Australia has always had a bit of a bad reputation regarding the censorship of video games. During a 20 year period, from 1994 to 2014, 50 games were refused classification by the Australian Classification Board, which makes it illegal to sell or advertise those games. This is relatively high level of censorship compared to many other Western countries, but it doesn’t come close to the astounding 220 games that were refused classification in just the last four months.
This sudden increase in banned games is the result of Australia’s participation in the International Age Rating Coalition(IARC). The way IARC works is that game developers can fill out a questionnaire regarding the content of their game, when they submit the game to a participating storefront. This questionnaire is extensive and will cover numerous topics including violence, sexuality, drug use, or even the depiction of bodily functions used for humorous purposes. Based on this questionnaire, an automated process will apply regional ratings for the game based on local standards.
The reason behind Australia’s participation in this new program is the sheer volume of games being submitted to online storefronts. Digital stores like Google Play receive hundreds of thousands of new games each year, while the Australian Classification Board only rates about 400 games a year. Since they are unable to manually rate every new game that is released, they decided to test out this automated system. The IARC still allows local rating authorities to correct ratings issued by its automated system if they believe the ratings are incorrect. However, this will probably only be done in exceptional circumstances; if the Classification Board receives a large volume of complaints that a particular game has been rated incorrectly, for example.
An automated rating system is not an entirely bad idea, especially since it’s no longer possible for any rating authority to deal with all the games that are being released. We can expect that no process is perfect, and that it might sometimes issue ratings that are slightly incorrect. However, if the rating algorithm works properly most of the time, and the system allows for human intervention in cases where it is incorrect, it can potentially be a major benefit to parents in making purchasing decisions.
However, simply giving a game a rating is not even close to the same thing as banning a game from sale, which is exactly what this automated system has the power to do in Australia. Some would argue that Australia has already been too heavy-handed in its censorship of video games, including its recent banning of the game Hotline Miami 2. It is a cause for alarm when a government turns to an automated system to determine what entertainment is acceptable for its citizens to purchase, especially when that system vastly increases the number of works which are censored.
Ultimately, this is just a pilot program to test out this new system. After a 12 month period, Australia will decide whether to continue using the program or not.
Do you think this automated rating system is a good thing or not? Leave your comments below.