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

How are computer games censored in Australia?

Although computer games have been played in this country since at least the 1980s, it was only in the 1990s that people began to consider the idea of classifying these increasingly popular and realistic products.  In May of 1993, Labor Senator Margaret Reynolds, horrified by the realistic computer game Night Trap, began to actively campaign for a system to regulate these products.  By October, her influential Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies released a highly critical report on computer games based largely on anecdotal evidence and conjecture - the Report on Video and Computer Games and Classification Issues - that firmly recommended their harsher regulation than for film. 

A further report by the Senate Committee in 1994 - the Report on Overseas Sourced Audiotex Services, Video and Computer Games, R-Rated Material on Pay TV - reiterated many of its earlier findings on computer games.  Both sides of the House of Representatives praised the new Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Bill as rightly following all the Senate Committee's recommendations.  Newly developed computer games classification guidelines banned almost all forms of sex and nudity in computer games available in Australia. 

The following year, the new Classification Act came into force and allowed Federal classification decisions to be rigorously enforced at the State level such as by Queensland's Classification of Computer Games and Images (Interim) Act.  The first major, popular game from overseas, Phantasmagoria, was Refused Classification and thus banned to all Australians.  Similar decisions that prevented all Australians from accessing popular computer games from overseas were soon to follow. 

All actions taken by Australian governments to regulate the sale and distribution of computer games were inspired by universal agreement with two key recommendations that arose from the Senate Committee's 1993 Report:

Recommendation number six on page vi stated:
Having regard to the extra sensory intensity involved in the playing of interactive games and the implications of long-term effects on users, the Committee recommends that stricter criteria for classification than those applying to equivalent film and video classifications be set by [classification] authorities... 

Recommendation number four on page v supported number six by proclaiming:
The Committee is concerned that the level of technology involved with the use of ... computer games means that many parents do not necessarily have the competency to ensure adequate parental guidance.  Therefore the Committee recommends that material of an 'R' equivalent category be refused classification.  The Committee also recommends that if an 'X' equivalent classification is considered it should not be adopted for ... computer games material...

In other words, it was heavily implied that children are the only players of computer games (or at least comprise the vast majority of players), and that parents do not play them, and, in fact, have very low computer competency.  As a compounding factor to lead to severe regulation, computer games were deemed to be of greater impact on users due to their "extra-sensory intensity" in comparison to film. 

Resulting from these beliefs were the Office of Film and Literature Classification's (OFLC) 1994 computer games classification guidelines which remain in force today.  The OFLC is a Federal Government agency located within the Attorney General's Department that is primarily responsible for classifying all films (including videos) and computer games made available for sale or hire to the public in Australia.  Using official, periodically reviewed guidelines, these products are assigned ratings according to their suitability to certain age groups and many are additionally provided with consumer advice giving a very brief summary of the reasons for the rating. 

Current ratings for computer games (in order of level of restriction, least restrictive first) = G (all ages), G 8+, M 15+, MA 15+, RC (Refused Classification).  For films = G, PG, M 15+, MA 15+, R 18+, X 18+ (video only), RC.  Products refused classification may not be sold or hired in Australia. 

Aside from allowing for significantly fewer ratings than for film, the computer games ratings most notably exclude all non-medical instances of sex or nudity (real or simulated, whether using animated figures or real human actors, and regardless of context or plot requirements) from computer games made available in this country.  This is in stark contrast to the far more liberal attitude taken under the film classification guidelines which allow for such material from as low as the PG or M 15+ ratings. 

An example of an OFLC classification sticker for the highest legal rating for computer games (MA 15+).  Brief reasons for the rating are provided in the form of associated consumer advice.

Building directory showing the floors occupied by the OFLCThe OFLC's building may be seen at the left side of this picture
The OFLC operates from a relatively small, secluded building located in an alleyway a couple of kilometres from Sydney's CBD.  They occupy the top two levels.  Overly inquisitive visitors are not welcome on level 6!  Both levels are high security areas (e.g. photography is banned and one can see security coded doors, small reception areas, and very small reception desks). 

Further details of my visit to the censors

Current members (censors) of the OFLC's Classification Board
Information on the newly appointed OFLC Classification Board members

Signature of a former OFLC Director (Chief Censor) from a letter to me.Signature of a former OFLC Classifier (Censor) from a letter to me.

© Anthony Larme 2002
Comments and questions are most welcome