The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012 has been passed in both Houses and received Royal Assent by the Governor General to amend the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) to create an R18+ category for computer games. This Act also amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to recognise the new category. The Act is due to commence on 1 January 2013.
Prior to this Bill the highest available of classification was MA15+. This meant that some games which internationally received an R18+ classification were either left “Refused Classification” or “RC” and not legally available for sale in Australia, or modified to fit the MA15+ category. Considering that a recent report by Bond University, Interactive Australia 2009 (IA9) found the average age of an Australian gamer is 30 years old and more than half of gamers are over the age of 26, this comes as a surprise.
The Bill follows an extensive public consultation held by the Attorney-General’s Department, found here. Whilst there has been strong support for the introduction of an R18+ classification, there have also been strong arguments against this Bill. Those against argue that an R18+ category will mean more violent and sexual themed games and therefore greater access of violent games to children, causing harmful effects on behaviour. Those in favour think adults should have a choice to play games containing R18+ content which would otherwise be legal in film. By comparison, film has both R18+ and X18+ classifications.
The new R18+ category will increase the variety of games available to adults whilst also informing consumers, in particular parents and minors, of the games which are appropriate for young people to play. However, the introduction of a new category will not mean game developers are given absolute freedom. There will still be a category of RC (Refused Classification).
The interests of the computer game industry must also be considered. The international computer game industry is worth $10 billion and is becoming one of the most profitable industries in entertainment. This industry, like any other industry must position itself to respond to changing environment and demand.
The new R18+ classification will send a clear and unambiguous message to parents who wish to protect their children. It will also allow adults to freely choose what they play, without games being withheld from sale or modified. The current Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games 2005 can be found on the Australian Communications and Media Authority website, here.