Australia’s video and gaming classification laws could be getting an update as the Albanese government publishes a review of the censorship rules.
Depictions of certain sexual fetishes and violence in pornography could be allowed, opening the door to wax fetishes and pirate porn. It could also see many video games restricted for depictions of gambling.
The review was conducted three years ago and handed to the Morrison government, which failed to act on it. Labor’s Communications Minister, Michelle Rowlands, has released the review that recommends updating what kinds of content fall under which category of the R18+, MA15+, M, etc, classification system.
One of the key changes would be introducing mandatory minimum R18+ classifications for games that simulate gambling, while those containing paid ‘loot boxes’ would be ranked M. Loot boxes are devices in online gaming where players pay virtual currency, acquired with real money, for the chance to win rare items. They have been likened to gambling and sparked a lot of debate in the industry.
The government hasn’t responded in detail but will instead seek agreement from states and territories for consistency over the new classifications.
“The Stevens Review, which the Government has today released, reveals a Scheme in need of significant change,” Rowlands said in a press statement.
“That is why I have asked my department to also consider options for more comprehensive reform.
Rowlands has said that the changes put forward in the review will help to deliver a system that “reflects modern Australia.”
The nation’s classification laws are notoriously conservative. Established in 1995, the National Classification Scheme hasn’t really been updated in almost three decades, and content that is widely available in other countries routinely gets banned in Australia. The updated review seeks to reform the system by steering it away from purely physical media to also include all digital-only releases.
They’re looking to add more leeway for content creators to self-classify their work, as well as streamline the whole process and make it more effective.
Examples of the kinds of content that could now pass the censors if the review’s recommendations are adopted include the 2008 classic Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge. The sequel to the iconic 2005 Pirates saw much of the original cast return to once again fight the dreaded pirate Victor Stagnetti and his army of undead skeletons while finding time to frequently engage in extended rounds of sexual intercourse. The $8 million budget film is one of the most expensive porn films ever made and won multiple accolades from porn industry awards bodies.
Yet, Australian audiences were denied the chance to appreciate the acting and artistry of this visual masterpiece because it contained scenes of sword fighting alongside sexually explicit scenes. Combining violence and pornography within the same piece of content is a big no for the National Classification Scheme.
The right of men and women of Australia to view the film was raised by Reason Party MP, formerly known as the Sex Party, back in 2010. She noted that Australia is the only country in the world where Pirates II had to be sold as two separate DVDs, one with the pornographic content, and one with the swordfighting. After years of debate, such wrongs may yet be righted.
On a more serious note, experts and sex and pornography industry advocacy groups have praised the proposed changes, saying that the ban on fetish depiction is discriminatory.
Still, the gaming industry is worried as the changes to target gambling could have a major impact on the market. Loot boxes are widely used and it could see major titles like FIFA unavailable to people under 15. It’s also unclear how much or what type of gambling would need to be included for a game to receive a serious R18+ restriction.
The government has said that it will incorporate recent research as well as industry and community feedback on the proposed changes before implementing them.