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 2014: April-June

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 Update: Calling for a Re-ban...

Western Australian parliamentary sexualisation report recommends the re-banning of 18 rated computer games


Link Here 28th June 2014  full story: R18+ for Games in Australia...Pondering an adult R18+ rating for video games
Western Australia flag The Western Australian Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People recommends in its Sexualisation of Children report that the Classification Enforcement Act should prohibit the sale, supply, demonstration, possession or advertisement of R18+ video games in the state.

Under Australia's current classification system, games sold at retail need to be classified by the Australian Classification Board. The country's Federal Parliament passed legislation to create an R18+ category for video game classification last February. The new classification system, which included the new R18+ rating, came into effect across on Jan 1, 2013.

The Sexualisation of Children report, which was presented to the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council on June 26, also suggests that using minors in sexually provocative advertising in the state to be made an offence, regulating child beauty pageants and that the state monitor the recommendations of a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into sexting. Additionally, the report recommends that Western Australia should create a code of conduct to address concerns about the impact of sexually explicit music videos on minors. The committee said:

While the impact of sexualisation on children is difficult to quantitatively measure, and to distinguish from other influences in their lives, this does not mean that the issue should not be addressed. The Committee is equally aware that what is seen as a priority issue that needs substantive action by some members of society may be seen by others as normal experimentation or fun.

 

  Sims 4 Sins...

Russian games censors award an 18 rating to Sims 4 over its inclusion of gay relationships


Link Here 14th May 2014
Sims Limited PC DVD Sims 4 is the latest in a long running series of computer games. It has been given a PEGI 12 rating in Europe.

But Russian censorship authorities have given the game an 18+ age rating because its portrayal of same-sex relationships contravenes a law protecting children from information harmful to their health and development.

A tweet clarified (via Google Translate) that the restrictive age rating was assigned in according with the law number 436-FZ, 'On the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development.' This law was originally passed in 2010 to prohibit the distribution to children of material that may elicit fear, horror or panic, or that depicts violence, unlawful activities, substance abuse or self-harm, but was updated in 2013 to include propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships.

 

  The New Order...

The latest Wolfenstein game geo-locked to prevent activation in Germany


Link Here 10th May 2014
Wolfenstein The New Order PS4 International versions of Wolfenstein: The New Order are banned within Germany due to the use of Nazi imagery in the game, and as a result developer Bethesda is geo-locking versions on Windows PC so they cannot be activated in the country.

Bethesda details this decision to geo-lock the game on its official blog. Geo-locking, which is a method of selecting what countries can access content, was implemented on the basis of legal advice and industry standard practice, writes a Bethesda representative, adding that the international version also won't be available for sale in Austria.

While Germany offers cultural exemptions on the use of Nazi content in films, current legislation in the country does not extend to video games. Bethesda writes:

A violation may result in confiscation of the Game, a high financial penalty or up to three years in prison. Any person involved and/or responsible for such violation may be prosecuted and sentenced, including officers and employees of companies involved.

The German release of the game censors Nazi symbology but otherwise leaves the gameplay unchanged.

 

 Update: Computer Generated Film Censors...

Australian Government consider software tools to classify games and movies


Link Here 6th May 2014  full story: Australian Censorship Review... Reviewing censorship law for all media

australian government logo A proposal for computer software to be used to classify material, such as movies and video games, has hit the news in Australia. The Federal Government has proposed the development of digital tools to speed up the work of the Classification Board.

Responses to survey questions by producers or developers about the content of movies or games could be used by a computer program to recommend a classification. Members of the Classification Board would be able to change the final result if they did not agree with the software's decision.

Legal academic Lyria Bennett Moses and her colleagues at the University of NSW's Cyberspace Law and Policy Community commented that draft changes to classification law did not place enough restrictions on the use of classification tools:

At worst, there would be no human judgment applied to the necessary human judgment matters central to the classification process. A Google bot might do it.

Morality campaigners of Family Voice Australia did not believe the Government intended to use computer programs to make a classification decision. But they feared this could happen in the future, enabling pornographers to exploit the classification system by supplying incorrect information about the content of their films to censorship programs.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan told Parliament recently that a draft Bill would require any classification tools to be approved by the relevant government minister.

The Bill also provides the Classification Board with the opportunity to classify material even after it has been considered by an approved tool, if it considers that the decision is problematic. As a final protection, if there are concerns about the effectiveness of a classification tool, its approval may be suspended or revoked at any time.

The computer game industry supports the use of automated tools to help speed up long delays waiting for material to be classified. Since 1996, the Classification Board has classified an average of 745 computer games a year. But more than 57,000 games were released by Apple's App Store in 2013. It also very expensive, costing upto $2460 to have a computer game classified.

The Government  is also considering scrapping proposals for 2-D and 3-D versions of the same movie to be classified separately.

 

  Playing Monopoly...

