Classification of Video Games in Australia – A More Restrictive Approach

In June this year, PlayStation Vita video game, MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death (MeiQ), was refused classification in Australia, demonstrating the strict approach which Australian classification authorities apply to video games. The game has been described as depicting sexualised content involving a main character who is, or appears to be, underage.

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Background of classification in Australia

The effect of a Refused Classification (RC) is a complete ban on the game in Australia, which means that the game cannot be sold, hired, advertised or imported into Australia.

The Australian Classification Board (ACB) is Australia’s regulator for the classification of games, films and publications intended for the sale, advertisement or exhibition in Australia.  It assesses and assigns the appropriate classification for games in accordance with the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (Cth) and the National Classification Code (Code), created pursuant to the Act.  The Code sets out guidelines to be used in determining whether a game should be classified as RC.  Generally game content that is very high in impact and falling outside generally accepted community standards will be classified as RC, which includes those games that:

  • depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified; or
  • describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not); or
  • promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence.

The Code also provides that games that are unsuitable for a minor to see or play should be classified RC.

MeiQ and its classification

MeiQ is a Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) involving a group of five female characters who pair with robots in order to engage in combat against fantasy creatures. The game allows players to use the PlayStation Vita touchscreen feature and simulate physical interaction by running their fingers over the screen to touch the head, hips, breasts and legs of a character. The characters verbally respond to these prompts, often with suggestive innuendo.

All characters are dressed provocatively, and four of the five characters are depicted with adult-like bodies and emphasised cleavage.  The fifth main character, however, appears much younger than her counterparts, and is depicted with a smaller height and frame, her hair in pigtails and a high-pitched voice. The ACB considered that the character is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years of age (i.e. a minor, under Australian law).

Accordingly, the ACB considered that the depiction of this character, in conjunction with the interactive gameplay feature, “is likely to cause offence to a reasonable person“.  It considered the “sexual simulation of a child” to be “offensive, or abhorrent in such a way that it offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by a reasonable adult to the extent that it should not be classified“.

The ACB emphasised the interactivity of the game as an important consideration in its refusing classification of MeiQ, noting that such user-controlled features should be treated as having a higher impact than similar themed depictions in non-interactive media, such as films or publications.

How does classification compare across countries?

MeiQ has been classified as “Teen” by the Entertainment Software Rating Board in the United States, being suitable for persons aged 13 years and over; and classified “B” in Japan, being suitable for persons aged 12 years and over.  The refusal of classification for the game in Australia supports the view held by many that Australia is more restrictive in its approach to classifying video games in comparison to many other countries.

Written by Samantha Brown and Amy Cowper

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