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How games are classified

This page explains how New Zealand's classification law applies to games.

Under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, video and computer games can be classified and have age restrictions placed on them in the same way as films, DVDs and other publications. For example, if a game has been classified R18 with a note 'contains violence', the violence in the game has been judged to be as strong as the violence in an R18 DVD or film with the same note.

This page answers:

Stacks of video and computer games

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Who classifies games in New Zealand?

The Office of Film and Literature Classification is the organisation responsible for classifying games, films and other publications.

Do games need New Zealand classification labels?

All restricted games must carry a New Zealand classification label, but unrestricted games can be supplied in New Zealand carrying overseas labels.

In other words, any game that has been

  • restricted (classified as MA15+ or R18+) in Australia
  • refused classification (banned) in Australia or the UK
  • classified 15, 18 or R18 in Britain
  • or has restricted content under New Zealand law -

- must be submitted for classification and carry a New Zealand label. As with films and DVDs, it is an offence to supply an underage person with a restricted game.

Why do only some games need labels?

A game comes under the definition of a 'film' in section 2 of the Classification Act, and the Act says that films must be labelled before being supplied or exhibited to the public. The reason that unrestricted games do not carry classification labels is because games are exempted from labelling requirements under section 8 of the Classification Act. However, section 8 also says that an exemption does not apply if the game has restricted content. This is why restricted games do need classification labels.

There is debate as to whether unrestricted video games should be required to carry New Zealand classfication labels. This was not a requirement in the Classification Act because when the law was drafted in the early 1990s video games were very basic, with simple and unrealistic graphics.

Australian and British unrestricted classification labels
Unrestricted games can carry overseas labels such as these Australian and British ones
Australian and British restricted classification labels
Games carrying these restricted Australian or British classifications must be submitted for a New Zealand classification

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What criteria are used to classify games?

New Zealand's classification system uses the same criteria for all types of publications the Classification Office examines and classifies. As with cinematic films and DVDs, video games must in some way deal with sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence before they can be classified as restricted in New Zealand. The classifications which can be assigned to video games are the same as those for other publications, ranging from G to Objectionable.

More about the classification criteria

When games are submitted for classification, the Classification Office needs to view enough of the game to be satisfied that the publication warrants a particular classification. This means a substantial portion of the game will be examined (usually up to 5 hours). The Classification Office uses an expert gamer to play the game while a Classification Officer examines it against the criteria in the Classification Act. Cheat sheets and walk-throughs supplied by the applicant are sometimes used.

Close up image of section 3 of the Classification Act
The Classification Act defines the 'meaning of objectionable' in section 3

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Are many games banned in New Zealand?

A few games have been classified as Objectionable (banned) by the Classification Office. A classification of Objectionable means that it is illegal to import, download, distribute or possess these games in New Zealand.

You can search for New Zealand classifications on games on the NZ Register of Classification Decisions

The classification for a game applies across platforms

When a classification is assigned it applies to all identical copies of the publication. This means that if a game is examined and classified on PlayStation 4, the classification also applies to the Xbox One version so long as the content is the same. If the content is substantially different then that version will need to be examined and classified too.

For more information contact the Information Unit.