PEGI ratings come at an expensive price that is suffocating smaller games producers


Link Here 4th May 2014
tiga logo TIGA, the network for game developers and digital publishers, has written an open letter to PEGI, the European game content rating system, calling for urgent reform of its pricing policy, which charges small games businesses unreasonably high and repetitious fees. TIGA has acted in response to complaints from its members about PEGI's pricing policy.

At present, PEGI's policy is to charge a developer a fee for content rating every time it launches a game on a different console platform (e.g. Play Station 4, Play Station Vita, Xbox One, the Wii U, etc), even if the content is exactly the same. This is excessive and unreasonable.TIGA recommends that the fee for age rating the same game content for different platforms should be waived entirely.

TIGA has warned the Netherlands based organisation that its approach risks hurting start-ups and small independent developers. While PEGI's pricing policy can impose costs potentially running into thousands of euros on UK and European developers, American game developers do not have to pay their equivalent ratings body, the ESRB, anything at all for rating identical content on additional platforms.

As of 1st of July 2014, PEGI will effectively have three pricing tiers:

  • The lowest, for online or downloadable games only which must be under 250mb, charges EUR260 for certification, and the same again for each additional platform even if the content is the same.
  • The middle tier is for games larger than 250mb, with a production budget of less than EUR200,000 and charges EUR1,155 for certification and EUR1,050 for each additional platform, again even if the content is unchanged.
  • The highest tier is for games with a budget larger than EUR200,000 and charges EUR2,100 for certification and EUR1,050 for each additional platform, even if the content is exactly the same.

To give one example, from the beginning of July 2014, the ratings fee for a Lower Development Cost Product (where the game's budget is less that EUR200,000) is EUR1,155 in the first instance and EUR1,050 for each additional platform thereafter. So if an indie developer was to launch the same game with exactly the same content on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PS Vita, they would be looking at a ratings bill of EUR3,255. PEGI's pricing policy imposes disproportionate costs on indie developers pursuing a multi-platform strategy.

The PEGI content ratings system should be focused on providing information to consumers and protecting vulnerable consumers from accessing inappropriate content. It should not be burdening small games businesses with excessive costs. Many small development businesses operate on a knife-edge and struggle to conserve every pound or euro they can in order to stay in business.

TIGA further suggests that PEGI examines the potential for delivering its rating system more efficiently. At present, PEGI carries out the rating process repeatedly for games on multiple platforms. TIGA suggests that instead developers could be offered the opportunity to sign a legally binding document stating the game content is identical. This would allow PEGI to provide a single multi-platform age rating, which in turn would save PEGI's time and indie developers' money. TIGA would be happy to work with one of its members, Stevens & Bolton LLP to draft this legally binding agreement and make it available for free to indie developers.

Dr. Richard Wilson, CEO, TIGA, comments:

The majority of UK and European games developers operate small studios where financial resources are limited and costs need to be kept to a minimum.

TIGA's policy is to strengthen the game development and digital publishing sector, in particular by saving games businesses money and improving their access to finance. PEGI's pricing policy imposes potentially damaging and unreasonably high fees, which have a disproportionate impact on small games businesses. It cannot be right to charge a developer a fee for content rating every time it launches a game on a different console platform even if the content is exactly the same.

Significantly, US developers do not have to pay their equivalent ratings body, the ESRB, anything at all for rating identical content on additional platforms. Once again, UK and European developers are being put at a disadvantage. If the UK and European development sector is to thrive then we need a pricing policy from PEGI which is helpful, not a hindrance; is proportionate, not punitive; and is equitable, not exorbitant.

TIGA is approaching PEGI to find a solution that fairly represents the interests of developers, digital publishers and consumers across Europe.

 

 Offsite Article: Dark Souls...


Link Here 30th April 2014
Dark Souls Prepare Die PS3 Daily Mail hacks jump on the computer games Dark Souls and Grand Theft Auto for the inevitable blame game story explaining the tragic stabbing of a teacher

See article from dailymail.co.uk

 

  Playing the Shanghai Shuffle...

China outlines the censorship process for foreign companies to release console games


Link Here 23rd April 2014
GTA Chinatown Wars Nintendo DS Foreign companies will soon be able to produce and sell game consoles in China , although they do have to work with a local partner and operate out of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone.

All games will have to be approved by the "culture department in charge" . Happily, this refers to the local Shanghai government culture department, not the probably-more-strict national Ministry of Culture.

Games that are not approved will be returned with the reason for their rejection clearly stated. That certainly suggests that rejected games may be easy to fix and resubmit. Content that won't be allowed in games includes:
  • Gambling-related content or game features
  • Anything that violates China's constitution
  • Anything that threatens China's national unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity.
  • Anything that harms the nation's reputation, security, or interests.
  • Anything that instigates racial/ethnic hatred, or harms ethnic traditions and cultures.
  • Anything that violates China's policy on religion by promoting cults or superstitions.
  • Anything that promotes or incites obscenity, drug use, violence, or gambling.
  • Anything that harms public ethics or China's culture and traditions.
  • Anything that insults, slanders, or violates the rights of others.
  • Other content that violates the law

Obviously, many of these can be interpreted broadly or very selectively, but there's reason to hope that the Shanghai local government will take a less broad approach than the Ministry of Culture might have. However, it seems highly unlikely that the likes of Grand Theft Auto will be available any time soon.

