accept that there will be some video games which will fall outside the scope of the R18+ guidelines. Whether we agree or not with this specific classification, it highlights that the classification system is functioning as it should and that R18+ was never meant to open the ‘floodgates’ for all types of content.

Overall, we remain confident that the Classification Board is applying the new guidelines as they see appropriate, but we also recognise that with any change to a system as subjective and complex as applying classification guidelines, there will always be a ‘settling in‘ period where all stakeholders strive to find an appropriate middle ground. Currently, we’re at the ‘high water’ mark where there’s a natural inclination to err on the side of caution.

This is a total sidestep of the issue, especially since the content of Saints Row IV appears to be not all too different from all previous entries in this over-the-top franchise – all of which were rated MA15+ in Australia upon their respective releases.

And while many may believe the Australian Classification Board might be attempting to protect Australian citizens from content which they deem too corruptible or inappropriate, the reality is they essentially do not know how to properly use the power which they have been handed.

In six months seventeen games have been rated R18+, and while it can be argued some titles deserved the rating given, there’s just as many that did not.

Saints Row IV Banned in Australia

One such example is Atelier Totori, a PlayStation 3 RPG that was rated ‘PG’ for Parental Guidance upon its original release, then later re-rated for PlayStation Vita under the R18+ category. The same game re-rated based entirely on a handful of new missions, weapons and so on.

There’s also the matter of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge for Nintendo Wii U, Australia’s first R18+ rated game. The game is an enhanced port of, again, the same game released not 12 months earlier with an MA15+ rating. And this is but just the tip of the ice berg.

To boil it all down into a schoolyard mentality; the Australia Classification Board is nothing more than a child who has become out of control with their new toy, slapping an R18+ rating on games that arguably would had fallen within the MA15+ months earlier. This is not on.

The underlining argument presented just above, in case you missed it, is if games that originally would had fallen into the MA15+ rating are now automatically R18+, where does it end? If a game that contains the same content as previous entries in the same franchise is now deemed inappropriate, well… A total overhaul of this nation’s classification system is needed, and needed now.

If you’re an adult who likes to be treated as such, and you want to have the rights we all lobbied for with the introduction of an R18+ rating, than make your voice heard. Contact the Classification Board and the Attorney-General’s Department and make them aware of your lack of faith in the current system.

If gamers as a collective group can get Microsoft to reverse its DRM policies with Xbox One, surely an entire nation full of gamers can sway its own Government to revise its stance on video game classification.

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  • Chocobo

    I don’t think I could disagree more with some of these points. There are some points made in the article I do agree with but there are many i do not.

    The first point i disagree with is “slapping an R18+ rating on games that arguably would had fallen within the MA15+ months earlier” – This i do not believe is true. Those games that were getting MA15 SHOULD have been getting R18 if you look at the overseas markets, its just it did not exist. The board was slipping it into MA15 because its the highest level they could do it.

    Gamers argued for years about MA15 not being right for some games and now that R18 is being used and used properly people are complaining. I’ll admit i was shocked when the last of us got R18 but having finished it i am no longer shocked, That is an adult, mature game that needs the R18 sticker on it.

    Atlier is a stupid one i completely agree. I have no idea what was going on there however there is a key point.

    As part of the 2013 changes to the classification scheme the guidelines change d as well. These new guidelines are being enforced and implemented as they are written. You must remember it is not the board that writes the guidelines, but is actually politicians that do so. It is the jurisdiction of the Federal Attorney General to provide guidelines to the ACB under which they must rate games.

    There were particular changes to the guidelines such as dismemberment of bodies that are now moved to the R18 category. So whilst NG got MA15 before, the guidelines changed and the rules changed. Hence, it changed.

    Every single R18 so far UNDER THE NEW GUIDELINES has been justified aside from atlier. The guidelines are clear as to what fits into what, its called the national classification code.

    MA15 didn’t just become R18. There are a lot of games that have been rated MA15 that should have been so, but there are now particular items in games that push it to R18.

    I have a deep understanding of the australian classification system for video games having researched it, the individual state laws and having had to deal with it before.

    I think the board with what they have at their disposal is doing their best. The people who should be copping it from the media are not the board themselves, but the Governments who put the restrictions and rules on the board.

    • Jayden Williams

      Thanks for taking the time to both read and comment.

      You do make some fair arguments, in that some games that received MA15+ originally should had been R – if it was a thing back in the day – like the rest of the world.

      Though to take that further, shouldn’t a game like the one in question be granted an R18+, effectively an adults only rating, again, much like the rest of the world?

      My knowledge of the ins and outs of the ratings system and guidelines isn’t as thorough as your own, but my gut feeling is these new guidelines which now govern this new rating don’t work alongside the existing act from 1995 the board still uses – to my knowledge.

      Anyway, thanks once again for reading/commenting and giving us your opinion on the matter. It’s encouraged we all speak up about this.

    • http://aussie-gamer.com/ Tynan Muddle

      The government make the rules and restrictions, yes. But then they trust a board of representatives to interpret the impact the game has within those rules.

      For example, a game that shows the main character taking morphine will be banned, however if the same game showed the character taking “Healing Potion” which had the same effect, it would be classified M, MA, R or whatever.

      So what the ACB need to do is look at a game objectively Not say “okay, firstly games are horrible things. Now how horrible is this game?” They need to look at the actual game and say “Right, so he takes morphine sometimes. But you can also finish the game without doing it. And taking morphine isn’t glorified. So it’s okay.”

