Two games were banned in Australia between 2001 and 2002.
GRAND THEFT AUTO III (2001) was Refused Classification in November 2001. This was followed by BMX XXX (2002) in October 2002.
Grand Theft Auto III
Publisher Take 2 Interactive / 2001 / MobyGames
In late 2001, Take 2 Interactive Software released GRAND THEFT AUTO III before it had been seen by the Classification Board. This was done because they assumed that it would be passed with an MA rating.
Unfortunately, this proved to be a costly mistake.
At the time, no game had been banned since October 1998 when PRO SURF EXECUTIVE (1998) received an RC-rating.
Classification Board reasons
On November 28 2001, GRAND THEFT AUTO III was banned by the OFLC because of sexual violence.
Take 2 Interactive Software was the applicant.
November 28, 2001
Title: GRAND THEFT AUTO III
Board Report T01/2716
Gangland missions and car chases in Liberty city.
REASONS FOR THE DECISION:
In making classification decisions, the Classification Board applies the National Classification Code and the Classification Guidelines. The Classification Board follows the procedure set out in the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.
The game features frequent realistic depictions of violence of medium intensity including impactful blows and bloodshed to realistic animated characters. There are blood sprays when players are hit with baseball bats and pools of blood surrounding victims. For these elements the game would warrant an MA(15+) classification (ie elements likely to disturb, harm or offend those under 15 years to the extent that it should be restricted to those 15 years and over).
However during the game the player is able to pick up prostitutes in the Redlight District. The player and the prostitute can then drive to a park, where the car will rock back and forth in a suggestion of sexual activity. As the rocking continues the player’s health will increase and the balance of the player’s funds will decrease. After a short time the rocking stops and the prostitute gets out of the car. The player is able to chase the prostitute on foot or in the vehicle, and can strike the prostitute with the car and/or any weapons including fists, feet and baseball bat. An attack on a prostitute can include savage kicks and blood sprays – as for attacks on any other characters in the game. Once the prostitute has been beaten to an unresponsive state and is lying in a pool of blood, the player can take her money (presumably including the amount paid for sex).
In the view of the majority of the Board, the violence the player can inflict on the prostitute, can be conceptually linked to the sexual activity which precedes it. The player has the option of bashing and killing a woman with whom he has just had sex.
In the view of the majority of the Board, this option in the game requires a level of maturity which goes beyond the MA15+ classification category. Such a depiction of sexualised violence exceeds the level of intensity allowed in the MA Guidelines.
The game is therefore ’Refused Classification’.
In the view of the minority of the Board, there is sufficient separation between the suggestion of sexual activity and the fatal bashing of the prostitute for the game to be accommodated at MA 15+.– Classification Board report
Hoping to avoid a costly recall, Take 2 Interactive Software appealed to the Classification Review Board. They upheld the RC-rating.
December 11, 2001
The Classification Review Board unanimously determined that the computer game GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 is “Refused Classification”, confirming the decision of the Classification Board.
In reviewing the classification of GRAND THEFT AUTO 3, the Review Board worked within the framework, and applied the provisions of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, The National Classification Cod Classification of Computer Games.
The Review Board considered the computer game.
A presentation was made to the Board by the Managing Director of Take 2 Interactive, a barrister for the applicant and a forensic psychologist. The Classification Review Board had an extensive demonstration of the game play.
A three member panel of the Board convened in response to an application from the distributor, Take 2 Interactive.
The Classification Review Board is an independent body, drawn from people with a wide range of backgrounds, appointed by the Governor-General.
The Review Board meets in camera to hear formal applications for review of decisions of the Classification Board.– Classification Review Board
Full Review Board report
December 11, 2001
23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills, NSW
Ms Maureen Shelley (Convenor),
Ms Dawn Grassick,
Ms Kathryn Smith
Take 2 Interactive Pty Ltd
Represented by Mr James Ellingford (Managing Director), Ms Julia Baird (Barrister),
Dr Gary Banks (Clinical and Forensic Psychologist), Ms Megan McGregor (Corrs Chambers Westgarth)
To review the decision of the Classification Board to assign the classification RC under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to the computer game GRAND THEFT AUTO III.
DECISION AND REASONS FOR DECISION
The Classification Review Board upheld the decision of the Classification Board to classify the computer game RC but for reasons different to those provided by the Classification Board.
2. Legislative provisions
The Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Act)
governs the classification of computer games and the review of classification decisions. The Act provides that computer games be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code (the Code) and the classification guidelines (the Guidelines).
A tribunal of the Review Board was empanelled and viewed one and a half hours of excerpts of the game play at its meeting on 11 December 2001.
The Review Board heard oral submissions and received a written summary from Ms Baird (Barrister) and received a written report and supporting academic papers from Dr G Banks (forensic psychologist) representing the applicant. Mr Ellingford and Ms McGregor provided detailed answers to questions from the Review Board.
4. Matters taken into account
In reaching its decision the Review Board had regard to the following:
(i) The applicant’s Application for Review (including oral and written submissions, and a written report by Dr Banks and the academic papers “The Psychology of Criminal Conduct” by Ronald Blackburn John Wiley & Sons publishers – undated excerpt and “Clinical Approaches to Violence” – chapter 9, eds Kevin Howells and Clive R Hollin, John Wiley and Sons – undated excerpt)
(ii) Gamers’ websites reviews of GRAND THEFT AUTO III in particular “GRAND THEFT AUTO III Review” by Jeff Gertsmann, Gamespot VG October 24 2001 http://gamespot.com; and “GRAND THEFT AUTO III review” by Doug Perry ign ps2 October 22 2001 http:/www.ign.com which is linked to the website of the publisher of the game, Rockstar; and discussions on the game at www.gamepro.com and www.gametalk.com
(iii) Excerpts of the game play as supplied by the applicant
(iv) The relevant provisions in the Act
(v) The relevant provisions in the National Classification Code as amended in accordance with Section 6 of the Act.
