I just had a very interesting and informative conversation with the Acting Deputy Director of the OFLC
in order to try and track down the status of Grand Theft Auto 3. As everyone no doubt knows by now, GTA3 was refused classification by the OFLC, due to the sexual violence that is presented in the game. For those that don't know the details, basically you can pick up a prostitute, have sex with her (no, there's no explicit visuals, just a car bumping up and down) and then when you're done, you can get out of the car, kill her, and steal her money.
Basically, the biggest issue is the sexual nature of the killing - this is why it was refused classification. The sex itself isn't really a big deal - there's been stuff like that in PC games since Leisure Suit Larry. The violence, while somewhat extreme, isn't a problem by itself either. It is a combination of the two that caused the OFLC to refuse classification.
Now, many people have asked why wasn't it rated R. Simply, there is no R rating for PC games. Way back in 1995, the classification act that was passed back then didn't cater for it. So there's no R rating. However - even if there WAS an R rating, again, due to the sexual nature of the violence, it is quite possible the game would have been refused classification as well. Combinations of violence and sex do not mix well.
Australia is somewhat unique in that it is one of the few countries where these classifications are federally monitored. The USA, for example, has the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). If a publisher wants a game rated in the USA, they have the choice to take it to the ESRB for a rating. There are no laws about what ratings can or can't be sold - it is basically up to the retailer to decide if they want to stock games that are of certain ratings. Just for the sake of interest, GTA3 was rated
Mature (17+) for Blood, Strong Language, and Violence by the ESRB.
In Australia, the OFLC comes up with the classifications, based on guidelines that were laid down in 1995. These guidelines are currently under review. OFLC has produced a draft and called for submissions, which will all go to an independent expert - from a related field. The consultant collates feedback on the draft and basically presents a proposal to censorship ministers for consideration. Hopefully there will be more information available on this in March. No word as yet if there will be a new R rating for games.
On to Grand Theft Auto 3 specifically. Take 2 Interactive appealed the original RC (refused classification) decision, which was then considered and upheld by a review board. Take 2 have since re-built a new version of the game for sale in Australia. The new version simply removes the capability of picking up prostitutes, and thus removes the ability to kill them after a sexual encounter. Prostitutes are still in the game, but merely walk the streets like many of the other inhabitants of Liberty City.
This new version has been classifed MA, and should be showing up in retail outlets around Australia soon. We will have some more information about the new version as soon as it becomes available.
Some particular mention was made of some of the feedback that was received by the OFLC, which I thought was particularly interesting given my frequent contact at the end of several feedback chains. Gamers are often a very vocal bunch, especially when things don't go their way, and are very prone to start flipping around the abuse, left, right and centre. It is very important to remember that if you send a nasty, rude letter to someone, it is a lot harder to take seriously than a calm, rational letter that explains your position politely.
Sending emails to the OFLC saying "GAMES DON'T CAUSE VIOLENCE YOU STUPID DICK, I'M GOING TO KILL U" are probably quite unlikely to sway anyone's opinion. This is something that I'm seeing more and more of, especially on Wireplay - somehow I don't imagine the Telstra executives look upon the gaming community as being something worth keeping when they see nothing but childish abuse in forums and emails. If you're not willing to work on a polite email yourself, do what this enterprising person did
and ask for help or a common one that they can just reproduce, stick their name on the bottom, and send.
Remember, even though you may not always get a reply, letters and emails are almost always seen by someone, and the information in them is kept and used to make future decisions based on your feedback. The more rational and useful your feedback is, the higher the chances are you things coming out your way.