      On the other hand, you have to look at other entertainment and wonder why in a movie like Pulp Fiction we are allowed to watch pretty much every character glorify cocaine and hold it up in high esteem, but in Saints Row we can’t watch a character take “alien narcotics”?

      • Zamp

        But there is some games that glorify Drugs in a way. For example Max Pain and Heavy Rain. The whole fighting system in Max Pain is based around taking drugs to heal, slow down time and many other things.

  • Robert

    I’m an adult that’s just going to purchase his games from the UK :) After all I pay 65 including postage there compared to 100 here.

  • WhereAreYourMorals

    Rape is not ok in any format. A movie about someone running around giving surprise buttsex to unwilling recipients with the help of an uversized sex toy would also be given an RC.

    While I am surprised that Saints Row was banned, your argument of I can drink and go to strip clubs so I should be able to rape people in my video games is ridiculous.

    • Jayden Williams

      I, or any member of this editorial team, do not condone any of the content contained within this game.

      The ACTUAL point made here is consenting adults of this country deserve the chance to make informed choices on which pieces of entertainment products we purchase.

      Classification should be about allowing consumers to make informed opinions on what they wish to purchase, not to have our minds made up for us.

      • WhereAreYourMorals

        So it should simply outline on the box that you can rape people with dildos? Then people could make an informed decision?

        • Jayden Williams

          That is so not the issue. I am baffled.

          • Elbee23

            I disagree. It sounds like that is what you are saying. You want us to make informed choices, and then if we do see what we are being offered, and therefore get refused such an offering because it is grossly offensive, it is somehow wrong?

            The point of classification is indeed for us to make informed decisions. But rape is never cool, and to actively encourage and reward sexual abuse should never be in a game that the general public would want to play – hence the refusal of classification.

            According to the guidelines it’s not MA, it’s not R, so it gets refused classification Sounds like it is working to me. =

            Being informed that we are not allowed to play a highly offensive game is being informed, that’s the whole point of the classification system. =

    • Carly Long

      In Australia we have many movies where rape and overly violent movies are easily available and promoted for all to watch (Saw Movies, American History X, Shindlers List, any war or action movies where people get blown to bits). These are all given appropriate ratings (NONE ARE BANNED) so why is it different with video games when you are essentially playing out an interactive movie where you call some of the shots but essentially you have to complete the tasks in the movie (game) has already predestined.

      All we wanted was a rating system in place so adults can game with their games and children can be protected.

      • Tom Roberts

        This is my theory, and it’s going to make me sound completely bonkers but hear me out. Movies are considered art, and they don’t have the same stigmatisation that video games currently have. People who make the correlation that video games cause children to become violent aren’t playing video games themselves, but they do watch movies. We’ve had 100 years to prove to ourselves that there’s no link between violent movies and violent behaviour. Video games are growing exponentially more realistic, more violent, and the classification of R18+ video games in this country is still in its infancy. Until the day comes where video games are considered art in the same way movies and literature are considered art, this stigma will remain. And for the record, there are movies that are banned in Australia, but there are virtually no video games that exist that have been banned for the same reasons these films were banned, and remained banned to this day.

        • Jayden Williams

          I don’t think anyone has told the ACB and the peeps making these guidelines that despite every effort, no one has found a link to violence and video games yet.

          That aside. You make a valid point about video games not being taken as an art form.

          • Elbee23

            I sure don’t like the “entertainment as art” argument, to me it is complete nonsense.

            The fact is that gaming is an interactive medium. In almost all games you assume the role of the person you are playing. If that person is encouraged and rewarded for preforming anti-social behaviour, like murder, rape or drug use, and that reward and glorification makes it “cool” to preform such acts in the virtual world, then that can influence one’s opinion in the real world.

            In a film you are almost always a passive observer, you are never the main character but one who watches on to what is happening. To watch sexual violence is one thing – to actively preform it and then be encouraged and rewarded to do so is another thing entirely. Hopefully I am making my point clear.

            Anti-social behaviour is never cool. Art can challenge our views on it, and can present it in ways that encourage discussion. But a “game” where one is rewarded for abusing strangers in realistic ways… that’s just not cool.

      • WhereAreYourMorals

        The game was banned for sexual violence that was not in the context of the game, none of those movies have rape scenes for the fun of it, if they do it is to drive the narative of the movie. It was not that it was in the game, it was that it was in the game for no reason. I Spit on Your Grave is a perfect example of a movie with rape and violence that passed rating, but it was in context of the movie.

        No game has been banned under the new guidelines for violence, so using Saw and War movies as examples of what has passed is kind of irrelevant.

        I am not saying that I agree with the guidelines, but the ability to rape people with a dildo adds nothing to the game.

        • Jayden Williams

          Neither does mowing down innocent NPCs with a car.

          Where are your morals, indeed.

        • Tom Roberts

          Arguing that people being mowed down by cars is just as bad as depictions of rape and sexual violence is a pointless argument. It’s not a question of what’s morally more questionable, but it’s instead a question of what people have been conditioned to. Adults simply aren’t used to depictions of sexual violence as much as depictions of non-sexual violence. But this is still an arbitrary censorship, I agree with you there. And the question has to be asked, isn’t raping people with an alien dildo just ‘because’ in the spirit of the game? It doesn’t mean I condone it, but I will argue for an adult’s right to play such a game. It should ultimately be the consumer’s right to decide what they need protection from, when it comes to media such as movies and video games. That’s what Aussie-Gamer is arguing.