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The Office of Film and Video Game Classification

Posted on 30 January 2014 by Henry

That's not our real name, but it might make more sense than the Office of Film and Literature Classification - because we classify far more games than books.

To date, we've classified 912 computer and console games. That might seem like a lot, but it's only a small proportion of all the games available in New Zealand. This is due to the way NZ's classification law was written in 1993, which put video games into the same category as documentaries, advertisements, and films of sports events, meaning that only games with restricted content have to be examined by our office and issued official classification labels.

This is partly a reflection of the nature of games back in the early 1990's - well before the launch of dedicated 3D consoles like Sony's Playstation, the Sega Saturn and Nintendo64. Twenty years later, the power of gaming hardware has grown exponentially, and so has the level of detail, realism, and sophistication in games.

For the most part, we only examine games which have been classified MA15+ or R18+ (or have been banned) in Australia. There are sometimes exceptions to this, for example if there is public concern or complaints about an unrestricted game. Some examples include Dead or Alive: Dimensions and Naughty Bear.

The criteria used to classify games are the same as for films, sound recordings, books, magazines, computer files and other publications. But the impact of different mediums is always considered, and we recognise that playing a game is a completely different experience to reading a book or watching a film. The classification process is also unique - often requiring a game player in addition to a Classification Officer (who will need to take notes as a basis for the written classification decision).

Written decisions for games describe how things like graphical realism and interactivity can have an impact on the gaming experience. The decision for the game Grand Theft Auto V (classified R18) has some good examples of this:

The game depicts acts of torture and the infliction of extreme violence and extreme cruelty. The strongest material is when Trevor tortures a man at the behest of a corrupt government official in order to gain intelligence that will be used in an assassination attempt. The tortures are mildly interactive, in that the player gently toggles the controller in a specified way to perform the onscreen actions, though at this point the intention is merely to progress narrative rather than to provide a challenging exercise.

More than half of the games we've examined so far are classified R16, making this by far the most common classification, and around 20% are classified R18. Only seven games have been classified as Objectionable (banned). You can read more about how games are classified on our website.

There are written classification decisions available for most games, so let us know if there's a decision you're interested in. You can also read summaries of some recent game decisions on our website - including Dark Souls II and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members - they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Two people playing video games

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