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GAMES CENSORSHIP COLLECTION

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eBriefs
Computer Games - Interactive Movies - Players - Stakeholders
Local Censorship - Overseas Censorship - Developer Responses - Accusations

How are computer games censored in comparable overseas countries?

Here are some international comparisons of computer games censorship systems.  It is interesting to note that almost all games that enter Australia - whether approved by the OFLC or not - already contain one of more stickers or other form of box marking that indicates the game's censorship rating overseas.  Every single game that has been banned in Australia has received ratings in the UK and the USA at the upper end of the scales referred to in this section.  The systems that are discussed here respect the rights of adults to play games aimed at their maturity level while providing plenty of warning regarding the more violent and/or sexually explicit content for the benefit of those who feel the need to censor games brought into their homes.  These systems are often much more detailed and informative than anything devised to deal with computer games in this country

In the United Kingdom, computer games are classified by the European Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), with most titles rated 15+ or 18+ being submitted to the British Board of Film Classification for ratings verification.  According to ELSPA, the system is designed to ensure responsible behaviour by members and to allow parents to make informed choices about the game playing of their children.  More importantly, it goes on to say that it accepts that there is a legitimate market for computer and video games with mature themes as long as they are provided to the market in a responsible and lawful manner.  ELSPA has an 18+ rating for computer and video games.  If one looks in almost any British computer games magazine such as PC Format, one will find advertisements for games banned in Australia (Phantasmagoria, Strip Poker, etc.) with 18+ classifications.  In other words, computer games prohibited from sale in Australia may be freely sold to all interested adults in the UK. 


ELSPA 18+ rating
The European Leisure Software Publishers Association considered this game to be suitable for adults only, and accordingly gave it an 18+ age rating.  Specifically, they indicated that it was unsuitable for all younger age groups.

BBFC 15+ rating
In the United Kingdom, ELSPA rating decisions related to ages 15 and up need to be ratified by the British Board of Film Classification.  Such games ratings decisions result in such products being allocated 15+ or 18+ ratings in the same manner as films in that country.
In the United States of America, games software is not legally obliged to be classified, but most developers submit their products for classification to either the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the Recreational Software Advisory Council (see below), or both in recent years. 

Adults are well catered for in the ESRB scheme, with ratings categories ranging from "Early Childhood" to "Adults Only".  In addition, content descriptors are added so that consumers may gain some idea of why a title was classified the way it was.  In the higher classifications, simulated sexual and violent content may exist to a considerably greater degree than is allowed under Australia's more restrictive games ratings system. 

For example, the unmodified version of Duke Nukem 3D that caused so much controversy in Australia was rated M 17+ for "Animated Blood and Gore", "Animated Violence", and "Strong Sexual Content". Phantasmagoria (banned in Australia) was also rated M 17+, this time for "Realistic Blood and Gore", and "Strong Sexual Content".  Finally, Voyeur (also banned in Australia) was rated M 17+ for "Mature Sexual Themes" and "Realistic Violence".  Note that M 17+ was also given to games that are perfectly legal in this country such as Soldier of Fortune.  M 17+ is not even the highest ratings category used by the ESRB - there is still room for stronger content (always non-violent and sexual) under the AO (Adults Only) classification. 

The ESRB system is supported in the USA by the vigilant supervision of games software purchases by both software retailers and parents and thus ensures that minors cannot access material that may harm or disturb them. 


ESRB M 17+ rating
An adult games classification rating by the USA's Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

ESRB M 17+ rating and consumer advice
Consumer advice linked to an adult games classification rating made by the ESRB, providing reasons for their decision.
A highly qualified team of academics, psychologists, educators, and industry representatives are behind the success of the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC) games ratings scheme - an alternative to the ESRB (see Kent, 2000).  Over 400 titles from over 100 publishers have been classified by this organization so far.  Games are assessed according to the levels of violence (V), nudity/sex (NS), and language (L) they contain - from level 0 through to 4.  If the level of any of these categories within a particular game exceeds 0, then a thermometer icon or icons are included on the box's ratings sticker  with the level of each of the contentious elements present in the title filled in.  As with most classification systems, consumer advice is added to the numerical rating(s). 

Examples of rated titles include (all of these were Refused Classification - banned to everyone - at some point in Australia): 

Dream Web - V4: wanton and gratuitous violence; NS3: frontal nudity, non-explicit sexual activity; L2: profanity. 
Duke Nukem 3D [Unmodified USA version] - V4: wanton and gratuitous violence; NS1: revealing attire; L1: mild expletives. 
Phantasmagoria - V3: blood and gore; NS3: partial nudity, non-explicit sexual activity; L3: strong, vulgar language.
Voyeur - V3: blood and gore; NS3: non-explicit sexual activity, revealing attire; L4: crude or explicit sexual references. 

As is the case with the ESRB, the RSAC's idea is not to ban any games, but to classify titles so that consumers may make an informed choice over their gaming purchases for both themselves and their families.


RSAC ratings for Phantasmagoria 2
Recreational Software Advisory Council ratings and consumer advice allocated to Phantasmagoria 2.  That particular game scored 3 out of 4 for the intensity of its violence, 4 out of 4 for the intensity of its nudity and sex, and 3 out of 4 for the intensity of its language.

For further information regarding the censorship of computer games overseas, please consult MacIsaac, 1996 and Watson and Shuker, 1998.
 
 

© Anthony Larme 2002
larme@hotmail.com
Comments and questions are most welcome