(vi) The Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games determined under Section 12 of the Act.
5. Findings on material questions of fact
In his review Jeff Gerstmann states
“GTA 3 takes place in a fictional metropolis known as Liberty City. Liberty City is a largely corrupt place, with several warring factions spread throughout its boroughs. You’re (the gamer) a small-time crook who gets set up by your girlfriend during a heist (theft). You take the fall (are charged with) for the crime but manage to escape when a posse of thugs overtake the paddy wagon (police van) that you, along with a few other prisoners, are travelling in. This is where you hook up with the demolitions expert known as 8-ball, who takes you to meet a friend in the early portion of the game, which also serves as a tutorial of sorts to help you get acclimated (sic – acclimatised?) to the rules of the world. That friend is involved with the Mafia, of course, and he gives you tasks of increasing difficulty. Each mission starts with a cutscene (introductory or establishment scene) that sets up your challenge nicely, explaining why it needs to be done to help “the family” and giving your missions – which include such tasks as delivering an item, tailing a suspected security leak and wiping out (killing) the leaders of opposing gangs – real sense of purpose. As you progress, you’ll meet other people in the business of breaking the law, who will also have jobs for you. This gives you the options, as you can either do every available mission from each of your contacts or skip around from boss to boss and do the jobs in whatever order you please. Since certain missions trigger plot points, it’s entirely possible to miss some missions throughout the course of the game. As you proceed, other portions of the city will open up, giving you access to new missions, cars and terrain.”
The aim of the game is to successfully complete “missions” (i.e. commit crimes of increasing levels of sophistication) to gain money the total of which is shown on-screen. Another feature is the accumulation of “stars” that is the “wanted meter” up to a maximum of six. These stars demonstrate when the gamer has been sighted committing a crime by the police. To successfully complete “missions” the gamer will inevitably come to the attention of the police. However, if the gamer attracts too much attention (that is 6 stars) then the gamer will be “wasted” (die, but can be “refreshed” come back to life, any number of times).
In the course of the game, the gamer must keep in good health. A maximum of 125 points are achievable. If the health points sink too low the gamer is “wasted”.
The jacket cover of GRAND THEFT AUTO III (the game) states that you (an unnamed character in the game known only as kid or friend and representing the gamer – that is one who plays the game) have been betrayed and left for dead and now are taking revenge. In the introduction to the game the betrayal is undertaken by the gamer’s girlfriend who says, “I’m an ambitious girl and you’re small time” and who shoots the gamer and leaves him to be caught by the police after a botched hold up. The unnamed girlfriend has a similar appearance to one of the two “skin” (randomly generated game characters who have no identified personalities) sex worker-types who walk the streets of the Red Light District of Liberty City between the hours of 10pm and 6am.
A feature of this version of GRAND THEFT AUTO is the change from “bird’s eye view” or a top-down approach, to a personal or “first person” view. Whilst nine views are available to the gamer, much of the action takes place in first-person view. This is considered to add to the gamer’s pleasure in the game, making it more personal, and in the view of the Review Board giving the action of the game greater impact. The Convenor of the Review Board has personal experience of playing GRAND THEFT AUTO (the original release).
Jeff Gerstmann states “The previous incarnations of the game were cursed with poor mission design that never really made you feel like you were working toward any sort of greater goal. You merely drove around, causing trouble, occasionally doing odd jobs for local criminal masterminds until you had collected enough cash to proceed.” This importance of “missions” in the game and the jacket introduction that the gamer has been betrayed and is “now taking revenge”, which is supported by graphical and storyline features, increases the impact of the game on the individual gamer (that is the person operating the console) in the view of the Review Board. The game jacket states “You’ll have to rob, steal and kill just to stay out of serious trouble”.
A feature of this version of GRAND THEFT AUTO is its realistic graphics and the challenge and complexity to gamers offered which, according to Doug Perry of www.ign.com, puts it in a different league to other games. The Review Board believed that it provided quite a sophisticated level of graphics and that the game holds some inherent artistic merit due to its high production values – this game has a plot, some development of characters, quite high level graphics, reasonable animation, challenging game play, some three hours of music and sound which can be altered at the will of the gamer and offers a challenge to gamers which would take many hours (over 70 in a single session according to some game sites) to complete. It is a game that can be played as a straight driving game (the most popular for 12 to 17- year-olds according to “Computer Games and Australians Today” commissioned by the Office of Film and Literature Classification) as there are some 50 different vehicles which can be stolen and crashed, or as a pursuit game or purely as a game of violence.
During the course of game play, the gamer undertakes a number of missions or interacts with the environment – graphical features which whilst not part of a mission add to the game’s complexity and challenge. Activities which a gamer can undertake include stealing police cars and ambulances, killing police officers, running over pedestrians, obtaining 11 different weapons (baseball bat, hand gun, automatic weapons including Uzis, AK-47s, M16, sniper rifles, shotguns, Bazookas or rocket launchers, Molotov Cocktails, flamethrowers and hand grenades) as well as using fists, feet – for kicking, the head for head-butting, and explosives which are all used to attack pedestrians or other crime figures.
