Australia’s National Classification Scheme set for modern overhaul

A newly-passed bill may change the way video games and other entertainment is rated in Australia.
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Australia’s National Classification Scheme, which rates entertainment including video games, films, and television, looks set to undergo a major overhaul by 2024, following the passing of the ‘Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Industry Self-Classification and Other Measures) Bill 2023’.

The bill is part of a push to reform Australia’s classification processes, which have frequently been flagged as rigid and outdated, particularly in the world of video games. Historically, strict rulings about depictions of drug use have seen relatively innocuous titles like Fallout 3 banned – and even recently, Disco Elysium, Lake, and RimWorld briefly faced the same fate, for similar reasons.

While objectionable content should be monitored, the Australian National Classification Scheme has in the past been criticised for unfairly punishing games for seemingly arbitrary inclusions. For example, in video games, any drug use even loosely tied to in-game reward without equal disincentive seemingly earns an automatic ban in the Australian ratings process.

Read: RimWorld returns to Australia with an R 18+ rating

Going forward, the Australian Government is looking to improve classification processes by adding in more robust options for self-classification by entertainment publishers.

Per details revealed on the Australian Classification website, the newly-passed bill will allow the National Classification Scheme to “modernise” by “expanding options for industry to self-classify content including film and computer games using either in-house or third-party classifiers who have been trained and accredited by the Australian Government.”

The Classification Board will have power to quality assure (QA) self-classification decisions, but these changes appear to be designed to allow publishers and creators more power over their works. Any in-house and third-party classifiers allowed to rate games will need to be officially trained and accredited by government officials – but with these individuals likely having more specialist knowledge of their respective industries, it could allow for more accurate classification in the games industry, and beyond.

In essence, the board says changes will “improve the capacity of the National Classification Scheme to classify growing volumes of content, promote industry compliance and reduce classification timeframes and costs.”

Going forward, the appointment of third-party classifiers will enable greater scope for the classification body, as it works to ensure the classification scheme aligns with rapid changes in the modern media environment. For now, the impact this decision will have on the wider games industry is unclear – but we’ll likely begin to see the effects of this new classification structure later in 2024.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.