Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (Enforcement) Amendment Bill 2012
It is my pleasure to rise to make a contribution on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (Enforcement) Amendment Bill 2012. As previous speakers have mentioned, the bill contains two parts. It amends the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (Enforcement) Act 1995 to allow the sale, hire and distribution of R 18+ computer games to adults, and it establishes penalties for non-compliance. The bill also enables law enforcement agencies to securely transmit objectionable material, such as child pornography to national intelligence databases.
The bill makes the classification of computer games consistent with the way we treat other forms of media. Ron Curry, from the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, which represents games makers, says new rules bring games into line with books, movies and television.
There has been more than a decade of debate and more than 60 000 public submissions and three rounds of consultation on these changes. The overwhelming majority of people who responded — 98 per cent — supported the proposed reforms. Currently computer games are treated differently from films for the purpose of classification and they cannot be classified at a higher level than MA 15+.
The lack of a classification specifically for adults means that anything with adult content is refused classification. The industry and gamers say that some material made for an adult audience winds up with an MA 15+ rating instead, making it more likely that children will be exposed to violent or sexual material. Some games previously classified as MA 15+ will be reclassified as R 18+, which is a positive step.
The video game industry has widely supported the introduction of a new adult classification system. It says the average Australian gamer is approximately 32 to 33 years old, male and university educated. Seventy-five per cent of all Australian gamers are aged 18 years and over. In fact in the 20 to 25 years since people started to play computer games the industry has undergone exponential growth. I recall selling games when I worked in the sound and vision department at Kmart in Airport West. At Christmas time the games outsold the CDs and everything else in the store.
The games went out like hotcakes. Often I would sell a particular computer game, and I knew it had a lot of violent content. I was very much aware that the person purchasing the game probably should not watch it. These reforms are a step in the right direction.
Today Australia has two leading mobile developers, Firemint and Halfbrick, which develop Spy Mouse and Fruit Ninja. The mobile phone games market is expected to take in almost half a billion dollars in the forecasted year. By 2014-15 it will take in some $2.5 billion. As has been mentioned previously, both the industry and gamers say that some games meant for an adult audience wind up with a MA 15+ rating instead, making it more likely that children will be exposed to violence or to sexual material. Some games that were previously classified with an MA 15+ rating will be reclassified with an R 18+ rating.
A good case study to refer to is Grand Theft Auto IV, which was one of the most highly anticipated titles in 2008 and was subject to one of the most intensive and expensive marketing campaigns of any video game to date. Before its release, Rockstar Games announced it would censor the game voluntarily to make sure it met an MA 15+ rating. It is one of the most available video games in Australia. Although it was not officially announced what changes had been made, an investigation by the games industry and the community found three key differences in the edited Australian version of the game. Firstly, the player is unable to view the simulated sex scenes in the game; rather the camera is locked behind a vehicle during the relevant encounter, showing a rocking vehicle animation and accompanying soundtrack. Secondly, players are no longer able to see blood in pools under killed characters, and neither can a player leave bloody footprints by walking through blood spots. However, blood continues to splatter as normal.
Thirdly, the visual impacts of injuries to players or other characters have been made lower impact by replacing more violent graphic bullet wounds and blood patches with slight discolouration. According to current Australian Classification Board standards these changes were enough to warrant the game receiving the highest possible rating of MA 15+.
Grand Theft Auto IV remains a high-impact game focused on free roaming within a city, in which a player is free to pursue his goals by any means necessary, including murder, blackmail, extortion and bribery. In an open and unregulated environment with minimal regulation, players are exposed to a high number of high-impact adult themes such as gambling, prostitution, drugs and gang violence.
Worthy of note is that in December 2008 the classification board rated an uncensored personal computer version of Grand Theft Auto IV, which had a rating of MA 15+, without any of the previously mentioned changes. This version was identical to the international version and included all objectionable content that Rockstar Games had removed from the console version, yet this version was also rated MA 15+. Although the censored version was made voluntarily and not at the behest of the classification board, the uncensored version was identical to a game that every other country in the world considers to be suitable for adults aged 18 and over. It was rated MA 15+ in Australia.
Members should consider this: if Grand Theft Auto IV were a movie, it would have been rated R 18+ and kept out of the hands of children.
In other countries, including New Zealand, United Kingdom and countries across Europe, it is impossible for children to purchase a game such as Grand Theft Auto IV. Nevertheless today under Australian law there is nothing to prevent children aged 15 and over, or younger children with their parents’ consent, from purchasing this game and playing it simply because our rating system does not have the capability to keep high-impact games like this out of their hands. It is important for parents to be informed about the high-impact content of games such as Grand Theft Auto IV that players are exposed to. Currently our rating system has no way of protecting children from being exposed to games like this, and that needs to change. I repeat that this legislation is a step in the right direction.
Classification guidelines need to be appropriate to mediums they apply to. Interactivity is an important consideration that the classification board must take into account when classifying computer games.
Members would agree that there are differences between what different sections of the community condone in relation to passive viewing. Due to the interactive nature of computer games and the active and repetitive involvement of participants, as a general rule computer games may have a higher impact than similarly themed depictions of the classified elements in film, therefore there is a greater potential for harm or detriment to people, particularly to minors.
The gaming industry in Victoria grew exponentially under the previous Bracks and Brumby governments, and it is continuing to grow under the Baillieu government. However, Victorian games developers have been dealt a huge blow with the removal of funding for some of Film Victoria’s games investment program. In the 2012-13 budget the Victorian government did not renew funding to continue digital media programs that have supported local games development for the past decade. This is despite the government recently describing games development as a growing local industry with high commercial potential. I agree.
We must consider that the games industry worth more than $1 billion a year in Australia. It is experiencing fierce growth amidst a period of economic downturn while other industries are hurting. While video game sales decreased in 2010 for the first time in the past two years — sales decreased by 16 per cent — the industry still amassed $1.7 billion in hardware and boxed software sales.
Despite the reduction video game sales were still able to eclipse DVD and Blu-ray sales. According to Randolph Ramsay, editor of Game Spot in Australia, the games industry has been outranking the film industry for some time. According to forecasts, predicted sales are expected to reach a staggering $2.5 billion in 2014-15. The video games global market is expected to reach a value of $90.1 billion by 2015. The Australian industry is expected to grow faster than the global market over the coming years. By 2015 it is predicted that the Australian industry will have a 9.5 per cent compound annual growth while the global market will sit at 8.2 per cent. We must also remember that the advertising industry is now getting in on the act. Now the advertising industry is getting more involved in the games industry. Those who viewed Barack Obama’s to presidential election campaigns will know that his campaigns targeted voters aged between 18 and 34 years of age. In 2008 Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was the first to embed Democratic Party advertisements in games.
Our very own Transport Accident Commission has embedded advertising in fast-paced racing games such as Need for Speed. While the opposition does not oppose the introduction of R-rated games, it has some concerns. Nevertheless we believe this is a step in the right direction.
This legislation will put in place a system that is suitable for other forms of multimedia and content. It is step in the right direction, and I wish it a good passage through the house.