iGEA: Australia's new classification guidelines are slowly becoming irrelevant

Australia's new set of video game classification guidelines due to come into action Jan. 1, 2013 are already slowly becoming irrelevant, according to the head of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (iGEA) CEO Ron Curry.

Speaking to Polygon, Curry says that while it's good that Australia is finally introducing an R18+ classification for video games, both the games industry, gamers and government now need to have a discussion about whether the guidelines serve their purpose and what can be done to ensure people are as informed as possible about their game purchases.

"The current guidelines have six criteria (themes, violence, sex, language, drug use, nudity), which are slowly becoming less and less important," Curry says. "There are other things that parents are worried about: they're worried about user-generated content, they're worried about privacy, they're worried about access to children chatting with adults, they're worried about gambling, they're worried about in-game purchases and geo-locating.

"The current guidelines have six criteria ... which are slowly becoming less and less important."

"So if we're going to look at classification, we need to ask, 'Why do we classify?' We classify to give people information about content, mainly for parents, the argument goes. Are we addressing their concerns? Probably not."

Curry says that while the existing six criteria are still important, there are equally as important issues that aren't covered. Now that a new set of guidelines are on the way it's time to "take a step back and maybe re-evaluate what we should do."

Australia's classification system is government-run, with each individual state and territory determining how classification laws are implemented. It is one of the few countries in the western world (alongside countries like New Zealand, Brazil and Germany) to have a government-run classification board and one of the few in the world which currently does not have an R18+ rating for video games, meaning that anything rated above MA15+ like Manhunt, Mortal Kombat, Postal 2 and Syndicate have been banned from sale in the country. In Europe, the industry-run PEGI classification system is used in more than 30 countries, while the ESRB is the industry body in the U.S. that handles video game classification.

"Are we addressing their concerns? Probably not."

The iGEA currently works with both PEGI and ESRB and Curry believes it is worth exploring external classification schemes for countries like Australia because "the industry has years of experience getting it right." He describes industry-led classification schemes as being more nimble than governments and they can adapt quickly to the rapidly changing games industry.

"You can't have government adapt nimbly, just by the nature of government, and even less so when there are seven to eight sets of government to go through," he says. "It's just not practical."

On Jan. 1, 2013, publishers will be able to begin submitting their games to the Australian Classification Board for consideration for an R18+ rating. Curry doesn't expect to see any changes made to the guidelines themselves. He says that classifiers might be over-cautious at first and publishers may request reviews, but things should "balance out" after both classifiers and publishers get used to the new guidelines.

"You can't have government adapt nimbly, just by the nature of government."

For now the iGEA is continuing its work with the Australian government and its collaboration with PEGI and the ESRB abroad to find solutions to the problems that game classification presents. In Australia, the classification guidelines for computer and video games place emphasis on the interactivity of video games, but Curry and the iGEA believe that the focus is on the wrong kind of interactivity. The issue, he says, is not the interactivity of games potentially being more impactful on the player - it's the way players interact with the game's social aspects, online marketplaces and concerns of user privacy. These are the areas they will continue to research.

The new classification guidelines will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, except in the state of Queensland where a review of the legislation will delay the process until mid-February.

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