On January 1st 2013, Australia finally saw the introduction of the R18+ age classification for video games. The campaign to get this new category introduced was a long one and met stiff opposition from various regions throughout Australia. On July 22nd 2011, after years of campaigning, a meeting of attorneys-generals agreed, in principle, to introduce the R18+ rating. New South Wales Attorney-General Greg Smith abstained from the vote, but the federal government chose to override the decision, finally passing the law in June of 2012.
As a moderately conservative country, it was a long battle for Australian video games fans to get this rating introduced. The problem with the old classification system was that there was no classification for games aimed at players over 18 years of age. The highest rating was MA15+, meaning that any published content had to be suitable for a 15 year old. This caused controversy for two reasons. Firstly, it suggested that the Australian Classification Board refused to acknowledge the fact that adults also play video games, consigning the recreation to a juvenile pastime – a suggestion that many adult fans took as an insult, and one that even borders on discrimination.
Secondly, and more prominently, controversy arose over censorship. Some gaming fans thought the classifications too strict when compared with other kinds of entertainment such as film, which has had a longstanding R18+ rating. On the flip side, concerned parents were worried that their children were playing games which had not been properly classified and, indeed, some games were rated MA15+ only to be later cut or banned. A prime example of this is Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure (2006), which was originally rated MA15+ but later banned due to what Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock considered to be glorification of graffiti. This in itself highlights the conservative nature of Australian classification and explains why so many games have been banned.
What Kind of Content is Problematic for the Australian Market?
Perhaps the most infamous incident of video game banning belongs to the Grand Theft Auto franchise from Rockstar Games, in which Grand Theft Auto III (2001), Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002) and Grand Theft Auto IV (2008) were all banned not for their violent content, but for featuring the use of prostitutes, while Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004) was banned due to an explicit sex scene. All were later censored and rereleased.
While sexual content is a sensitive issue for the Australian Classification Board, (albeit usually only when incentives or obscene themes such as incest are involved), the most problematic content by far is excessive gory violence or torture.
50 Cent: Bulletproof was banned after its release in 2005 due to such content. Interestingly, Australia was the only country to ban the game, but the hip hop artist isn’t alone in his censorship. Other games that have been banned due to extreme violence include The Getaway (2002) for a scene depicting torture, and Dreamweb (1994) for containing sexualized violence.
As with sexual themes, content involving the use of drugs has also proven to be unstable ground for the Australian Classification Board, but more due to the incentives and rewards that are often associated with it (ie. monetary gain). Blitz: The League (2005), NARC (2005) and Risen (2009) were all banned not because of their drug use, but because of the representation of awards and incentives associated with this drug use.
What To Look Out for When Localizing a Game
With the introduction of the R18+ classification in 2013, there will be fewer restrictions on gaming content for the Australian market. The rating has yet to be put into practice, but guidelines suggest that virtually the only content to receive a certain ban will be the visual depiction of sexualised violence and extreme cases of incentive and reward.
However, publishers aiming to reach a wider market, and therefore have their games approved for younger audiences, should bear a few things in mind. Firstly, and most importantly, any incentives and rewards relating to drugs or sexual themes should be completely omitted. Sexual scenes should not be visually represented, but can be heavily or mildly implied to qualify for the MA15+ and M ratings respectively. Finally, any extreme violence, excessive gore or torturous scenes should be toned down. For more detailed information on what kind of content qualifies for each rating, consult the table below:
(Table based on data from the Australian Classification Board’s official guidelines)
At MoGi Group, we have years of experience in localizing video games to various different countries around the world. Our game localization team has detailed expertise in global age ratings and can advise you on how to market your game to the age group that you wish to target, providing you with an accurate translation that meets classification requirements and is culturally relevant to your chosen countries.
Contact us today for a free quote and find out how we can help you to reach your target audience.