Classification Board of Australia Part 1
I’m not an intelligent fellow and by golly I don’t even hide the fact with my incessant behaviour of late. Although sitting down and have a civil conversation with a Senior Member of the Classification Board of Australia gives me a +10 intelligence boost. Honestly there is so much your average gamer does not know about the Classifications Board and I think it’s time we try and clarify things. I had the pleasure of interviewing a Senior Member of the Classification Board (who shall remain nameless because we don’t want to be the cause or effect of anything against the board). The questions were fair, as you will see, and the answers were really good. Like I said this really opened my eyes and I now have a new found respect for the job of a Classifier on this board.
J: Can you state for me what your position title is and what your job entails?
C: I’m a Senior Classifier as one of the roles defined in the Classification Act, that is part of the Classification Board. My job is to control production in terms of applications that come through to the Board and decisions lead by the Board. Also to ensure we have consideration to standards and our decisions are well written, justified and consistent. Apart from leading that I also part take in classifying films, games and publications.
J: Can you explain the purpose or role of the Classification Board plays with regards to video games.
C: The Classification Board are an independent statutory body, so we don’t effectively answer to anybody. Our job, in relation to games, is to classify games upon application.
J: So how does a game get rated, can you describe the process in detail.
C: What happens is the Board receives a valid application through the Act, in a nutshell the application consists of at least a copy of the game, a fee and the necessary paperwork. Some games are submitted with gameplay footage or reports that detail content. We’re actually separate from the Classifications Operations branch that do all the general admin and receipting of applications. The application comes to the board who then consider the application by either playing the game or reviewing the application using comprehensive footage. We play games from start to finish fairly often. Under certain conditions we have games demonstrated to us by the applicants. The forms distributors fill in are very detailed. The Board then considers the application in relation to legislation which are the Classification Act, the National Classification Code and the Classification Guidelines.
Should this have been RC’ed or given the MA15+?
J: So this application comes straight from the publisher or distributor?
C: Yes. We have to receive a copy of the game or it cannot be classifed, we can also receive video footage or written detail on any contentious material or standard gameplay.
J: You say that the Board plays all games from start to finish. Would you agree that the workload involved there is above and beyond the Board’s means?
C: It’s fair to say that there is a lot of content to review considering especially when you take into consideration all the films that are released including DVDs. I will clarify that we don’t play through all games, I don’t think we have the resources to do that. However the Act is set up in a way that allows the industry to provide an assessment under strict circumstances which is then provided to us. That involves a detailed report on the content of the game, in majority of cases we also receive gameplay footage and we always receive a copy of the game itself.
C: It may surprise some of your readers to know that quite a lot of the board are quite interested in games.
J: That was actually one of the questions I was going to ask!
C: I find that even when we have a clear amount of information in front of us, to allow us to make an informed decision without actually playing the games ourselves, I have board members that come up to me and volunteer to review a game. They genuinely love games.
J: That’s really surprising and interesting!
J: If a game needed to come out by a certain date how far in advance would they have to submit an application?
C: We’re bound by statutory deadlines of either 5 days or 20 days. Obviously 5 days will cost your application more.
J: One of the hottest topics, when it comes to classifying games, is the violent content. Do you have a thin line or measurement in terms of high violence?
C: It’s a hard question to answer as it is a moving target. We operate in a method by which we call an impact test. This test is somewhat prescribed but on some level it comes back to the individual impact on the person playing that game. Putting that aside, I can give you the standard answer which is any violence that exceeds “Strong”. Overall in terms of the guidelines violence that exceeds a “Strong” rating is a scene that contains the use of greater detail that can include slow motion, close-ups, extenuation techniques (such as lighting, perspective and resolution), uses special effects in colour, tone, images and sound. A key factor in some of the controversial decisions you see is the use of prolonged violence.
J: So can you give me an example of what is deemed prolonged violence that is in excess of the maximum allowable rating in games?
C: I can’t give an exact reference in detail but take for example the Punisher game that was to come out a few years ago. That game had scenes of torture in it that were quite prolonged. There were a numerous amount of them too.
J: Can you tell me what differs in the process when a distributor or publisher appeals the decision that has been made by the Classification Board.
C: This is getting to the heart of what we aim to communicate to the wider audience. Once the Classifications Board makes a decision, that decision stands. The Board don’t deal with that game or application from then on. An appeal is actually an application of review to a different statutory body and they independently classify that game. The difference between us and them is that they effectively sit above us if you consider it a hierarchy. The appeal is to them and the things that they consider are the Classification Board’s initial report as well as inviting submissions from interested parties. To my understanding it has usually been a representative of the applicants that comes in to argue the point of why the Classification Board’s decision was wrong. We are effectively different statutory bodies, we do not meet in any way and to be honest I have worked here 6 and half years and have never met a single member of the other statutory body. In other words an appeal is reviewed by a separate statutory body from us here at the Classification Board.
J: That is a very interesting fact. I’m sure most people never actually knew an appeal goes to a statutory body that is separate from the Classification Board.