An attack on a pedestrian (male or female) can be undertaken with most of these weapons and can be repeated at the will of the gamer. If a pedestrian is attacked then the gamer decides how long the attack will continue. If the attack is prolonged red fluid will pool around the figure, who will become prone, being attacked. Attacks viewed by the Review Board ranged from a simple punch in the face, to repeated kicking of the groin of a prone male pedestrian accompanied by pooled red fluid, shooting and killing of police officers including shots to faces of those officers at close range and to the running over of a sex worker and then the repeated bashing of that same sex worker. According to game sites the preferred weapon is a gun and the preferred method of killing is shooting at close range.
In his review Doug Perry writing at www.ign.com states: “You can shoot gang members with simple 9s [9 millimetre guns] or run them over in a car (accompanied by a funny squish sound – Mr Perry’s quote) or toss a grenade at their feet, and watch them split apart at the seams, transforming into a puddle of blood.”
Changes in features of characters or skins do not occur when attacked. As part of the action of the game these characters or skins may reappear at other locations where they can be beaten again or left unmolested by the gamer – at the gamer’s direction and choice.
Mr Ellingford, for the applicant, stated that if the gamer stays around the scene of an attack long enough an ambulance would attend the scene and the character or skin would be “cured” and will walk off. Whilst, the Review Board accepts that this may be the case it did not view this in the game play excerpts supplied. This occurrence was not mentioned in any of the game sites reviewed by the Convenor – which may mean that the gamers have not viewed such action or they don’t believe it is worth mentioning.
As a number of questions regarding the game and courses of actions which might be possible could not be answered by the applicants during the meeting, reference to gamesites were raised by the Convenor. Mr Ellingford agreed that comment/discussion/tips and clues regarding the game would be available on the Internet.
The pedestrians, police or other officials, or crime figures attacked may fight back and the gamer can sustain injury or be killed. The gamer’s health level will deteriorate the more he is injured. The health level can be increased by resting (driving around and not being wounded), booking into a hospital or clinic – this was not witnessed by the Review Board but has been noted on the advice of Mr Ellingford for the applicant, or having sex with a sex worker.
In one scene, the gamer attacks a group of four or five pedestrians which includes at least one woman. She says, “Oh, it’s you again” and the gamer then repeatedly attacks the members of the group including the woman. She calls out, “Please somebody, help”. The gamer continues the attack, as she calls for assistance, until all members of the group are lying on the ground in pools of red fluid. Mr Ellingford for the applicant said – on the advice of a gamer in his office – that the statement “Oh, it’s you again” is randomly generated and he (the applicant’s in-house gamer) had not come across any female character in his game play where the on-screen gamer meets this character, apart from this scene.
I would note at this point that the presence of an experienced gamer, particularly one experienced in the version of the game under review, at the Review Board’s consideration of the application for review would have greatly assisted the deliberations of the Review Board. There was some delay and inconvenience experienced by the Review Board because none of the persons representing the applicant had the required level of knowledge of the game under review to satisfactorily answer the Review Board’s questions. When a game has over 100 hours of game play, it is incumbent on the applicant to provide to the Review Board with all possible assistance to ensure a reasonable assessment of the game is undertaken.
After one series of attacks by the gamer, the gamer returns to the car and the radio station voice-over says “Wasn’t that just great”. The tone of the female voice is almost sexual in its pleasure. The radio voice-over continues on the item which appears unrelated to the attacks by the gamer but is, in the opinion of the Review Board, most unfortunately juxtaposed.
Another scene shows the gamer talking to a mechanic who is giving him instructions about a crime he is to commit. In the background is a sex worker-type, a character named Misty, who is sitting with her legs spread, her torso forward and the nipples of her breasts exposed. In another version of the same scene, Misty says to the mechanic “Are you going to let me play with your big end again?”.
One mission the gamer undertakes is the bombing of a rival gang boss’s car and killing of the crime boss. After successfully completing this mission the gamer scores a bonus worth thousands of dollars.
In another scene, the gamer is being briefed on some action he is to take against a character who is “Pimpin’ some scuzzy bitches” in “the back yard” of a crime boss. Mr Ellingford (after consultation with his in-house gamer) stated that “scuzzy” means disgusting or filthy. The Review Board gathered that this language meant that one crime figure had sex workers (possibly of an inferior standard) soliciting in an area controlled by another crime figure.
In another scene a crime figure briefs the gamer on a “Triad gimp”. Mr Ellingford (after consultation with his in-house gamer) stated that “gimp” meant an idiot. The Convenor sought clarification of the term from another person who advised that “gimp” also meant cripple or person with a disability.
In one scene, of which the Review Board took particular note, the gamer stops to pick up a sex worker. The sex worker was of the type depicted with ‘punk-style’ hair, shorts and long boots – similar in appearance to the girlfriend who betrays the gamer in the introduction. She agrees to get into the car and the gamer drives onto a grassed, treed area. The car begins rocking and exhaust fumes are emitted in increasing amounts. The Review Board took this imagery to be a suggestion of sexual activity.
The scene was accompanied by the gamer’s money decreasing for the duration of the sex worker’s time in the car and by his health rating improving (several versions of this scene were demonstrated by the applicant including one in which the gamer had a maximum health rating of 125 – in this version his health did not improve).
After the sex worker leaves the car the gamer first drives off, then changes his mind and pursues her through the trees. A circle of white (which Ms Baird for the applicant stated was a spotlight from a helicopter) appears on the ground. The sex worker is run over by the car and she is spread-eagled in this circle of light/white.
