Is The Australian Classification Board Behind The Times?

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Liam questions the efficacy of the Australian Classification Board in the Information Age.

Some time ago, I wrote an article (which isn’t required reading for this article) about the banning of We Happy Few in Australia in which I briefly questioned the consistency of the Australian Classification Board.

Some time after the We Happy Few article was published, I decided to contact the ACB with a few questions, including those raised in the aforementioned article. Their reply was less than useful: They only provided meaningful answers to two questions out of a possible 12 and one of those answers was demonstrably incorrect.

I’m choosing to keep the details of their wrong answer to myself, but I will say that it concerns the sexual assault in F.E.A.R. 2 purely so that you know why I’m not going to explore that further here. I would, however, like to say that the flippancy of their response on that issue left me completely and utterly flabbergasted.

Also, don’t sass me, flabbergasted is totally a real word.

The player character in Bioshock 2 *must* use drugs or else they can’t even finish the first area. All games in the Bioshock series feature this restriction at various points in their respective stories. (SOURCE: Bioshock 2)

In a much less problematic example, I also asked them why it was fine with them that the player needs drugs in order to complete all three games in the Bioshock series – because drugs aren’t supposed to be allowed in games as a reward or incentive, and this is the exact reason that We Happy Few was banned in Australia.

The ACB didn’t even address that in their reply, beyond attaching a PDF of the classification decision for Bioshock 2 which showed nothing about drug usage at all.

Folks, these are the people who literally decide what we can and can’t watch, read, listen to, and play – and this is how seriously they take their job.

Now, while I’d LOVE to spend thousands of words breaking down why their reply to my email was far from satisfactory (you should have seen the first draft of this article!), I thought instead I’d share a few interesting facts about the ACB along with a few ideas that I think might be able to help them be, shall we say, ‘more chronologically appropriate’.

They may take up to a month to reply.

Maybe I’m just impatient. I mean, they’re not the worst in the world for it – that’s Disney (in my experience). When you contact Disney, they tell you to allow up to six months for a reply!

Conversely, I contacted an indie game developer recently and had a reply within 30 minutes.

Seems like the larger an organisation is, the longer they take to reply. Are people just, like, not hiring office staff nowadays, or what?

Let’s be honest: One month is an eternity in the Information Age, really.

I honestly fail to see why the ACB shouldn’t try to improve on that. If they still want to take ages to reply, they could manage a 2-week email turnaround, surely.

My suggestion? Hire more office staff, or re-train the ones they’ve got like it’s 2018.

Insert witty metaphor about ‘controlling the populace’ HERE. (SOURCE: Public Domain photo from Wikipedia)

The ACB only has two gamers on staff.

If you like, you can check this out for yourself here. You’ll see that only two out of the 22 ACB members self-identify as gamers, and only one of those is a non-temporary board member.

As they say on Reddit: Read that again, but slowly.

Interestingly, there’s also another temporary board member who holds a Diploma in Digital and Interactive Games (Art) – but she doesn’t put gaming in her hobbies, and who am I to call her a liar?

Two gamers it is, then. That percentage is – uh – maths and I’m not doing it.

Okay, fine – it’s 11%.

Point is, gamers are clearly in the minority.

This matters for a few reasons.

It matters because it presumably affects the speed at which games can be classified because it’s unfair to expect non-gamers to be able to complete games at all, let alone on a deadline. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable assumption.

Further, it also matters because it shows that the ACB isn’t keeping up with the times with regards to modern gaming. If we assume that financial success equates to social relevance, then gaming is literally more socially relevant than film and music combined!

My suggestion here is to try to recruit more gamers because gamers have a higher chance of actually understanding the social implications of their decisions.

However, there’s one more very important reason that the number of gamers on the ACB matters…

Well, at least they don’t just flip coins or whatever, I guess. (SOURCE: Fallout: New Vegas)

The ACB classifies items by a majority vote.

This is why the number of gamers matters so much – because if the board is mostly made up of non-gamers, then the board as a collective have a poor understanding of the social issues associated with video games.

Imagine a scenario where one of the gamers on the current ACB is trying to explain the social relevance of a raid. You can certainly explain the mechanics of it, but you can’t really explain the social dynamics of it. It’s like trying to describe how being tickled feels, or why you enjoy being at your favourite hangout.

On paper, a raid just looks like any other mission, really. But playing a raid is (ideally) an epic battle which can seriously influence emotional ties due to the often-stressful nature of them – as was famously mocked in the Leeroy Jenkins video:

And that’s just raids.

What about more important topics like, say, oh, I don’t know, just off the top of my head – arguing against the banning of one game for things that another (unbanned) game already does?

I am all for a majority vote being the way that games are classified. But a truly democratic decision-making process would ideally aim for a more socially inclusive group of board members.

To be 100% clear, I’m restating my belief that the ACB should actively recruit gamers.

Speaking of which – I bet you’re wondering what qualifications you need to get onto the ACB now that you’ve finished reading this sentence right here, aren’t you?

Board. The Board never changes. Until they fire or hire someone, I guess. Or maybe someone might quit. Or retire. I don’t know these things. Yeah, I didn’t really think this caption through, to be honest. (SOURCE: Fallout 4)

There are no pre-requisites to becoming an ACB member.

I mean, assuming that the info in this old Kotaku article is still true.

I think it’s a good thing that you don’t have to be, say, a lawyer. It means that anyone who’s interested can apply. This is literally an example of where the little guy/gal can influence our culture.

So – remember before when I said they should hire more gamers?

This time, my suggestion isn’t for the ACB: It’s for any of our dear readers that might happen to enjoy video games.

Why not contact them and ask how to become an ACB member?

Keep in mind, though: if you do get to become a board member, your job most likely won’t be ‘sit around playing video games all day’. Most of your time will probably be spent researching which legislation covers which particular okay I’m already bored with this sentence now.

I think it’s interesting to note that Steve Rogers was clearly rewarded for using drugs. By extension, so is every player that plays him in a video game – including children. I don’t think that’s an issue, I just think it’s interesting. (SOURCE: LEGO Marvel Super Heroes)

So there we go, a brief examination of the ACB and a few suggestions on how I think they might improve on their public service. Hopefully, you learnt a few fun facts along the way too!

It’s all well and good for me to throw suggestions here and there, but ultimately I’m not sure how realistic they are. I mean, you can’t just hire/retrain staff – these things take time and money.

I think it’s healthy to question these things, though.


To leave things on a positive note, I’d like to finish this article by pointing out something that I realised while researching all of this.

While the ACB might not operate in a way that suggests they’re aware it’s 2018 (the positivity starts NOW), I genuinely appreciate the fact that they seem to err on the side of free thought.

They’ve allowed many games (such as the Bioshock series) that, on paper, they could have banned. Given that I don’t think that they generally understand video games, I don’t know why they’ve been so permissive – but I do like the fact that they have.

So, I think it’s fair to say that the ACB is, in some ways, kind of behind the times. But I also think it’s fair to say that they’re fairly lenient, as well.

Does that mean that we should give the one-month (and quite poor, in my case) replies a free pass?

I don’t think so.

But it does put it into a different context for us: Maybe it’s actually kind of useful for Aussie gamers that the ACB doesn’t seem to take video games as seriously as they could?

If you enjoyed the thought-provoking nature of this article then why not check out this one defending Luke Skywalker’s appearance in The Last Jedi, or maybe this one about the James Gunn tweet controversy?

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