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Censorship: the restricted adult

Tina Kaufman, Sydney

Dear Editors

In a recently released discussion paper, the Office of Film and Literature Classification has highlighted several areas that are under consideration for substantial changes in the guidelines to the classification of films, videos, and computer games in Australia. The adoption of a single set of classification standards that would cover films, videos, computer games, DVDs, internet content and CD-ROM films is one of the main proposals, while the possibility of an R rating for computer games and a special children only C rating has also been raised.

The OFLC has called for public submissions in its review of the current guidelines, giving a deadline of October 31, and citing the need to ensure that the guidelines “reflect current community standards” as the main rationale behind the review. Film guidelines were last reviewed in 1996, and the guidelines for computer games were established in 1994. An analysis of submissions received by the OFLC will be followed by further consultation with industry and interest groups, and consideration of the proposed revised guidelines by “independent experts, including a language expert.” The final decision on the changes, if any, will be made by the Commonwealth, State and Territory ministers with classification responsibilities.

Despite the stated aim of Australia’s Classification process being that “adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want,” the draft guidelines included in the OFLC discussion paper seem to offer further restrictions on nudity, violence and drugs, while a new clause argues that the “inappropriate use of substances that might damage health or are legally restricted to adults must not be promoted or encouraged.” The draft guidelines also allow the classification board to consider the likelihood of certain actions or events within a film or video game being imitated inappropriately, especially by young children, in real life. Such actions or events may include the detailed portrayal of criminal or violent techniques, or actions that may promote illegal or dangerous behaviour. The degree of interactivity may also be used to affect the impact of a film or game, and therefore its classification.

The discussion paper points out that both industry and community groups have noted that the current guidelines do not address convergence in various entertainment media. With DVDs and CDfilms now widely available for sale or rental, and online material much more available, interactive features, computer games and links to internet sites are becoming regular features. The discussion paper asks whether there should be a single set of classification standards for all media, with interactive products classified in the same way as films and videos, or should an age-based approach be introduced, similar to the G8 category for computer games.

Anti-censorship group Electronic Frontiers Australia has welcomed the possibility of the introduction of an R rating for computer games, which would see a relaxing of bans on some adult games. However EFA believes the proposal to use the same guidelines for films and computer games could result in increased restrictions on films.

Parent group Young Media Australia is concerned that the introduction of an R rating could put children at risk of exposure to violent or sexually explicit material. At present, computer games that do not comply with MA15+ classification are banned in Australia. Computer games are banned if they have realistic violence, extreme horror, simulated or explicit sex acts, sexual violence and detailed instruction or encouragement of crime, violence or proscribed drugs.

In this context, a very interesting appendix to the discussion paper is the report of the research project Computer Games and Australians Today, a nationwide investigation completed in 3 stages during 1995-99. The primary focus was on the role of aggressive content and, interestingly, the project concluded that although many of the games had aggressive content, it did not appear to be the central attraction, nor was it taken seriously. The report also noted that none of the independent research published to date has demonstrated serious effects of aggressive gameplay on the behaviour of young people. A notable development is that as the first generation of computer gameplayers reach adulthood, they have sustained their interest in this activity, with the adult market for games large and growing. It therefore appears anomalous and without scientific basis to continue to refuse to allow an adults only, or R category, in this one medium.

RealTime issue #45 Oct-Nov 2001 pg. 10

© Tina Kaufman; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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