Australia To Protect Us All From Us All

According to Tateru Nino on Massively, Australia is set to filter out online gaming that their government disapproves of at the network level.

While Senator Conroy refers to ‘games’, this appears to just be the spoonful of sugar to make it easier to swallow. Does anyone think that virtual environments like Second Life will be exempt from the proposed network-blocking? We don’t. Some sources are reporting that environments like Second Life and games like Age of Conan or World of Warcraft are confirmed as being banned outright, but at this stage, nobody official has actually said that.

Except that, well, they have, in so many words.

Senator Conroy’s spokesman said the filter would cover “computer games such as web-based flash games and downloadable games, if a complaint is received and the content is determined by ACMA to be Refused Classification”. All games that exceed MA15+ are deemed to be RC.

The filtering could also block “the importation of physical copies of computer games sold over the internet which have been classified RC”, the spokesman said.

Note that MMOs are by their very user-generated nature (no one can really stop you from saying improper things on an online game, as anyone knows who’s played one for more than 40 seconds) difficult to submit for content rating. In the US, initially, games such as Ultima Online were rated “M” for Mature due to this; eventually a compromise was found where the game content supplied by the manufacturer was rated (almost always “T” for Teen) and a “Content may change in online play” qualifier clearly added. However, the rating system in Australia is different; among other problems they don’t even *have* an “M” rating; things that would be rated “M” just don’t get sold.

Mark Newton, an ISP engineer and internet filtering critic, said the move to extend the filtering to computer games would place a cloud over online-only games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, which aren’t classified in Australia due to their online nature.

He said the online distribution of such games has historically been exempt from customs controls on RC material because they have only ever covered physical articles.

“That exemption is the only reason why multi-player games with user-generated environments are possible in this country; without it, it’d only take one game user anywhere in the world to produce objectionable content in the game environment to make the Australian Government ban the game for everyone,” said Newton.

It’s good to see the Pacific Rim working together on how to be mindlessly paternalistic.

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18 Responses to Australia To Protect Us All From Us All

  1. TPRJones says:

    Are these filters coded by hand (selected sites blocked) or by keyword content? If the latter and if the network level filter would block out even pages where you could buy the game from an online store, would it also extend to blocking any site that even talks about these games?

    For example, CNN had a WoW article the other day. Would that article be blocked? Or all of CNN?

  2. Bleaktea says:

    This is kind of ridiculous. I mean, one secure tunnel to a proxy outside of Australia and you can play as much WoW and flash strip poker as you like. An eight-year-old can circumvent these things.

  3. Raelyf says:

    Bleaktea :
    This is kind of ridiculous. I mean, one secure tunnel to a proxy outside of Australia and you can play as much WoW and flash strip poker as you like. An eight-year-old can circumvent these things.

    While this is absolutely true, 9 out of 10 people can’t or won’t be able to do it.

    More importantly though, I find it really offensive – not to mention a rather slippery slope – that the government has decided it has the right to legislate morality.

  4. Gx1080 says:

    Damn. I wonder in how many seconds this show of doucheness will be hacked. And, no you cant censor the Internet moron. Protip: Try watching the fucking ESRB tag before you buy GTA to little Timmy for making him STFU instead of screwing the guys that can buy those games with their fucking money.

  5. Iconic says:

    Why is Australia so allergic to adult content?

    In the US we’re slightly allergic to sexual content, because of our puritan religious traditions.

    In Germany, they’re phobic about violence, largely because of the Nazis.

    What’s Australia’s excuse?

  6. L'Emmerdeur says:

    When did the Ayatollahs take over Australia?

    Do they not see the hypocrisy in chastising Iran and its practices when they do EXACTLY THE SAME THING?

    Meanwhile, the drug and sex trades run rampant in the rapidly deteriorating streets of Australia’s major cities.

    God, white people are stupid, whichever way the water spins down the toilet bowl.

  7. neispace says:

    Iconic-To be fair, given a lot of the stuff I’ve seen on the internet America’s problem is that we aren’t allergic enough. You don’t have to be puritan to think some censorship is healthy for society in general. Any 12 year old can switch off the safe search filter on google image search and instantly get reams of pornographic images or worse. Heck, you can even find fetish material on youtube.

    Everyone thinks legislating morality is bad, but we do it all the time. Making child pornography illegal is a moral statement that the government legislates. The issue is not that we legislate morality, but how strict we do so. The best case is to do so to prevent obvious harm and exploitation, like any law. It’s just too often people overreact. To prevent drunk driving, you shouldn’t outlaw cars.

    With this, I honestly can’t see why. Videogames simply aren’t a real risk to warrant legislation. If anything, Australia should just let a “buyer beware” model exist and adopt a mature rating. Usually the problem is informed consent, and its much easier to educate the consumer to be informed. It’s trickier in other cases though.

