Look but don’t play.
Orfeo Mattar: Australia's rigid classification code is punishing videogamers and developers
07 Dec 09

This is a guest post by Orfeo Mattar

The video gaming industry is surrounded by controversy; indeed it would appear that it actively seek to court it in a bid to boost sales. This is the case with many of the biggest releases of the gaming calendar, including the critically acclaimed release of Modern Warfare 2, which was boosted by a controversial level in which the player assumed the role of a Russian terrorist.

However, whilst that controversy was global, in Australia it was a mere drop in a torrent of continual controversial decisions regarding video game classification. One recent such decision was the one made to deny classification to the original version of zombie game Left 4 Dead 2. This decision meant that the game could not be published in Australia, amounting to a form of state censorship. Whilst the game was eventually granted a classification it had to be passed through three versions before the review board finally granted it the top rating of MA15+.

The requirement for edits and changes must be challenged. No such requirement was made by, for example, the British Board of Film Classification, despite their review coming to similar conclusions as their counterparts at the CRB. Both boards found that the game was far too violent, and depicted violence in a manner that was far too realistic, to grant the game a rating which would allow legal minors to play. Yet, despite both boards coming to that conclusion, the game had to be changed before it could be sold in Australia. This is due to serious discrepancies in the classification of video games as opposed to other media and in particular the film industry. The CRB is unable to give any video game a rating above MA15+ despite there being a well-defined framework which allows for classifications of R18+ or above.

There is a serious problem with the Australian legislation; a flaw which is stopping game developers from pushing the boundaries of their art. This must be changed so that the CRB can work without being forced to act as a state censor. It bears noting that the decision of the CRB on Left 4 Dead 2 made special note that the general theme of the game was not considered unacceptable.