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Submission by New Media Australia Limited

Legal Director David Stenlake

Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (Censorship)

Removing the policy where ...computer games that exceed the MA 15+ classification category will be refused classification. In the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games 2008.

25 May 2009

Table of Contents

1 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY.........................................................3 2 INTRODUCTION......................................................................4 3 KEY ARGUMENTS...................................................................5 3.1 Australian Image and Development...........................5 3.2 The Australian Gamer.................................................5 3.3 Economic Advantages................................................6 3.4 Freedom of Entertainment..........................................6 4 COUNTER ARGUMENTS........................................................6 4.1 Child Exposure...........................................................6 4.2 Interactivity.................................................................7 5 RECOMMENDATIONS............................................................8 5.1 Removing the Policy...................................................8 5.2 Behind the Counter Service........................................8 5.3 Stickers on Products...................................................8 6 RESEARCH BIBLIOGRAPHY................................................9

1. Executive Summary
New Media Australia Limited believes that the current policy where

...computer games that exceed the MA 15+ classification category will be refused classification. should be removed from the guidelines. The current refusal of these games is restricting Australian content within the Australian market. Australian developers of games have to work around the classification system. Australian video game developers cannot compete competitively on a global scale. Australia is seen as a nation that needs to catch up and take note that most gamers are in fact mature adults. The average Australian gamer is now 30 years old and should be trusted to make their own informed decision about the media they consume. Children should be kept away from explicit content but it should not come at the cost of freedom of entertainment. Overseas developers have been obligated to manipulate their original works for Australian release. The addition of an R18+ classification for computer and video games will create better awareness of violence in video games. Violent video games that are at the MA15+ classifications most extreme would comfortably fit under the new R18+ classification. Removing the policy would be simple as current standards for films that exceed the MA15+ classification are currently in place. The Attorney-General's Department would be respected for making a decision that the rest of the world already has.

2. Introduction
New Media Australia Limited (NMAL) is the peak industry body for representing Australia's new media circulation and distribution. NMAL welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Standing Committee of Attorney-General's Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games 2008. NMAL does not support any further changes to the guidelines other than the ones stated in this document. Australians are allowed to view 'adult only' films which have been classified as R18+ but not computer games with the equivalent level of content. Because there is currently no classification for mature adult video games in Australia. Australian video game developers are forced to develop their games with the classification system in mind. The current ban on video games that exceed the MA15+ rating in the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games 2008, should be lifted so Australian developers can compete on a global scale. This restriction is holding back Australian content and the Australian economy. The expectations on new video games is that they exceed their predecessors in all aspects. For example, the violence in one game is expected to be tweaked and altered for its sequel. If other nations have the freedom to develop and release games that are developed for mature adults Australia is at a global disadvantage. Australian video game developers must keep an unrealistic (G MA15+ or 1 - 15) target market in mind when producing content. Unless of course they plan to distribute their product to an overseas market only. Australian adult consumers are also at a disadvantage because they do not have the freedom to make their own media consumption decisions. Video games that an Australian adult consumer might want to play are simply not on shelves.

3. Key Arguments
3.1 Australian Image and Development Australian development is extremely important to Australia's economic growth and culture. To the rest of the world Australia is seen as a nation that needs to catch up and realise that most gamers are in fact mature adults. Australia is a strong market for video game developers around the world as 88% of Australian homes have a device for playing computer or video games (Brand, Borchard & Holmes, 2009, pp.4). So far overseas developers have been obligated to manipulate their original works for Australian release. This is not a good thing for the image of Australia. Our nation is seen as an annoying hurdle for game developers worldwide. If video games were given an R18+ classification a new market would open up for Australian developers; Australians would be developing mature adult video games for global and Australian release. 3.2 The Australian Gamer Late last year the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia conducted a quantitative survey on 1614 random Australian households. Some of the qualitative data they derived is listed below: The average age of the Australian gamer is 30 (up from 28 in 2006). 88% of homes have a device for playing computer or video games. 68% of Australians play computer or video games. 70% of in game households parents play computer or video games. 80% of these parents play with their children. 92% of parents say they are aware of the games their children play. 78% of parents say an adult is present when purchasing games for their children. 63% of Australians are not aware that Australia has no R18+ classification for video games. 91% of adults (including gamers and non gamers) say Australia should have an R18+ classification for games. (Brand, Borchard & Holmes, 2009, pp.4)