The gamer then collects a bonus. Mr Ellingford stated that this bonus was part of the scenery and the gamer would get the bonus if he was simply walking past the same point. That is, it is not necessarily part of the game that the gamer needs to run over the sex worker to receive the bonus – simply that this was the case in this version of play.
The sex worker then recovers and starts walking away. The gamer then leaves the car and accosts her by beating her repeatedly until she is prone on the ground and surrounded by red fluid. The gamer then takes the sex worker’s money. This scene, from when she leaves the car until when the gamer returns to the car after assaulting her for the second time, takes over 2 minutes.
The Review Board noted the juxtaposition of the sexual imagery of the rocking/revving/smoking car and the assault on the sex worker. The Review Board considered that this juxtaposition gave the attack greater impact than if the two images had been widely separated by other game play.
One way to increase the amount of money a gamer holds is by beating up pedestrians. One group of pedestrians that the gamer knows have money on them are sex workers. The Review Board was shown scenes where the gamer beat up other pedestrians who didn’t have any money on them and the gamer’s monetary rewards do not increase. All sex workers who were beaten, that the Review Board saw demonstrated, increased the monetary reward of the gamer. At www.gamepro “cheats” are offered to gamers. Cheats are ways to get around problems in the game. One is listed as Free Health Points “To get more health, find a hooker and drive up to her (make sure you’re not driving a cop cruiser, van or taxi) and she’ll walk to your window to talk to you before getting in. Drive to a dark, abandoned area and the car will start to rock, increasing your health. By this time, your money will have decreased a bit. When she’s done, quickly walk out of the car and beat your money out of her – free life points.”
This game was released on October 23 in the United States. Already, extensive guides and cheats are offered to gamers including codes to increase the gore in the game, how to kill police officers more efficiently and suggestions such as the above. Also, according to the Australian release version’s jacket cover a 1902 information help-line is available where assistance can be accessed.
The sites reviewed by the Convenor are well-established gamer sites published by reputable companies. They are not necessarily the province of extreme game players or those of aberrant behaviour. The site www.gamepro.com is operated by IDG Games media group which states it is the leading global provider of IT media research, conferences and expositions. IDG publishes more than 290 computer newspapers and magazines and 700 books including the “. . . For Dummies” series and magazines such as PC World and MacWorld.
It was the opinion of the Review Board that the developers and the publishers of the game must be well aware of the game’s possibilities given that they created the code which allows the gaming action.
6. Reasons for the Decision
The Classification Review Board decided unanimously that the game should be refused classification under section 1(d) of the Code, that is that the game is unsuitable for a minor to see or play.
In reaching this decision the Review Board took into account the Guidelines which state “These guidelines are, at the direction of Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers, to be applied more strictly than those for the classification of film and videotape. The Ministers are concerned that games, because of their ‘interactive nature’, may have greater impact, and therefore greater potential for harm or detriment, on young minds than film and videotape.”
The Guidelines state further that
“Under this scheme, classification decisions are to give effect, as far as is possible, to the principles spelled out in the Code that:
(a) adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;
(b) minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them; and
(d) the need to take account of community concerns about: depictions which condone or incite violence and, in particular, sexual violence; and the portrayal or persons is a demeaning manner.”
GRAND THEFT AUTO III is a violent game which requires a mature perspective from the gamer. The Review Board considered that possibly most of the game’s target audience would have this mature perspective (that is those over 18 and some people aged 15 and over, but not most 15, 16 and 17 year olds).
It is possible to play this game as a pure vendetta against sex workers and attack them to take money, particularly after what has the appearance of having sex with them for which the gamer has paid. However, the Review Board believed that while the only women depicted in the game are a crime boss, sex workers and victims that the denigration of women, or portrayal of women in demeaning roles, is not the game’s purpose and that gamers who indulged in extremes of such play would not be following the game as intended. The Review Board has to consider the likely impact on the majority of gamers. Indeed, all the people in the game (male, female, or any or all races) are either criminals or victims.
The Review Board is required to consider under Section 11 of the Act part (d) “the persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it (the game) is published or is intended or likely to be published”. This can mean its intended audience or the audience or market which would legally have access to the game.
The Review Board believes that the primary market for the game is males. Whilst some females may play this game it has few rewards for women and according to the study commissioned by the OFLC women are not attracted to driving games. Women are not portrayed in valued roles, except for one female Asian (albeit crime) boss.
Women can take an active part as a sex worker or girlfriend but it was the submission of the applicant that the main character is a male and his appearance cannot be changed. However, a cursory search of the game sites showed that experienced gamers can use codes to change to a different male character (as described at Gametalk). Such characters are not “fully featured” that is there is some restrictions on what the character can then do. One gamer found a “black dude” who was quite good but the consensus was the male character as shown in the introduction allowed the most flexibility in pursuing gaming action.
The Review Board considered the applicant’s request to classify the game at MA15+. To provide such a classification would mean that the game could be seen and played by gamers, most likely to be male, over the age of 15, that is – the game could be played by minors. In the Convenor’s research it was noted that some 50% of Play Station 2 game players are over the age of 30. However, the applicant made no submission as to the age of gamers. A submission related to the ages of gamers such as 50% of gamers are over 30, X% are over 20, X% are over 18 etc would have assisted the Review Board in its deliberations. Also it was noted that once a classification was given to the PlayStation 2 version a PC version, due for release in mid-2002, would gain the same rating unless it was modified. A PC version would have a much wider playing audience than the ps2 version.
