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GAMES CENSORSHIP COLLECTION

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Computer Games - Government Publications - Monographs
Journal Articles - Magazine Articles - Newspaper Articles
World Wide Web - Unpublished

Government Publications

The most influential literature that is relevant to the Australian computer games censorship issues topic has been created by the various Governments of this country and their agencies.  Most of this literature can readily be described as pro-censorship, although much of what has been written by the OFLC often takes a less censorious view.  EBrief topics of most relevance here are how and why computer games have been censored in this country, the stakeholders in the debate, and whether these products do indeed encourage any form of real-world violence and/or degradation.

- Hansard -

Hansard presents verbatim records of the debates held in the Federal and State (e.g. Queensland) Parliaments.  The Hansard excerpts presented here concern legislation that would censor computer games in various ways within their jurisdictions.  They are an excellent means to discover the concerns politicians had over the alleged content of these entertainment products and who they perceived to be the main or exclusive players (i.e. children).
 

Commonwealth of Australia [Commonwealth]. (1994) Parliamentary debates (Hansard).  1994.  House of Representatives. First session of the thirty-seventh parliament (fifth period). 23 August to 8 December 1994. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

The Classification Bill that was to result in massive changes to Australia's overall censorship system, including the institution of censorship for computer games, received bipartisan support during debates in the House of Representatives.  Politicians were particularly pleased to finally be doing something about what they perceived to be the rapidly increasing threat posed by computer games to the moral fabric of society, particularly among the young.
 

Legislative Assembly Queensland [LAQ]. (1995a) Weekly Hansard. First session of the forty-seventh parliament. No. 35. Brisbane: Legislative Assembly Queensland. 

Deputy Premier Tom Burns presented the Classification of Computer Games and Images Bill to the Queensland Legislative Assembly to enforce the new Federal Classification Act at the State level.  In his formal introduction to its Second Reading, he stressed that the protection of children and the strengthening of family life from the threat posed by computer games was his foremost concern.  Such a concern, he remarked, overrode other concerns of civil liberties and the need to base legislative decisions on cold, hard evidence. 


Legislative Assembly Queensland [LAQ]. (1995b) Weekly Hansard. First session of the forty-seventh parliament. No. 36. Brisbane: Legislative Assembly Queensland. 

Matters raised in the general debate on the Queensland games censorship legislation mirrored the bipartisan support of the original Federal legislation.  Computer games were discussed in far more detail than in the comparable House of Representatives Hansard because the Queensland Classification of Computer Games and Images Bill covered only computer games.  Once again, protection of children from a perceived threat was the main goal of the politicians.
 

- Legislation -

Computer games are censored in Australia in accordance with the legislation outlined below.  Similar legislation to that in Queensland has been passed in the other States and Territories.
 

Commonwealth of Australia [Commonwealth]. (1995). Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

This Act created a uniform system of film, literature, and computer games censorship in Australia to be administered by the Federal Office of Film and Literature Classification.  Most importantly for the computer games censorship topic, the Act formally instituted a code for computer games classification that did not include an R rating and caused games to be banned to everyone if they were unsuitable for a minor to see or play.

Commonwealth Classification Act - front page
Front page of the Commonwealth Classification Act 1995.

Legislative Assembly of Queensland [LAQ]. (1995c) Classification of Computer Games and Images (Interim) Act 1995. Brisbane: Legislative Assembly of Queensland.

Complementary Queensland legislation backed up the new Federal classification system with a list of penalties that heavily fined any retailer in breach of the new national censorship system.  Curiously, no penalty was to befall anyone who actually possessed a banned computer game, providing that it did not include child pornography.  Many provisions of the Act specifically target the makers and possessors of child pornography, especially computer based images of such acts. 
 

- Office of Film and Literature Classification -

Analysed below is a representative cross-section of the copious literature produced by the Australian Government's censorship body, the OFLC, on the computer games censorship issue.  Through this incredible variety of research into computer games, guidelines used to rate computer games, and summaries produced when actual games were rated, most, if not all, eBrief questions can be addressed.  Very little of this information is available online at the OFLC Web site (http://www.oflc.gov.au/), so this collection concentrates upon offline material.  See also Local Censorship
 

Cupitt, M., & Stockbridge, S. (1996). Families and electronic entertainment. Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Authority / Office of Film and Literature Classification.

One of the first Australian Federal Government sponsored scientific studies into attitudes concerning computer games within the Australian community, this work shows that many of the concerns held by politicians when legislating to censor these games are largely unfounded.  In particular, it concludes that parental concerns over computer games content are considerably outweighed by other concerns, that parents are able to adequately supervise their children's use of such games, and most games do not contain any controversial content.
 

Durkin, K. (1995). Computer games: their effects on young people - a review. Sydney: Office of Film and Literature Classification.

The first Australian Government commissioned study into the effects of computer games on young people involved extensive research conducted by a university psychologist.  He found that existing overseas research does not prove conclusively that children are negatively affected by computer games and that Australian research into this matter was required.  This latter recommendation was thoroughly followed up in future OFLC publications.
 

Durkin, K., & Aisbett, K. (1999). Computer games and Australians today. Sydney: Office of Film and Literature Classification.

At the conclusion of a series of research projects into computer games and their social implications that lasted several years, the OFLC produced this work that supported its earlier publications on similar topics and made some revolutionary recommendations.  In particular, it formally acknowledged for the first time in Australian Government computer games literature that adults play computer games and, as such, deserve to have an R rating for games specifically designed for them.  A very brief and loosely annotated bibliography on some related resources is included.

Computer games and Australians today final report - front cover
Font cover of the final report in the OFLC's Computer games and Australians today study.

