How are video games classified in Australia?

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The process of classifying films seems pretty straightforward: Watch it; maybe watch the rude bits a couple of times. But how does one go about classifying video games? This question was raised at the Politics of Play debate on games classification, which was part of the GAME conference organised by Macquarie University's Interactive Media Institute.

A member of the audience asked the panel: "Not all of us are great gamers. There's a certain hand eye co-ordination, a certain dexterity involved in interacting in a game. How good do you have to be to classify a game?"

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Zahid Gameldien, a member of the Classification Board (the successor to the old Office of Film and Literature Classification), explained that, under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, when a title is received it must be accompanied by information about the game and the means to access contentious material within the game. The Act states: "If any part of a computer game is likely to be regarded as containing contentious material, the application must also be accompanied by:
"(a) particulars of that material and of the means by which access to it may be gained; or
"(b) a separate recording of that material."

"We also get a copy of the game and sometimes we get good footage so there are a range of ways in which we look at the game," Gameldien said.

"Some games we may look at the footage only, some games we read information, other games we need to play for a significant period of time.

"So it really depends… we go through games learning and trying to play them failing sometimes and succeeding other times and then we get together and have a discussion about it and [the] most votes wins. So it's a very democratic process, it's a very human process."

David Emery, the manager of applications at the Classification Branch, which aids the functioning of the Classification Board, added: "It's also worth noting that the vast majority of games aren't really contentious. They're at the G/PG/M level in the unrestricted category."

Emery said that if a game is contentious and the board doesn't have the time to play through it, the board will ask the applicant to come in and demonstrate the game. "We have a major facility in Surrey Hills with a very large screen that a lot of people would be jealous of and want to have in their house; me included," Emery said.

"The applicant will sit there and play the game with the board and it's a very involving experience."

The applicant can also make oral submissions about the game.

"See, you don't have to be that good. If you're not very good we'll get them to play it."

("Your Christmas parties must rock," commented Dr Peter Cheng, lecturer in media and politics in the Department of Government and International relations at the University of Sydney and a another member of the Politics of Play panel.)