The banning of video game Disco Elysium from sale in Australia has renewed calls for the Australian government to overhaul the classification system to move away from the “moral panic” associated with video games.
On Friday afternoon, the Australian classification board announced Disco Elysium – The Final Cut was refused classification on the grounds the game was found to “depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena” in a way that offended “against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults”. It ruled the game should not be classified.
The post-war murder mystery role-playing game has won over a dozen industry awards since its release in 2019. The game has been available in Australia for two years through the Steam online games store, but the game’s developers, ZA/UM planned to launch the game on consoles this month, meaning before it could be sold in stores in Australia, it had to go to the classification board for review.
According to Kotaku, in the game, characters can consume drugs, which – despite it being allowed in other forms of media such as TV and movies – is banned in video games.
The chief executive of the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association, Ron Curry, told Guardian Australia the game has been “widely acclaimed for its artistry, depth, creativity and innovation” but said he was not surprised it was banned given the track record of games being banned in Australia.
“Games are treated differently and the classification guidelines do not hide it. In spite of the government’s own research to the contrary, when an R18+ classification was introduced for games they still insisted on making interactivity a determinant in classifying games, unlike film and publications,” he said.
“There are also other restrictions levelled at games around violence, sex, drug use and incentives that aren’t applied to film.”
The sad reality is that the national classification system applies a stricter set of rules for video games than it does for pretty much every other kind of content
Curry said the current classification system is out of date.
“The sad reality is that the national classification system applies a stricter set of rules for video games than it does for pretty much every other kind of content, reflecting the early 1990s era in which those rules were written, when video games were associated with a moral panic and certainly not treated as the mainstream medium and artistic discipline that they are.”
The federal government launched a consultation reviewing Australia’s classification system in January last year, but hasn’t moved on the issue since then.
In February, the government introduced new legislation to give the eSafety commissioner powers to enforce Australia’s classification scheme on Australian-based websites and on social media in a move that surprised industry stakeholders because the government had not updated the classification scheme prior to this legislation being introduced.
Submissions to the consultation on the online safety bill queried why the government was proceeding with new powers for enforcement while the ratings system had not been updated.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance said the online classification system needed review, which should be done before the online safety bill passes.
“This bill should not be reliant on such an outdated classification system. The ALA therefore submits that this legislation should not proceed until such a review into the [classification scheme], incorporating community consultation, has been undertaken.
“The review of the classification regulation has not concluded and, accordingly, it is not clear how potential findings of this review will interact with the proposed new Online Safety Act,” the Communications Alliance said in its submission.
Curry said the government needed to announce its decision on the review.
“IGEA praised the government for undertaking this review and were closely involved in the entire review process,” Curry said. “However, some time has now passed since that review was completed, so we urge the government to maintain progress in implementing it this year.”
A spokesman for the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, has been contacted for comment.