The Review Board is required to reflect contemporary community standards in its decisions. To assist in the consideration of the game the Convenor undertook a search of internet reviews of GRAND THEFT AUTO III, prior to the Review Board’s meeting. In all, some 12 reviews were read and particular note taken of that by Jeff Gertsmann of gamespot.com – a popular gamers’ site – whose article was the basis for a number of other reviews. Some of the issues raised by the reviews were discussed by the Review Board when reaching its decision.
In his article Mr Gertsmann, who is an admirer of the game and describes it as one of “the most amazing PlayStation 2 games to be released this year”, states “Before we go any further, there’s one thing everyone should know about GRAND THEFT AUTO III before purchasing it. It is easily the most “mature” M-rated game [Convenor’s explanation: US Entertainment Software Ratings Board rating – sales prohibited to those under 17 years of age] on the market today. More often than not, its storyline revolves around rather violent acts of crime, and if you stray from the storyline and just go on a crime spree or your own, the game becomes an absolute bloodbath. On top of that, the game contains adult language and situations, including drugs, prostitution, and a heaping helping of sexual innuendo. If R-rated crime sagas such as GOODFELLAS or HEAT are too much for you, then this isn’t the game for you. The game and its dialogue have (sic) been written specifically for an adult audience, and it definitely isn’t for kids.”
On a site directly linked to Rockstar, the publisher of the game, www.ign.com the reviewer Doug Perry, who is a fan of the game and played it for 50 hours in one session, states in a section: “It’s rated M for mature, which means if you monitor the kind of content in games that your kids play (if you’re a parent – Mr Perry’s comment), you definitely want to check this out before buying it. But the point is that this is a video game, it is a form of entertainment. Like movies or comic books, or TV. It’s aimed at a mature audience and it’s got mature themes”.
The Review Board considered the possibility of a gamer choosing only the most violent action or only the action which targeted women, or of choosing to target people of a specific race. It is possible in this game to pursue all of these courses of action until, as Mr Gertsmann describes, the game becomes an “absolute bloodbath”. However, the Review Board is required to consider what is likely to be the action of most people using the game. The Review Board believed that most gamers would want to pursue the missions as set and achieve success by this means and not concentrate on the purely violent aspects of the game. Indeed, the gamers’ sites refer to people using it purely as a driving game and pursuing “perfectly insane stunt bonus points” – to the exclusion of all else.
The Review Board also considered whether the “revenge” on women or women who looked like the girlfriend (ie sex workers) was a specific aim of the game. Whilst this is possible and is rewarded by money and increasing health if sex workers are targeted (the only group which gives this benefit) , the Review Board considered that gamers would not necessarily pursue this action. However, given the easily available advice on how to improve health by beating sex workers it is possible that this would be a common action by gamers.
The Review Board considered whether the game should be refused classification on the ground of “sexualised violence” as outlined by the Classification Board. The representatives of the applicant devoted much of their time and expertise to definitions of sexual violence, the non-appearance of the use of the term “sexualised violence” in the computer games classification guidelines, and to what Ms Baird described in the written summary of her submission as “the fatal bashing of the prostitute”.
The Review Board viewed the assault on the sex worker as a violent scene the impact of which was greater because of its juxtaposition to the sexual imagery portrayed earlier.
In response to the applicant’s submission that the term “sexualised violence” was not used in the computer game classification guidelines and should therefore be disregarded, the Review Board sought legal advice from Marcus Bezzi, a Senior Government Solicitor with the Australian Government Solicitor (Sydney Office).
It was Mr Bezzi’s view that it would be desirable for the Review Board to be consistent in its deliberations and if the Review Board found the a glossary of terms such as those listed in the film and videotape guidelines useful then such consistency could be achieved. The Review Board found such advice to be of assistance.
The applicant in its submission stated GRAND THEFT AUTO III was a game involving violence. On the game cover it had incorrectly applied a sticker which reads MA15+ High level animated violence. Whether GRAND THEFT AUTO III is a violent game was not disputed by the applicant as was re-iterated by Ms Baird in her oral submission.
The game is one which is violent throughout and which depicts some detail of criminal behaviour. The animation and graphics are realistic. The game retains some almost “cartoon-like” characteristics, although it is possible to become very involved in the game play to the extent that some might consider it harmful.
The game has more than high-level animated violence. The impact of the violence goes beyond that which most people would consider reasonable, particularly if some of the cheats and guides are used to increase the gore levels, even for this type of game. The description by Mr Perry, although not seen by the Review Board, of a person splitting in half and transforming into a puddle of blood goes beyond high-level violence and could be described as excessive and serious violence.
The fact that sex workers as targets provide multiple benefits is a most unfortunate piece of coding on behalf of the game’s creators. Sex workers are the only group which provide these multiple benefits. They are not part of the “mission” of the game but, in a sense, are innocent by-standers.
The Review Board watched one and a half hours of game play in total. Whilst this was time consuming, and had some negative impact on most of those viewing the game, such that Ms Baird asked at the end of the viewing “Can we please have a break?” and two of the applicant’s representatives left the room during the screening, it was considered that such viewing would not be an unrealistic period for an average gamer to be sitting at the console playing the game, and should represent a reasonable experience of a skilled player.
The Review Board then turned its attention to the National Classification Code, in particular the section Computer Games 1(d) which states a computer game is to be classified RC (refused classification) if it is unsuitable for a minor to see or play.
Section 11 of the Act requires the Review Board to also consider in part (a) “the standards of morality, decency, and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults.”
