IGEA has made a submission to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications consultation on reviewing and updating the classification scheme for today’s digital environment.
This is an important review and one that we have been eagerly awaiting. The National Classification Scheme first came into place in 1995 and is now halfway through its third decade without fundamental reform. The Scheme was designed for a pre-internet age and drafted in an environment where video games were misunderstood by many and demonised by some. This is a review that we have been encouraging each federal governments to undertake since the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) conducted its review at the start of the last decade. We thank the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, for commencing it.
We have responded to each question in the discussion paper issued by the Department. Key points from our submission include:
- The role of the Scheme has changed over the years as parents are now far more able and willing to manage their children’s content than they did when the Scheme started. Not only is there far more information readily available to parents about any game, but our industry has also made available a wide range of content and access controls in consoles, devices and games that parents can use.
- The Scheme was drafted during the moral panic around video games that existed in the early to mid-1990s, and this is reflected in many parts of the legislative drafting that clearly no longer reflect contemporary public standards and expectations in 2020. As the community and political landscape has changed, so should the Scheme.
- We recommend that a new Scheme be changed to an entirely advisory system without legal access restrictions on any categories. In particular, we support removing legal access restrictions on MA15+ which the ALRC supported and ask whether it is now also the time to remove the problematic MA15+ category, merging it with the M non-restrictive category.
- We are otherwise supportive of the existing classification categories. However, we are aware that some stakeholders support a new category between PG and M, such as PG-12 or PG-13. While this is not a priority for our industry, we are happy to discuss this further.
- Video games are classified more harshly than films, and more harshly in Australia than in many other territories around the world. We recommend numerous changes to the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games, including:
- Removing the many additional specific rules that only exist for video games but not films. These rules are often inflexible and give the Board no discretion to make the correct classification. The same content that is permitted at each level in films should also be permitted at the same level in a video game.
- Removing the rule that interactive drug use must be classified R18+ and the rule that drug use linked to incentives and rewards must be Refused Classification. The scope of ‘drug use’ should also be limited to real-world drugs or their analogues.
- Removing the rule that sex and nudity linked to incentives and rewards must be classified R18+.
- Consumer advice should move away from a ‘free text’ model to a more streamlined and consistent approach to support the use of classification tools and industry assessors.
- Video games likely to be classified G, PG and M should be subject to a voluntary classification model under a code agreed between the Government and IGEA, as the ALRC recommended.
- There should be a single set of guidelines for the classification of films and video games, rather than the current separate set of guidelines. This single set of guidelines would enable a classifier to consider interactivity appropriately, whether in a game or a film.
- We support the ALRC’s recommendation of a co-regulatory model of classification where ratings can be made by classification tools, trained industry assessors (eg. publishers or distributors) and the new regulator, which would also take on the role of the Board.
- We recommend that the Board be replaced by assessors working for the new regulator. We recommend that the Classification Review Board be disbanded. If a classification decision of the new regulator needs to be reviewed, the regulator could use different assessors to review that decision.
- The nationally cooperative nature of the current Scheme, where all states and territories must agree to any changes, has always inhibited reform and does not functioning effectively. The Scheme should become a federally-administered framework.
Our submission can be downloaded here
We have also made a supplementary addendum to our submission that provides a summary of our review of literature on the links between interactivity and the impact of content in video games. Our summary highlights a body of research that may help explain why interactivity may actually decrease the effect or impact of content on a player compared to viewing non-interactive content, contrary to the common presumption that interactivity increases impact. Our addendum can be downloaded here.
Further details on the review, a copy of the Department’s discussion paper and copies of other submissions to the review can be found here.