Demystifying New Zealand's Classification System

Demystifying New Zealand's Classification System
 
 

New Zealand’s classification system can be a confusing thing, especially when it comes to games. The law has struggled to keep up with technological advancements like digital distribution, which typically happens on a global scale. It’s clear that Australian classification influences New Zealand, but the how and why of that is often unclear. Frankly, the treatment of games under classification law is a bit odd to start with.

In an effort to get some clarity, I had a chat with Henry Talbot, who is the Senior Advisor at the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). Right off the bat, he acknowledged how hard it can be to understand: “It is a bit confusing, and it can be made more confusing by technological change. In addition to that, there are now law changes being looked at about classification in the digital age, so it’s a bit confusing where things stand at the moment, more so than it has been in the past.”

Exemptions and restrictions

A lot of misunderstanding stems from Section 8 of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 – which you could be forgiven for not having come across. Simply put, games (and certain types of film, like training videos) are exempt from usual labelling requirements unless they have restricted content. That means that unless the content of a game is such that it’d earn a restricted label it can legally be sold in New Zealand without any sort of age rating at all.

So a game only needs to be classified by the OFLC if it has restricted content, but how do you know if it has restricted content unless you get it classified? Basically, exemptions aren’t granted; they’re automatic, based on the game’s content. It’s up to the distributor to know their game, and with assistance from OFLC advisors like Henry, to determine whether it could be restricted and would therefore need to be classified.

“If people come to us and say ‘Oh, I’ve got this game. It’s been rated PEGI 6 and it’s got these little things jumping around.’ I might look at that and say ‘It looks like your game is likely to be exempt because it looks like it’s at an unrestricted level.’,” said Henry. “If they’ve got a high-level game – if it’s clearly full of blood and guts, sex, and that sort of thing – then it might be likely to be restricted. We’ll give distributors information about the criteria and things like that, and nudge them towards what might be a good idea.”

What are those criteria? Broadly speaking, they cover sex, horror, crime, cruelty, violence, offensive language, that could be “injurious to the public good” (Sections 3, 3A, and 3B of the Classification Act outline the full criteria). Of course, a lot of this comes down to degree and context. A depiction of consensual sex is going to be treated as less objectionable than sexual assault, and cartoon violence isn’t treated the same as something more realistic or graphic. The medium, the artistic merit, the target audience, and the dominant effect of the publication as a whole are all things taken into account.

Other regions

You may have noticed that almost all your games carry an Australian rating label – that’s because Australian Classification Board ratings are recognised here. Anything with a G, PG, or M rating in Australia is de facto unrestricted in New Zealand, though if a complaint is made, it could end up restricted. On the other hand, anything that gets an MA15+, R18+, or Refused Classification label in Australia is required to get a NZ rating before it can be sold here. “That’s a way of streamlining that system, because it’s recognised in regulation” Henry explained.

Other ratings system like PEGI and ESRB aren’t recognised here. However, they can be a useful point of reference for a publisher trying to decide whether something would be exempt under Section 8, or whether it would be restricted and therefore need a NZ rating.

“If something gets a higher ESRB or PEGI rating, then we can say ‘This is indicative that it may have restricted content.’ It’s not an official thing we’re saying, but we would certainly recommend it,” Henry continued. “In that sense, we pay attention to other overseas ratings, and we try to be helpful to distributors. That can be more helpful than just saying ‘Here’s a list of our criteria. Do you think it’s restricted?’”

Continue reading on page 2.





 

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Comments Comments (14)

 
Posted by Paorio
On Monday 2 Jan 2017 11:06 AM
2
Man what an awesome article, thanks a lot for going through the effort of writing this, I hope the information is helpful to people who might need to know and interesting to others like it was to me.
 
 
 
Posted by 163Battery
On Monday 2 Jan 2017 11:39 AM
3
Whoa, what a drama! I had no idea it was that complicated. I know some parents think that age restrictions for games aren't a big deal because it's only a game, it's not real.

I disagree with that. Some games earn their rating I think. I don't think kids should be playing games like GTA V or Outlast. Porn has an R18 rating too. They wouldn't let their kids watch that so why a game with an R18 rating?
 
 
 
Posted by Ron
On Monday 2 Jan 2017 11:48 AM
9
The biggest issue w/ ratings is parents not following the labels. The amount of 10 years old playing violent games online w/ r16 & 18 is shocking at times.
 
 
 
Posted by iludez
On Monday 2 Jan 2017 12:05 PM
2
Really great article!
 
 
 
Posted by ThatUndeadLegacy
On Monday 2 Jan 2017 2:51 PM
3
2 January 2017, 11:48 AM Reply to Ron
The biggest issue w/ ratings is parents not following the labels. The amount of 10 years old playing violent games online w/ r16 & 18 is shocking at times.
and then they complain how violent or bad the game is....
 
 
 
Posted by Ryzlin
On Monday 2 Jan 2017 3:24 PM
2
What a great idea for an article. I've had interesting times trying to explain to parents why I can't sell their kids an r rated game. Or if they just expect me to sell their kid an r game just because they said it's okay.
 
 
 
Posted by Nick2016NZ
On Monday 2 Jan 2017 6:55 PM
2
2 January 2017, 11:48 AM Reply to Ron
The biggest issue w/ ratings is parents not following the labels. The amount of 10 years old playing violent games online w/ r16 & 18 is shocking at times.
I love playing GTA online or Battlefield 1 and hearing a squeaky 12 year old on the other end, Mute All is the best option in any multiplayer game.
 
 
 
Posted by 163Battery
On Monday 2 Jan 2017 7:52 PM
2
2 January 2017, 06:55 PM Reply to Nick2016NZ
I love playing GTA online or Battlefield 1 and hearing a squeaky 12 year old on the other end, Mute All is the best option in any multiplayer game.
Definitely. Especially when they all tell you they had their way with your mum. My mum must be the biggest hoe around haha.
 
 
 
Posted by drunk_monk
On Tuesday 3 Jan 2017 7:29 AM
1
Great read thanks Matt. I have always liked us using others rating systems to increase the efficiency and suspect that if we incorporate PEGI it will only get better.

RE the fees for classification: an interesting exemption for fees exists if someone from the public submits it. If you have no ties to the product, and nothing to gain financially then it only costs 25.50 for the public to submit.

http://www.classificationoffice.govt.nz/public/how-to-get-something-classified.html
 
 
 
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On Thursday 5 Jan 2017 7:00 PM
-5
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This comment has been down-voted by the community.  
 
Posted by maxnaughty
On Thursday 5 Jan 2017 9:41 PM
-
We can trust the twits in Parliament to stuff it up!
 
 
 
Posted by Coddfish
On Friday 6 Jan 2017 1:24 PM
1
5 January 2017, 09:41 PM Reply to maxnaughty
We can trust the twits in Parliament to stuff it up!
The "twits in Parliament" are the ones trying to fix laws that haven't been able to keep up with technological advancements...
 
 
 
Posted by thc4108
On Sunday 8 Jan 2017 12:22 AM
1
Interesting read quite helpfull
 
 
 
Posted by Jaws8u4t
On Sunday 8 Jan 2017 2:22 PM
1
very informative article,