In considering all the evidence before it, it was the decision of the Review Board that GRAND THEFT AUTO III contained material which, on a cumulative basis and given the high degree of flexibility and control by the gamer who could increase the already serious levels of violence, was unsuitable for a minor to see or play. The description of Mr Gertsmann as the game having been “written specifically for an adult audience and it definitely isn’t for kids” was one held by all members of the Review Board who participated in the review.
In the absence of an R rating for computer games, as is available to the Review Board for films and videotapes, the Review Board classified the game RC. The Review Board was unable, in this instance, to uphold the other part of its duties in the classification of computer games, that being that adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want. The availability of an R rating would have seen this game released for adult consumption.
There is anecdotal evidence that GRAND THEFT AUTO III is already being pirated by some of those who obtained copies during the period the game was on retail shelves and have access to CD burners, and that the refusal of classification of the game has led to what is reported to be a flourishing black market. On one gamer site a player posted a notice on Thursday 13 December (two days after the Review Board’s meeting) “now that its (GRAND THEFT AUTO III) been banned in oz, could I play the euro version on an aussie ps2 (PlayStation 2 console)”.
In “Computer Games and Australians Today” a report commissioned by the Office of Film and Literature Classification in 1999, the authors state: “Games that contain themes or other content which may warrant restriction to adults only are not currently permitted, even though comparable content in other media is permitted. It appears anomalous, and without scientific basis, to treat one medium as different from others in this respect.”
Perhaps the Ministers responsible would give consideration to an R rating for computer games, as is available in films and videotapes, so that adults may see and hear and play what they want – legally.
The Review Board’s decision is to classify the computer game Refused Classification (RC) on the ground that it is unsuitable for minors to see or play.
This decision is taken after full consideration of the applicant’s submission, and after assessing the computer game as a whole, based on the excerpts as supplied and demonstrated by the applicant, against the relevant legislative criteria, including those contained in the Code, and in the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games determined under section 12 of the Act.– Maureen Shelley, Convenor
– Classification Review Board report
Des Clark warns retailers
Following the refusal, the Director of the OFLC issued a media release to inform retailers that they needed to remove the game from their shelves.
Following a review of the “Refused Classification” decision for the computer game GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 the game remains illegal to sell.
The “Refused Classification” status of GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 leaves retailers liable for prosecution under relevant State and Territory legislation. It is an offence to sell or demonstrate the game in Australia.
The Director of the OFLC, Des Clark said, “I have been assured by the distributor all stock will be recalled and retailers had previously been asked to remove stock from their shelves. Community Liaison Officers have also been visiting retailers to let them know of the substantial penalties involved in selling refused classification stock.”
The classification for this game highlights the importance of seeking a classification for computer games prior to their distribution. It is an offence for games to be sold without a classification and it is an offence to sell games with incorrect markings suggesting a classification has been made by the Classification Board.
People can check the classification of games and films and videos by visiting the database section of the OFLC website www.oflc.gov.au. It is important that people and particularly parents are aware of the content of the games their children play.
If you have already purchased a game you will need to contact your retailer about return procedures.– Grand Theft Auto 3 remains off the shelves
– Office of Film and Literature Classification
Recalled from stores
With GRAND THEFT AUTO III now banned, Take 2 Interactive had no choice but to do a recall.
December 13, 2001
The OFLC’s spokesperson, Tricia Flanagan would not be drawn today on the subject of enforcement. She once again re-iterated the OFLC’s advisory role, explaining that: “Censorship is the responsibility of all nine governments. Enforcement provisions for the classification scheme are contained in State and Territory legislation. There are some variations (between states).”
Considering the title’s high popularity and critical acclaim, original copies of the Australian-region-encoded game may now become collector’s items for videogame aficionados. Particularly as Take 2 Interactive is considering releasing a toned down version of the game to comply with local censorship guidelines.
ZDNet Australia spoke to Take 2 Interactive Australia spokesperson Leanne Pine on the subject of re-releasing the game: “It is something we are looking at it, we don’t know if it is going to be possible, but that’s something we would look forward to. We have to wait for the full report from the OFLC, to be able to know what element of the game resulted in the RC rating. To be able to then cut that part out.” she said.
However, such activities hold a substantial cost for the game publisher and distributor, which may impact the likelihood of re-release.
Ms Pine elaborated: “We would have to look at the timelines and the cost for it, as it’s (the banning of a game title) never happened to us before.”– GTA 3 officially banned in Australia
Censored and rated MA
In January 2002, a modified version of GRAND THEFT AUTO III was passed with an MA (High level animated violence) rating.
To achieve this, Take 2 Interactive Software had removed the scene with the prostitutes.
This YouTube clip documents the censored scene.
The moral police are worried
March 14, 2002
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [5.02 p.m.]: I refer tonight to computer game classifications. Apparently the Joint Standing Committee of Attorneys-General—of which the New South Wales Attorney General is a member—is reviewing the computer game classification process and in doing so it is proposed to combine the film and computer game classification systems. Up until now there has been no R-rated classification for computer games, but that will no longer be the case if the film and computer game classification systems are combined. Honourable members do not need me to spell out those classifications for them. At present we might be able to prevent our children from watching R-rated films—only people over the age of 18 are admitted to theatres that are screening such films—but we are not able to prevent them from playing R-rated computer games.
