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Classifying video games

A collection of video game coversVideo games come under the definition of 'film' in the Classification Act

Section 2 of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 is where words and phrases used in the Act are defined. The definition for 'video game' is:

any video recording that is designed for use wholly or principally as a game

The definition for 'video recording' is:

any disc, magnetic tape, or solid state recording device containing information by the use of which 1 or more series of visual moving images may be produced electronically and shown as a moving picture

The definition for 'film' includes 'video recording', and so video games are considered under the Classification Act to be films.

Read the full definition of 'publication' in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993

Video games don't have the same classification requirements as other sorts of films

The Classification Act requires that all films have New Zealand classifications before they are supplied to the public. However, there is an exception to this rule.

Section 8 of the Classification Act says that video games are exempt from classification and labelling unless they contain restricted content. This means that if a video game is of an unrestricted level (the level of a G, PG or M) it doesn't need to get a New Zealand classification. Therefore, video games only need to get a New Zealand classification if they are of a restricted level.

In other words, any game that has been

  1. restricted (classified as MA15+) in Australia
  2. refused classification (banned) in Australia or Britain
  3. classified 15, 18 or R18 in Britain
  4. or has restricted content under New Zealand law

must be submitted for classification and carry a New Zealand label. As with films and DVDs, it is an offence to supply an underage person with a restricted game.

Find out what video games have been classified in New Zealand

All restricted games must have a New Zealand label before sale (including sale on TradeMe and other New Zealand based trading websites). As unrestricted games do not need official New Zealand labels, they are often sold with their overseas labels visible.

Video games are classified using the same classification criteria as films and other sorts of publications

As with cinematic films and DVDs, video games must in some way deal with sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence before they can be classified in New Zealand. The classifications which can be assigned to video games are the same as those for other publications, ranging from G to Objectionable.

Learn more about the classification criteria

Some of the games which have been classified Objectionable (banned) by the Office of Film and Literature Classification are:

  1. Reservoir Dogs
  2. Manhunt
  3. Manhunt 2
  4. Postal 2: Share the Pain

The classification for a video game applies across platforms

When classification is assigned it applies to all identical copies of the publication. This means that if a game is examined and classified on PlayStation 3, the classification applies to the Xbox 360 version so long as the content is the same. If the content is substantially different then that version will need to be examined and classified too.

Radio NZ did a story on the classification processes for games in the USA and in New Zealand

In June 2011 the Radio New Zealand show This Way Up interviewed a writer for the New York Times about how the Entertainment Review Board (ESRB) in America classifies games, and spoke to staff from the New Zealand Classification Office about how we classify games here. You can listen to the interview (23:56 minutes) below.