C: Which is one of the most frustrating things about working in the Classifications Board. You will commonly see media that publishes headlines like “Board does backflip”. This is untrue, the Board’s decisions stands. It has simply been reviewed by the Classifications Review Board (a seperate body within the Board) and has been awarded a new classification. Sometimes the decision is the same.
J: If a game is refused classification can you describe the common areas or content that have resulted in that decision.
C: There are some very precise parts of the guidelines as to why a game may fall out of the MA15+ rating and move into the RC classification. Two of the key things are, as a general rule, accepting material that is restricted to adults, nudity and sexual activity which must not be related to incentives and rewards. What this means is if a game contains nudity or sexual activity, that is connected with incentives or rewards, that game falls out of the MA15+ category. Also material that contains drug use and sexual violence that is connected to incentives or rewards falls out of the MA15+ classification. Those are the clear cut rules however there are some generalised rules that we classify under. The six classifiable elements are themes (social issues), violence, sex, language, drug use and nudity.
J: So its basically the categories you see when you see a rating explained.
C: Yes. It’s also to do with the repetition, frequency, level of detail, whether it is stylised or realistic, whether it encourages interactivity, or whether the scenes are prolonged.
J: It has been reported recently that the Classification Board of Australia is considering rating downloadable content such as games for mobile phones. Do you know where this currently stands?
C: The games on mobiles phones definitely meet the definition of a computer game under the Classification Act. That is where things currently stand. I’d make it clear that the media seem to be interpreting this as mobile phone applications. We need to make it clear that we’re not talking about applications, only games. The formal decision on this is still pending.
J: So in regards to downloadable content. Video game developers have been able to circumvent unfavourable ratings by patching a game or adding features at a later date after release. Is that unlawful?
C: To the best of our knowledge that doesn’t happen. A modification to a game under the Act means that it becomes unclassified. Only a game that remains in it’s original form retains it’s classification.
J: So in a lot of cases like this, you only see this update if you take the game online. Whereas if you play the game offline in its entirety your experience remains unchanged. How would you classify that?
C: I think that question would have to be for the industry or publishers to determine whether those patches or add-ons have actually modified the game. Our Act is clear in saying that if a game is modified then it is no longer classified and an add-on to a game must be classified in itself in conjunction with its original game. We have add-ons to games submitted all the time.
J: So when a movie comes out in the cinema is gets classified. When it comes out on DVD with a director’s cut, added scenes and additional content does that need to be reclassified?
C: Yes. I think the interesting part of it though is that movies are contained in the box and don’t usually have online updates. If we were in a situation where a movie was downloaded it still fits the Act as a film and will need to be classified. Just like in games if films were modified then the movie would no longer fall under it’s original classification.
This is what Valve thinks of you Australia
J: There has been recent controversy over a title that was meant to be released in late 2009. Are you able to comment on this title and the merits behind it’s refused classification?
C: The Board felt that the prolonged intensity of the violence in the game exceed “strong” and “impact”. I actually played the game and saw some of the footage of the game and agree with the decision on the violence.
J: In that case is it hard to define violence against human enemies versus violence against human-like enemies? This was one of the reasons behind the refused classification quoted in the resulting statement from the Board.
C: I’ve read some of the blogs online and what the community thinks about the Board’s decisions. I think that it has been taken out of context. The prolonged and intensive violence, coupled with the level of detail, caused it to receive it’s rating. It definitely is a consideration of the Board how realistic, stylised, fantasy-based and toned violence is in a video game. I would say that all of those things feed into the prolonged intensity of violence that already existed within that game.
So there you have it folks, Part 1 of an interview with a member of the Classification Board. Check with us soon for Part 2 that concludes with some controversial topics and debate around some games released under the MA15+ banner.
Discuss in official forum
MrWhippeh @ 8:48pm 28 May
Hahahaha I should know better. More of this would have been awesome for my assignment. Dammit Jae! 😛
Luke @ 8:36pm 28 May
Was there ever a part 2 to this? I really wanna use Jae as a resource for my assignment 😆
Welcome to Australian Gamer
MrWhippeh @ 7:52pm 28 May
Was there ever a part 2 to this? I really wanna use Jae as a resource for my assignment 😆
TehWRYYYYY @ 5:10pm 17 Feb
…and why it’s acceptable to shoe-horn games into MA15 that have been classified R18+ in the rest of the world.
And see if you can get in touch from someone from the Classification Review Board as well, ask if L4D2’s appeal failed when AVP succeeded because Rebellion can suck cock better than Valve. Or offered more cash. Sorry for language, fucking over it.
Sebastianimator @ 8:55pm 16 Feb
Great interview there, very informative and opened my eyes to a few things for sure. If you are still taking questions for the second part, I’d like to recommend broaching the subject of intensity of violence and classification in Australia versus the rest of the world, and why it’s acceptable to shoe-horn games into MA15 that have been classified R18+ in the rest of the world. This is something I’d very much like to understand the reasoning behind from someone directly involved in it.