Office of Film and Literature Classification [OFLC]. (1994). Computer games and images - classification guidelines and industry code. Sydney: Office of Film and Literature Classification.

The OFLC assesses computer games by these guidelines that are in full accordance with the Federal Classification Act of 1995.  Allowable classification ratings are: G, G 8+, M 15+, and MA 15+.  Any game containing content above the MA 15+ level for games is banned to everyone.  Material that can ban a game includes: sexually explicit language, non-educational nudity, simulated sexual activity, and any depiction of sexual violence.  Much of this banned material can be seen by anyone in films rated as low as PG or M.  Games are deliberately rated more strictly than other visual media owing to their greater impact because of their interactivity and because children are perceived as their main players and cannot be adequately supervised by their largely technologically illiterate parents.  The Guidelines reflect the concerns of politicians upon passing games censorship legislation - concerns of which have been refuted by more recent research into this issue.

OFLC's games ratings guidelines booklet - front cover
Front cover of a detailed booklet published by the OFLC concerning its computer games ratings guidelines.

Office of Film and Literature Classification [OFLC]. (1995). Phantasmagoria. Sydney: Office of Film and Literature Classification.  [classification decision summary sheet]

This document outlines the OFLC's reasons for banning the cd-rom based interactive movie Phantasmagoria.  Two non-interactive scenes were singled out.  The most important was the aforementioned rape scene, but also an earlier consensual scene of simulated sexual activity that involved some brief, discreet nudity.  Although the document states clearly that the OFLC believed both scenes to be contextually justified, the ban was made in full accordance with the computer games censorship guidelines that do not allow contextual considerations to be taken into account in their blanket ban on depicting all forms of non-educational simulated sexual activity.
 

Office of Film and Literature Classification [OFLC]. (2001a). A review of the classification guidelines for films and computer games: discussion paper. Sydney: Office of Film and Literature Classification.

After at least six years of research into computer games, the OFLC released a public discussion paper on proposed changes to the games ratings guidelines.  Such suggested modifications include the partial merger of the film and games ratings guidelines and an R rating for computer games aimed at adults.  This work outlines arguments both for and against the proposed changes and presents a history and summary of film and games censorship regulation in Australia.
 

- Senate Committee -

Various relevant publications were produced by the pro-censorship Senate Committee that was responsible for the institution of Australia's current computer games censorship system.  Issues of violence and degradation to women and children are prominently raised here, as are further examples of the opinions of the pro-censorship stakeholders in the games censorship debate in this country. 
 

Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies [Senate Committee]. (1993). Report on video and computer games and classification issues. Canberra: Senate Committee.

All computer games censorship legislation passed in Australia during the 1990s ultimately owes its existence to this Senate Report.  Headed by Labor Senator Margaret Reynolds who turned her personal crusade of protecting children from computer games into official Government policy, it was the first Government document that recommended games be censored and that they be regulated more harshly than film (such as with the omission of an R category).  The Committee's conclusions were mostly based on anecdotal evidence from a few interested conservative members of the public who were sympathetic to the politicians' concerns.

Front cover of the Senate report that began local games censorship
Front cover of the Senate report that led to computer games censorship in Australia.

Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies [Senate Committee]. (1994). Report on overseas sourced audiotex services, video and computer games, r-rated material on pay tv. Canberra: Senate Committee.

Although the Senate Committee's earlier Report mentioned computer games in far greater detail, this 1994 publication is important owing to its references to the fact that the Senators, particularly John Tierney (Liberal),  were growing impatient that their recommendations were not being implemented as rapidly as they would have liked them to be.  They restate their earlier concerns about computer games and mention that actions were already being taken against these games overseas and that Australia should do the same.
 

Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies [Senate Committee] (1996a). Ministerial committee inquiry into the portrayal of violence in the electronic media - summary of submissions.  Canberra: Senate Committee.

In the wake of the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre and the subsequent speculation that the perpetrator may have been negatively influenced by his video collection, public outcry against violence in the media was quite vocal and caused the newly elected Coalition Federal Government to launch a Ministerial inquiry into this matter.  Hundreds of submissions were received, all but one percent calling for a crackdown on this violence.  These matters were later referred to the Senate Committee that usually handles such issues.  The summary makes special mention of the fact that there was very little evidence of detailed knowledge of computer games among the submissions, even among those which mentioned them alongside film and video as being in need of a Government crackdown.
 

Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies [Senate Committee] (1996b). The portrayal of violence in the electronic media - seminar program.  Canberra: Senate Committee.

The Senate Committee's 1996 inquiry into violence in the media included a seminar held at Parliament House, Canberra on 29 November, 1996 to which relevant community and Government representatives were invited, particularly those whose submissions to the earlier Ministerial inquiry had made a significant impression on the Senators.  This seminar had an agenda that included opportunities to discuss computer games censorship issues, but this chance was passed up by all but a couple of the dozens of participants.  The comments that were raised about computer games, however, were strongly held by members of both sides of the censorship debate surrounding them.  Overall, the agenda was heavily weighted towards supporting the increased censorship position.
 

Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies [Senate Committee]. (1997). Report on the portrayal of violence in the electronic media. Canberra: Senate Committee.

As the climax of almost a year of Federal Government investigation into ways in which to crackdown on violence in the electronic media, this Senate Report makes some powerful and revolutionary recommendations that reflect the strongly pro-censorship position held by almost all politicians and others involved in the inquiry process.  Recommendations against computer games include that it be made illegal to possess any such game banned due to violence.  Strangely, there is no evidence that any of their recommendations were ever put into place, quite unlike the situation with the Senate Committee's earlier Reports.
 
 

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