MA15+ and R18+ games: Are the new guidelines working?

What’s happened so far?

From January 1 2013, there has been a revised classification scheme in place for computer, console and arcade games.  Since that time, games with R18+ high level content have been legally sold and hired. Along with this change, the criteria for MA15+ level games have been revised.

The R18+ category

This was introduced after years of intensive lobbying by the games industry and many gamers.

Their arguments included

  • An R18+ would provide more effective protections for children, as it “would be clearly understood by parents as unsuitable for children”.
  • many titles that Australia had classified MA15+ (suitable only for those 15 and over) really belonged in an adult category, and were rated as such overseas.
  • such games would be moved to R18+ when this was introduced.  In fact, the then Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor proposed to reclassify 50 existing (mostly) very violent MA15+ games. (But more of that later).

The outcome  to the end of October 2014, was that 43 titles received an R18+ with 37 of these for “high impact violence”. So there are 37 titles out there with levels of violence higher than those legally sold or hired in 2012 and earlier.

The revised MA15+ category

The major change to the violence criteria is that “strong and realistic violence should not be frequent or unduly repetitive”.

  • Are these revised criteria resulting in games classified for adults overseas, being pushed up out of MA15+ as the public expected?
  • Have parents been given sufficient information about the changes?.

The outcome (as at October 2014) is that of the 108 titles given MA15+,103 were for “strong violence”. Over half of these  (77)  have adult classifications in either or both of the US and Europe (incl UK).  27 of these have gained adult classification in both the US and Europe.  It is noted that Grand Theft Auto V (given MA15+ here) was one of these, with PEGI (Europe) stating that it contained “Extreme violence, multiple, motiveless killings and violence towards defenceless people”.
It would seem that the revisions to the MA15+ criteria have not been really effective in reducing the exposure of 15 to 17 year olds (and younger children playing illegally) to strong, and bloody or horror violence. Parents who thought that MA15+ games classified this year would have lesser levels of violence, might have some justifiable concerns.

What can be done?

  • In March 2013, ACCM brought two issues to the notice of the then Minister for Home Affairs: the efficacy of the revised MA15+ games criteria, and the need to fulfill the promise of reclassifying some of the more “adult” titles previously put in MA15+. Nothing happened.
  • It also brought these issues to the attention of the SA Attorney General.  In November 2013, the SA AG lodged requests for reviews of 12 MA15+ games with the Classification Review Board. The CRB found all titles to have been correctly classified MA15+. This further validates the concerns above that the changes to the criteria for MA15+ have been ineffective in reducing “adult" content.
  • Advocacy for these matters should be directed to the Minister for Communications, The Hon Paul Fletcher.

What parents can do

Review and restrict the use of M and MA15+ games by children under 15 years.

Regardless of the outcome of these actions, parents have a tricky task in managing game play for healthy outcomes.  ACCM’s game fact sheets might help.