3.3 Economic Advantages Opening the R18+ classification for video games would keep sales revenue in Australia. Gamers who import illegal games would no longer have to. The cash they were using to purchase these games online would go straight into the economy. One could even make the argument that a banned game adds to its appeal; making gamers more eager to illegally import them. Removing these bans will generate income for Australian distributors and the Australian government. 3.4 Freedom of Entertainment The average Australian gamer (30 years old) is currently not trusted to make their own informed decision about their entertainment consumption when it comes to computer and video games. They are however able to freely consume other mature adult versions of media forms like film or music. In the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games 2008 it states adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want. (The Code (a)). The same guidelines that refuse the classification of computer and video games that exceed MA15+ standards. Adult consumers should be able to make their own informed media consumption decisions and video games should be classified indifferent to film.

4. Counter Arguments
4.1 Child Exposure One of the main arguments not to open the R18+ classification to computer and video games is the psychological impacts that the games will have on children. This is stated in the classification guidelines; minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them. (The Code (b)). There is currently no successful research that says video games can psychologically harm or cultivate violence within children. One could even argue that the new R18+ category would protect children from content. Video games which are first refused classification are often modified to the MA15+ categories most extreme allowance. Rockstar North's Grand Theft Auto IV is an example of a game that should be kept away from children and could take advantage of an R18+ category. The new category would further separate these violent games from children. A parent would be more conscious about buying a game with 'R18+' on the cover than 'MA15+'. As noted in Interactive Australia's data, 78% of parents say an adult is present when purchasing a game; so the above situation is a realistic one. Because there is no R18+ category, violent video games are consistently pushing their MA15+ classification.

4.2 Interactivity South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson states: 'I have consistently opposed an R18+ classification for computer games. I am concerned about the harm of high-impact (particularly violent) computer games to children...their interactive nature could exacerbate their impact.' (Writers, S 2008, pp.1). As noted above (4.1) there is no existing research that states that video games can cultivate or desensitise the consumer. One of the major arguments for the banning of violent video games is that the games could induce the player to commit violent acts in real life after prolonged playing sessions. One of the biggest examples of this being the Columbine school shootings. The two teenagers who committed the crime had a love for the game Doom. It could be argued that prolonged exposure to violence in video games changes perspectives on reality; this is found to be false. A player is aware of the differences between virtual and actual reality. A player is able to differentiate between virtual and real life worlds. Here is a graph that compares the sale of violent video games with the committing of violent crimes in the US:

(Ferguson, C 2008, pp.9) One can see that youth violent crime is actually going down with the sales of violent video games in the United States. Video games are the most interactive of entertainment mediums. This does not mean that themes like violence come across more strongly than through other mediums; video games should be classified as such.

5. Recommendations
5.1 Removing the Policy The policy where ...computer games that exceed the MA 15+ classification category will be refused classification. In the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games 2008 should be removed. As stated in the introduction removing the policy would allow Australian video game developers to compete on a global scale. The Standing Committee of AttorneysGeneral should support the Australian video games industry by allowing mature adult video games classifiable; making new revenue possible. Restricting the distribution of these games is creating restrictions on Australian content; as developers are creating games around the classification system. Removing the policy would be simple as current standards for classifying films that exceed the MA15+ category are currently in place. 5.2 Behind the Counter Service Some nations that currently allow the distribution and purchase of games that exceed the MA15+ classification are not allowed to have mature adult video games on shelves. To obtain these games one must present their identification to the clerk who would then retrieve the game. This could work in Australia and is currently the same as how tobacco is purchased in Australian stores nation wide. 5.3 Stickers on Products Stickers that tell the buyer that the product is not suitable for children could be implemented. This sticker would be a hazard label for parents that are buying the game for their children. The sticker could say something like The Classifications Board does not approve this computer or video game to be sold or subjected to an an individual who has not yet reached the age of 18. Identification MUST be shown when purchasing this game.

6. Research Bibliography
Attorney-General's Department, 'Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games 2008', Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing, Commonwealth Government of Australia, Canberra NSW, pp.1-16 Ferguson, Christopher 2008, 'The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Casual Relationship or Moral Panic?', Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, no. 5, pp. 25-37 Writers, S 2008, news.com.au, 'Games ratings speech cut off in parliament',http://www.news.com.au/technology/story/0,25642,233299595014239,00.html (06/02/08), Accessed 24/05/09, Australia Brand, Borchard & Holmes 2009, 'IA9 Key Findings Summary 2009', Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia, Bond University QLD, pp.1-4