  8. TPRJones says:

    “You don’t have to be puritan to think some censorship is healthy for society in general.”

    That’s true. You don’t have to be a puritan to think that. Many fascits think that as well without being in any way puritans.

  9. fatbutt says:

    Would censoring google/youtube really lead to a healthier society, in a way that can’t be reached by better parenting? Take care of your kids, people!

  10. Iconic says:

    @neispace

    I understand that it’s more a matter of “where we draw the line” than whether there is a line drawn. My point is:

    Australia is drawing the line well short of where most “western” nations draw it. Is there a particular cultural reason for that?

    I’m not here to debate the morality of sex or violence. I’m just curious why Australia seems more publicly offended by it than other nations.

  11. yunk says:

    I thought Australia didn’t do this sort of thing. Or is it like Europe where all the sexual content you want is fine but no violence or saying mean things about ethnic groups.

    “You don’t have to be puritan to think some censorship is healthy for society in general.”
    no you just have to think one of the following:
    1. you can predict the future and know what sort of discussions and ideas will positively impact the future and what will not
    2. you are better than your neighbors

    It’s not about puritanism, it’s not left or right. It’s much more stasist vs dynamist.

  12. neispace says:

    TPRjones: Censorship exists. It’s not fascist to have official boundaries for culturally unacceptable behavior in the public square. Everyone is focused on censorship in the negative because of overreaction-this australian case is one. But we do censor things already through law when its deemed harmful: we don’t allow cigarette ads targeted towards children for example.

    I’m not talking legitimate differences of opinion with this, I’m talking things which have a real, harmful impact on people individually or in society .

    Iconic:

    No idea. Usually when people move to do this its driven by a series of incidents like school violence, and fades when the memory of it does.

    Fatbutt:

    Unfortunately you can’t. Unless you supervise them 24-7 while they use the internet, it’s just too easy to bypass them. It’s just clicking a toggle button or searching for a specific term. You even get accidental porn in the course of normal searching.

    Plus, it’s kind of unfair to ask parents to better raise their children in a culture which often has only one parent doing the actual raising.

    Yunk:

    usually the stuff censored isn’t so much about ideas or discussions. I’m against censoring of ideas, but it’s hard to find the idea behind 2 girls 1 cup that is worth protecting or that will positively affect the future. Some things are just negative impact pure and simple.

  13. VPellen says:

    I’m a bit concerned about this, but not too much so.

    The filters in place are horribly slow, and all major telecommunication companies are boycotting it. It’s entirely possible that this is simply lip service for the “think of the children” crowd.

    If, on the other hand, our government feels it reasonable to cripple the speed of the internet (and several industries in the process) in the middle of a recession, then hey, I hear England is a nice place to live; Lots of rain!

  14. UnSub says:

    To clarify:

    “However, the rating system in Australia is different; among other problems they don’t even *have* an “M” rating; things that would be rated “M” just don’t get sold.”

    We do have an M rating (we’ve got an G, PG, M, MA15+ and R18+ that covers the vast majority of released content) but video games don’t have an R18+ category so that if a game with ‘objectionable content’ doesn’t get rated MA15+, it can’t be legally sold within Australia.

    On top of this was the recent discovery that MMOs probably need to receive a rating before being sold in Australia – the industry took the view that since the content was being hosted in another country, it doesn’t need to be rated, but that’s probably not the case if it is to be sold on shelves in Australia – then the filter could really start knocking down access to such entertainment.

    Of course, so little is known about the network filter other than it will protect us from anything that the Australian public doesn’t know how far reaching it could be or even how it will operate.

  15. Ri says:

    The balance of power in the Australian senate is held by a group called Family First, a conservative religious group. The Australian government needs their support to get it’s legislation through, so it’ll do whatever it takes to keep them happy, if that means censoring the internet, then they’ll do it.

  16. Tateru Nino says:

    Approximately 25% of MMOGs applied for and received a rating from the Australian Classifications Board. The remainder weren’t refused classification… they never applied.

    The CB previously stated that MMOGs *must* be games by the legal definition, otherwise they could not have (and would not have) rated those that applied. They themselves seemed surprised to discover that there were titles being sold that weren’t rated…. and then suddenly they started changing their story and then refused to answer questions. There are 9 government organizations involved in ratings (not counting the ACMA), and not one of them is willing to talk about MMOGs at present.

    Moreover, under current legislation, a game purchased as a digital download from overseas, does not actually require a rating at all. The rating only controls sale and rental of the item where the sale or rental itself takes place within Australian jurisdiction — not usually the case with digital downloads… although material determined to be RC can be another kettle of herring, but that usually doesn’t apply to games under the current regime.

  17. Andrew Crystall says:

    Actually Scott, it’s worse than that.

    Unless there is what is deemed “substantial single player content”, the current Australian system refuses to rate the game. And yes, they did refuse to rate WoW on those grounds.

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