The Australian government has announced a new plan to update Australia’s classification code, should it be re-appointed following the upcoming federal election. Communications minister Paul Fletcher announced the code would be changed to address a ‘range of issues’ including the standard placed on loot boxes in video games. According to Fletcher, new rules would be put in place to ensure a minimum classification rating for games with loot boxes, in order to prevent children from encountering ‘simulated gambling’.
‘The government’s priority is keeping Australians safe online, so having clearer advice alerting parents and other consumers to the presence of in-game purchases, such as loot boxes, will help them manage their and their children’s engagement with this content,’ Fletcher said, per The Guardian.
‘This isn’t about banning or censoring content: it’s about ensuring families can make more informed choices.’
In addition to loot boxes, the changes would also reportedly look to address content that sexualises children, or depicts heavier themes like suicide or violence against women. In the past, this content has been outright banned in Australia, with games like Mary Skelter: Finale being removed from sale due to ‘revolting or abhorrent phenomena’ which likely included the sexualisation of characters who appeared to be children.
It’s unclear if changes to the classification code would allow this content with stricter guidelines, or if changes would strengthen the powers given to the Australian Classification Board to ban select content.
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The decision to announce these changes ahead of the election has been called into question by developers and games advocacy body IGEA, given this appears to be the first instance of the Australian government responding to a major 2019 submission on the existing classification system in Australia.
In the two years since the submission was put forward, there has been no formal reply or action taken, despite multiple parties identifying weaknesses in the current classification system. As The Guardian points out, this system has not been changed for decades, despite major societal progress and changes to accepted values, depictions of violence, and the breaking of ‘taboo’ topics.
According to Ron Curry, IGEA CEO, the association was not consulted ahead of the government’s recent announcement, despite its heavy involvement in the 2019 submission and constant lobbying for the local games industry. The good news, according to Curry, is that the federal government allegedly does not have the power to make a unilateral decision on the matter. Instead, the government will require the cooperation of each state and territory to make changes.
Should the current government be re-elected, it will reportedly consult with ‘families and communities, experts in fields relating to child wellbeing, industry and other key stakeholders, and state and territory ministers’ to implement changes to how loot boxes and other content is classified.
The planned overhaul is currently dependent on the government’s re-election, and may be reassessed in the event of a Labor win.