The term “R-rated” has no real meaning for many people in society but it means something to those who sell such games. Shopkeepers are aware that they cannot sell R-rated games to children. Potential purchasers of such material may be asked for some form of identification—a drivers licence—to establish whether they are over the age of 18. However, once a computer game leaves the shop anyone can have access to it. Children might have access to and might be able to play a game that has been bought by their parents or by an older brother or sister. Children of primary school age are probably more adept than many honourable members in this Chamber at playing these computer games. I have watched my grandchildren playing computer games and I am amazed at how adept they are. I am certainly aware of the age difference between me and my grandchildren when they try to show me how to play computer games.
Children are easily able to play any R-rated computer game. Honourable members might want to know what constitutes an R-rated computer game. A game that was recently banned in Australia was a Playstation 2 game entitled GRAND THEFT AUTO 3—a seemingly innocent title. That game was initially classified in Australia as an MA15+ game. The Office of Film and Literature Classification then advised distributors that the MA15+ classification was not suitable and that the game had to be withdrawn. Under the proposed system that game could be reclassified as an R-rated computer game. The distributors of that computer game might edit it in an attempt to change its classification to MA15+. However, at this stage it is more likely to be given an R-rated classification.
There were several reasons why the Office of Film and Literature Classification objected to the MA15+ classification. GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 is a virtual reality game. Players not only watch the game; they are able to participate in it and they are able to decide the outcome. The player can be cast as a gangster who car-jacks or steals vehicles. The game contains a scene in which the player can hire a prostitute. The player can then choose to bash and kill the prostitute for money after having sex with her. The content of that computer game is certainly beyond the pale. Joanna Weiss, a staff member of the Globe in the United States of America, where there has been quite a reaction to this GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 computer game, has written quite an interesting article on the matter. She wrote that GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 was “one of the hottest video games in the country”. It is probably one of the hottest video games in Australia. She wrote also:
In the United States its popularity has soared. More than 635,000 copies were sold in October and November alone…
In only two months, it became Blockbuster’s top game rental for 2001.
As I said earlier, it is a virtual reality game and players are made to feel that they are actually in the game. It is ultimate escapism. Players can become murderers—any person that they choose to become. They have total freedom in this so-called Liberty City. They can go wherever they want to go and they can be as good or bad as they choose to be. They can hit people and kill people. I hope that that computer game will not be released in Australia. [Time expired.]– Computer Game Classification
– Fred Nile (Christian Democrat), NSW Legislative Council
Des Clark on on the ban
May 24, 2004
“(The player) pays a prostitute to get in a car, they bonk, they get out and he bashes her to death with a baseball bat and gets the money back,” OFLC director Des Clark said.
“Conceptually that’s an extremely high level of violence – and that was RC (refused classification).”
Mr Clark said the impact of violence and sexual activity was higher if you were rewarded with status and money for your actions.
He said the OFLC was concerned about the increase in graphical detail – including “blood spurts” and sleazy environments – but any game that went too far would be refused classification.– Games Turn Deadly Serious
Australian Customs Service
There are two reported cases of customs confiscating the game.
In November 2001, a newsgroup post claimed that customs had confiscated a package containing six copies. This would have been considered a commercial quantity.
A forum post from November 2009 was made by a person claiming to know someone who lost a copy to customs.
In December 2011, a 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION was released.
In May 2015, GRAND THEFT AUTO III was passed with an MA15+ (Strong violence) by the automated International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) tool. The applicant was Rockstar Games.
This submission was presumably the 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION. At this time, the IARC system was still in a trial phase.
The 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION available on the Australian iOS and Android stores (in March 2021) are the same cut version classified by the OFLC in early 2002.
To note the differences, the Apple store lists it as GTA III: AUSTRALIAN EDITION. They rate it 17+. On GooglePlay, it is simply GTA III, with ‘aus’ added to the end of the URL. It is ‘Restricted to 15+’.
In September 2019, GRAND THEFT AUTO III was resubmitted. The availability of a higher rating saw it reclassified as R18+ (Sexual activity related to incentives and rewards).
The classification matrix described,
High impact: sex
Strong impact: themes, violence
Mild impact: language, drug use
It was followed in August 2021 by GRAND THEFT AUTO III – THE DEFINITIVE EDITION. The consumer advice and classification matrix remained unchanged. In this release, the interactions with prostitutes are reportedly intact.
Rockstar Games made both submissions.
Publisher Acclaim Entertainment / 2002 / MobyGames
In October 2002, BMX XXX was banned because of nudity. Acclaim Entertainment was the applicant.
October 16, 2002
The Classification Board has determined that the computer game BMX XXX is “Refused Classification” (RC).
In classifying BMX XXX, the Board worked within the framework of, and applied the provisions of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, The National Classification Code, and the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games.
Under the National Classification Code, in the majority of the Board’s view, this game is considered unsuitable for a minor to see or play.
The game warrants an RC classification for nudity. In the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games, nudity, including genitalia is only allowable in a game if there is a ‘bona fide’ educational, medical or community health purpose.
In BMX XXX, the player can choose as a rider a nude female. The nude rider can be viewed in the options menu and can be used to play the game. In the Board’s view this constitutes nudity, and does not have a ‘bona fide’ educational, medical or community health purpose.
Under the current Guidelines, there is no R18+ classification for computer games. Those games that cannot be classified MA15+ or lower are refused classification (RC) and are not legally available in Australia.– Classification Board
Full Classification Board report
Title: BMX XXX
Board Report T02/2833
In third person perspective the player navigates a character on a BMX bike through various levels in order to unlock new bikes, characters and gain other rewards. The player must accomplish set tasks such as collecting aluminium cans and coins or performing bicycle tricks to progress to the next level. The player can also choose clothing options for the rider.
