film & video
This page considers censorship of electronic games.
It covers -
aspects of games are discussed here.
This site features a more detailed discussion of virtual
worlds (including MMPORGs), LAN
cafes and claims of 'game
Regulation of computer and video has been characterised
as a model for the rating of online content.
Prior to the 1970s, with the advent of electronic arcade
and console games such as Pong (1972) and Space
Invaders (1978) most nations and local jurisdictions
had licenced game venues - eg pinpall parlours from the
1940s - rather than individual games. Few states had formal
rating systems for games; regulatory regimes were instead
based on licensing/delicensing of premises (often under
public health legislation) and suppression of games because
they featured improper images.
That changed with the arrival of electronic arcade games
and subsequent proliferation of electronic games played
on proprietary devices such as the Gameboy, with consoles
on domestic televisions and on computers. Some nations
implemented government ratings schemes for electronic
games (generally based on film rating systems), with outright
bans of some content and prohibitions on retailing of
unrated works. Others relied on sef-regulatory rating
by industry bodies, essentially parental advisory schemes
similar to those highlighted earlier
in this guide.
Games regulation has traditionally been based on labelling
packaging of games and inclusion of rating identifiers
within the games, with rating schemes having a national
or regional basis. New challenges are posed by the emergence
of online games - particularly those that are not commercial
or that that encompass players in several jurisdictions.
The Council of Europe claims that -
of online kids play games on the net
of online kids play games at least one day a week, some
up to seven days per week
of the kids play online games for ten hours or more
EU and North American games regulation
The European Union's regulation of computer games centres
on the Pan European Game Indicator (PEGI),
an EU-wide industry self-regulation regime devised by
the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE).
It came into effect in 2003 and replaces existing national
age rating systems with a single 'age rating' system that
aims to ensure minors are not exposed to games unsuitable
for their particular age group.
The rating system comprises two separate but complementary
elements: an age rating (in cohorts of 3+, 7+, 12+, 16+,
18+) and game descriptors that identify the type of content
in the game. A game may be identified by up to six such
descriptors, which encompass Discrimination, Fear, Violence,
nudity and/or sexual behaviour or sexual references, Drugs
and "Bad Language".
The rating reflects the EU NICAM
scheme that seeks to provide parents/guardians with a
standard rating for film, video and broadcast content.
NICAM is discussed in detail in the 2002 PCMLP paper
on Electronic Game Industry Self-Regulation: A Comparison
of American ESRB, British VSC & Dutch NICAM Codes.
In the UK the Criminal Justice & Public Order
Amendment to the Video Recordings Act 1994 extends
the definition of a video recording to any device capable
of storing electronic data: computer generated games and
works are now therefore covered by the Video Recordings
Act and associated rating.
Regulation of games in the US has been contentious, with
recurrent criticisms by consumer advocates and government
agencies that industry self-regulation has been ineffective.
In 2000 the Federal Trade Commission's Marketing Violent
Entertainment To Children: A Review Of Self-Regulation
And Industry Practices In The Motion Picture, Music Recording
& Electronic Game Industries report
for example concluded that the film, music and game industries
and consciously market products to children that they
themselves designate as unsuitable for children due
to their violent and mature content.
the US commercial games are rated by the Entertainment
Software Rating Board (ESRB).
The ESRB is an industry body, established in 1994 by the
Interactive Digital Software Association (ISDA) and independent
of the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC) that
was initially driven by Nintendo and Sega.
The ESRB has supposedly rated over 8,000 games since inception.
Its rating scheme - with labels on packaging and as part
of the electronic content - features age-appropriateness
indicators and content descriptors "that refer to
violence, sex, language, substance abuse, gambling, humor
and other potentially sensitive subject matter".
Attempts to restrict purchases by minors have encountered
difficulties. In 2003 the US federal Court of Appeals
(8th Circuit) for example ruled that computer games
of their content, are constitutionally protected speech.
If the first amendment is versatile enough to 'shield
(the) painting of Jackson Pollack, music of Arnold Schoenberg,
or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll' (Hurley, 515
U.S. at 569), we see no reason why the pictures, graphic
design, concept art, sounds, music, stories and narrative
present in video games are not entitled to similar protection.
sniffed that claims of a
likelihood that minors who play violent video games
will suffer a deleterious effect on their psychological
health are completely unsupported in the record.
scepticism is consistent with Grand Theft Childhood:
The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What
Parents Can Do (New York: Simon & Schuster 2008)
by Lawrence Kutner & Cheryl Olson and other works
and in Australia and New Zealand
The key legislation is the Classification (Publications,
Films & Computer Games) Act 1995 (here)
discussed earlier in this guide and in more detail in
the supplementary profile
regarding the Australian and New Zealand censorship regimes.
It embraces prohibitions on the import, sale, hire, advertising
or exhibition in Australia of computer games in the Refused
Classification (RC) category.
Other categories are -
games considered suitable for all ages
G8+ games considered to suitable for
those 8 years and over
M15+ games considered suitable for
persons 15 years and over (with elements that might
"disturb, harm or offend those under 15 years").
three categories are advisory ratings, without restrictions
on who can play the games. A MA15+ classification
treats games identified with that rating as a legally
restricted work: such games "contain material that
is likely to disturb, harm or offend those under 15 years"
and cannot be sold, hired or played by persons under the
age of 15 years unless accompanied by a parent or adult
guardian. There is no R18+ or X18+ classification for
The regime is strongly weighted towards regulation of
games that are sold and that are distributed as physical
format electronic publications (eg as CD-ROMs, floppy
disks and similar media). It tacitly does not address
concerns regarding online games that are hosted outside
For Australian computer games censorship see in particular
Anthony Larme's site,
the 2004 OFLC and
Australian Broadcasting Association study
on Community attitudes towards media classification
& consumer advice and the detailed 1999 study
by Kevin Durkin & Kate Aisbett on Computer Games
and Australians Today.
Restrictions on computer games elsewhere reflect the shape
of censorship within the particular jurisdiction.
Singapore for example banned Microsoft's Mass Effect
space adventure game in 2007 because it featured a scene
showing a human woman and alien woman kissing each other,
inconsistent with that state's criminalisation of homosexual
activity between consenting adults.
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