Update: More rules

14th May 2014. See article from en.rocketnews24.com

More rules are reportedly added to the list:

  • Game characters wearing bikinis or shorts are prohibited
  • Exposing sensitive parts of the body is not allowed.
  • Bodily touching between men and women in games is completely prohibited.

 

  Propaganda Games...

Russian lawmakers consider measures to censor computer games


Link Here 9th April 2014
Russian Duma logo Russian lawmakers are thinking about new legislation for the censorship of computer games.

Some of the proposals are a little bit more novel than simply introducing mandatory age restrictions. For instance, the Ukrainian crisis and a controversial game it has spawned, namely, a multiplayer game called Maidan , referring to the Independence Square, the ground zero for Ukrainian protests which began last year, have prompted Russian legislators to look into tighter regulation of the industry.

State Duma deputy Oleg Mikheev has drawn up a bill which prohibits videogames, which spread war propaganda, national and religious hatred and strife and introduces fines for distribution of pro-Nazi games. He said:

The Ukrainian events have shown that comprehensive harsh punitive measures for crimes of indirect propaganda and justification of Nazism is a burning political issue. Such propaganda is being spread through seemingly innocent media -- videogames. Their real agenda may be defamation of Russia's historic past, its current status and creation of the country's negative image for both foreign nationals and our compatriots. We need to fight that.

Other deputies so far have supported this legal initiative. Vadim Dengin, a deputy who often pens bills related to the digital world, suggested that the new bill can protect children and adolescents from anti-Russian propaganda. While he stressed that governmental regulation of videogames is needed, he noted that the final version of the bill will take into consideration opinions of experts, such as gamers, psychologists and other specialists with knowledge of this issue.

There is a similar initiative targeting websites. The Federation Council has proposed introducing a harsher law on protection of the younger generation from information which may harm their health or development. If the proposed bill passes, websites will have to mark their content, warning children and their parents of potentially harmful media. This includes media which uses special tricks in order to affect the subconscious, causing disorders of moral, spiritual and psychological development. The same goes for media which provokes children to conduct anti-social and illegal actions and actions, potentially harmful to their life or health. The list also includes intimidating information -- media, which can cause recurrent fears, panic or horror.

 

  Moving On...

Media blame game stories on the decrease even though there has been an increase in the realism of computer game violence


Link Here 6th April 2014

missouri school of journalism logo Members of the media and others often have attributed violence in video games as a potential cause of social ills, such as increased levels of teen violence and school shootings. Now, a University of Missouri researcher has found that media acceptance of video game violence has increased as video game technology has improved over time. Greg Perreault, a doctoral student at the MU School of Journalism, examined the coverage of violent video games throughout the 1990s by GamePro Magazine, the most popular video game news magazine during that time period. Perreault found that journalists from GamePro expressed a considerable amount of concern about the level of violence in the game software companies were creating in the early 1990s, when video game design was limited by technology. Perreault said:

Early in the '90s, when video games were still a relatively new medium, journalists expressed quite a bit of concern about the level of violence in many of the games,. It is interesting because the simulated violence in these games was so mild relative to modern-day games.

As technology improved throughout 1990s, new gaming systems such as the Nintendo 64 and Sony Playstation were released, along with the capacity for higher levels of graphic violence. Perreault found that despite this increase, the levels of concern about violence from GamePro journalists decreased. Perreault said:

As technology improved and the animations became more and more life-like, game creators had increased capability to design more graphic violence, including blood and gore. Despite this increasing amount of violence, journalists seemed to be less and less bothered by the blood and guts. This is important to note because journalism often mirrors the culture of the audience it serves. As technology improved, the entire gaming community became more and more comfortable with the levels of violence that were simultaneously increasing in video games. In a sense, the gaming community grew up. They aged from children using video games as toys to adolescents and adults using them as recreational devices. It appears that journalists reflected this trend in their writing.

Perreault says the video game rating system is another example of this trend. He says when the rating system first was created, gaming journalists opposed it; however, as games become more and more violent, the rating system is used continually as a defense against outside criticism:

As more and more parents and outside sources criticize violent games, gamers and gaming journalists point to the rating system and say that parents should not allow their kids to play violent games with explicit ratings. Ultimately, the trend in violent games is a reflection of what interests our society. Similar trends can be found in the increased number of 'R' rated movies as well as the popularity of gangster rap and other violent music. Video games are just another way our culture is expressing itself.

Perreault will present his research at the International Communication Association conference in Seattle this May.

 

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