REASONS FOR THE DECISION:
In the majority of the Board’s view this computer game warrants an RC classification, in accordance with section 1 (d) of the Computer Games Table of the National Classification Code, as it is “unsuitable for a minor to see or play”.
The computer game also warrants an RC classification in accordance with the RC criteria in the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games, as it contains “nudity, including genitalia unless there is a ‘bona fide’ educational, medical or community health purpose”.
In arriving at the decision the Board considered the criteria set out in the National Classification Code and the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games. The Board also took into account Section 11 of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer games) Act 1995:
“11 The matters to be taken into account in making a decision on the classification of a publication, a film or a computer game include:
(a) the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults; and
(b) the literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the publication, film or computer game; and
(c) the general character of the publication, film or computer game, including whether it is of a medical, legal or scientific character; and
(d) the persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it is published or is intended or likely to be published.”
The player is able to choose various clothing options for male and female BMX riders and can view the results in the options menu. One option is for the female rider to be nude. The nude rider can be viewed in the options menu or the player can use this character to play the game. In the Board’s majority view the depictions of a nude female BMX rider constitutes nudity; and as there is no ’bona fide’ educational, medical or community health purpose for this nudity the computer game warrants RC.
In the Board’s minority view, as the depictions of the nude female BMX rider do not contain any genital detail they can be accommodated in the MA15+ classification with appropriate consumer advice. Further, the depictions are animated and constitute a very small element of the game.
After completing specific tasks the player is able to enter a Nightclub and view full motion video sequences of a female in various states of undress, featuring partial breast and buttock nudity with little to no nipple detail. There is one brief sequence on each of the eight levels of the game. In the Board’s majority view, as the dancing female is wearing underwear and covers much of her breasts while moving, these sequences do not constitute nudity. In the Board’s minority view these full motion video sequences constitute nudity and as there is no ’bona fide’ educational, medical or community health purpose for this nudity the computer game warrants RC.
In the Board’s majority view the option to view full motion video sequences of a female in various states of undress, featuring partial breast and buttock nudity with little to no nipple detail, constitutes strong sexual references and can be accommodated at the MA classification with appropriate consumer advice.
In the Board’s minority view these sequences are very strong sexual references that exceed the requirements of the MA15+ guidelines and warrant RC.
The language used by characters in the game and in the soundtrack to the game includes derivatives of “fuck” as well as infrequent use of phrases such as “I’m surrounded by fucking idiots”, “cum on my face” and “I think I’ll cut my husband’s dick off”. In the Board’s majority opinion, the game includes use of “frequent crude language, but not if excessive, unduly assaultative or sexually explicit” which can be accommodated at the MA15+ classification.
In the Board’s minority opinion, the overall language in the game exceeds what is permissible under the MA15+ guidelines and warrants RC. In particular the line used by the Pimp character when run into by a female rider was noted: “I’m going to cut you bitch”, as when the rider is nude this assaultative language gains strength in impact.
In the Board’s minority opinion there is a conceptual strength in this interactive game, requiring an adult perspective. A strong example being the scenario where on bribing a bouncer the player gains entry to a strip club (seemingly a reward for completing missions). The cut to live footage heightens the impact of this game play. Similarly, the facility to choose as a rider a nude female delivers a high impact. This impact is heightened by the violence of the game: the potential for hitting pedestrians, and the throwing of the rider from the bicycle.
In the Board’s majority opinion, these conceptual elements could be accommodated at the MA15+ classification.
In the majority of the Board’s view this computer game warrants an RC classification, in accordance with section 1 (d) of the Computer Games Table of the National Classification Code, as it is “unsuitable for a minor to see or play”.
The computer game warrants an RC classification in accordance with the RC criteria in the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games, as it contains “nudity, including genitalia unless there is a ‘bona fide’ educational, medical or community health purpose”.– Classification Board report
Censor & distributor on the RC-rating
The Director of the OFLC was quoted as saying that BMX XXX was sleazy rather than violent.
October 29, 2002
Des Clark, Director of the OFLC
Government has a classification system that everyone supports, and the industry has to look at those classifications, the code, and the guidelines when they make those products,
There are very large retail chains in America refusing to sell it, so it’s not just Australia,
The game is very offensive in many ways – game developers need to think in terms of worldwide audiences.
Greg Arthurton from Acclaim Australia:
That’s what the OFLC has classified the game as, so we accept that,
We have gone down the path of mapping an appeal . . . but we believe it may not be successful.
…..it may not make economic sense to rewrite BMX XXX for an Australian audience.– Sleazy riders stop XXX-rated BMX bandits
– article @ smh.com.au
Censored & rated MA
In November 2002, a modified version was passed with an MA (Adult themes; Medium level coarse language; Sexual references) rating.
October 2003– Classification Board, Annual Report 2002-2003
The distributor of BMX XXX then submitted a revised version of the game which did not contain nudity. The Board classified this modified version MA15+ with the consumer advice, ‘Sexual references, medium level coarse language, adult themes’.
Complaints to the OFLC
October 2003– Classification Board, Annual Report 2002-2003
…13 complaints were received about the Board’s decision to classify BMX XXX refused classification.
Uncut New Zealand release
In December 2002, BMX XXX was passed with an R18 (Violence, sexual themes and offensive language) rating by the New Zealand OFLC.
It was marketed with a ‘BANNED IN AUSTRALIA’ sticker on the box.