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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.