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By now most of you would be aware of the change in classification markings from the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) in Australia. And many of you would have either heard of, or participated in, the outcry from the public regarding the change. On the whole the objections have little to do with the change in philosophy from the OFLC in regards to better educating audiences about the content of films and video games in Australia. We would all agree that there needs to be some guidance for parents and other members of the public so that they can make an informed decision in cinemas, retail outlets and rental stores. But the outcry surrounds the apparent disregard for common sense and the continuing trend for Australian governments and regulatory bodies to be completely reactionary.

Admittedly, issues such as censorship and classification are incredibly complicated, particularly in our modern litigious society where one false move can mean thousands of dollars in court for a number of parties. I don’t purport to know much more than the regular Joe on the street, but that’s the point of view organizations such as the OFLC seem to be taking with a grain of salt.

Let’s open up this can of worms and see what we come up with...

The Argument


Firstly, let me get a few things straight about what we should be arguing here.

The colour change is probably inevitable. Australia has a reputation for being overly politically correct (evidenced by recent decisions to remove many Christian references in schools during Christmas time for fear of offending other religions), so when it was announced that there would be a change to the classification logos it came as no surprise. It doesn’t make them less ugly, but what’s done is done on the colour front.

There is a need to include ratings information somewhere on the packaging. While the average DVD fanatic and anyone with a sensible head on their shoulders probably doesn’t need as much guidance as we receive, there is an obligation to cater for the morons who can’t tell the difference between M and MA or want to know whether the violence in a film is “mild” or “moderate”.

No one should be disputing the age restrictions on films and video games. They are there for a reason, and assist retailers and cinemas in enforcing age restrictions with clear guidelines. That said, the fact the OFLC deem it unnecessary to include an R rating for video games is a terrible oversight, and smells of an ignorant organization who is neglecting a large market of gamers who are over 18 and have a high disposable income. But more on that later.

The Survey


The OFLC commissioned a survey online which gave the general public a chance to have their say on the proposed new classification markings suggested by the board. The intention was to introduce classification logos which were “easier to understand and more informative”. Part of the reason for the change is from the general public’s input (one would argue that this translated to the “vocal minority”), which also included consumer research indicating several key issues in regards to the current classifications.

Many of the participants in the consumer research indicated they didn’t know the difference between the M and MA classifications, and weren’t aware of the restrictions on the MA rating (persons under 15 years aren’t permitted to view the content, in the strictest sense). It sounds stupid, but there are plenty of ignorant members of the general public who have no idea about anything, let alone film classifications.

Part of the reason for the change, as quoted in the OFLC press release, was because “research conducted by the OFLC, as well as feedback it has received from consumers and industry, has consistently indicated that the old classification markings often suffered from being hard to find or hard to read because they were too small or not obvious enough against the background.” Let’s pick that apart, shall we?

The previous classification logos, used for the past twenty years, were supposedly “hard to find”. They’re on the front cover, dammit!! And as for them being “hard to read...too small or not obvious enough against the background”, well that’s just getting beyond a joke. The point of the logos is for consumers to have the information available to them for guidance, not have it shoved down their throat and ranked just as important as the damn title. When will the OFLC realize that you can’t legislate against stupidity?

They were also meant to help the public understand the reasons behind the classifications by providing clear descriptions of the content. If by the word clear the OFLC means “big” then they’ve done their job, but I’m not too sure the public will understand these wordings any more or less than they did the previous incarnations. Case in point; the Batman Begins cover informs us that the film contains “moderate themes”. How is that meant to be clear? The latest Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith cover tells us that there is “moderate science fiction violence”. Fantastic. It’s a science fiction movie with violence in it, for Christ’s sake. What next? We’ll probably see Wallace & Gromit’s latest flick include “mild violence using clay puppets” or the sequel to Saw described as having “strong horror themes involving a creepy little wooden thing riding a bike.” If the size of the actual logo wasn’t bad enough, we’ve got a whole essay of descriptions on the front cover that don’t actually make any more sense than just using the words “violence”, “horror” or “sex scenes”.  

The OFLC sought the help of Trout & Partners who, in between fishing expeditions, advised the board on the most effective way to implement and market the new design. In their wisdom, they came up with these absolute gems which undoubtedly have contributed to the farcical logos we have today:

[*]To attract attention, the markings should take up 20% of available space
Twenty per cent? Where the hell are you trying to attract attention from? The moon?

[*]The markings should be used for the duration of an advertisement, not just the opening or ending.
Are you serious? We haven’t even got to the stage of deciding to see the film yet, so why do we have to watch a trailer with a logo (taking up 20% of the screen, remember) plastered on it for the entire time? Luckily it seems the OFLC backed down on this one, but it doesn’t give Marlin & Friends much credence, does it?

[*]To have more impact, consumer advice should be in quotation marks.
Who are you quoting? The CEO? God? And why does it make any difference? I might not pay much attention if the rating was Frequent Coarse Language but if you mention “Frequent Coarse Language” then I’ll be putting my earmuffs on before I enter the cinema, that’s for sure.

Included in the survey were a number of proposed designs, which you can view below. The full survey can be viewed on the OFLC website, www.oflc.gov.au . These proposed designs also incorporated colour schemes (the same format of the current logos), based on all the information they had previously gathered from market research, consultants and the vocal minority who kicked up the fuss in the first place.

The Region 4 Ratings Logo Disaster
Initial reactions to the proposed changes weren’t all that favourable (message boards were filled with posts expressing their dislike of any of the proposed designs), which should have raised alarm bells at the OFLC from the beginning. In isolation the logos didn’t look so bad, but examples of the designs on video and DVD covers were buried online, just ambiguous enough to have most of the participants in the survey skip over what has become the major misstep in the changeover.

None of the designs proposed in the survey was actually settled on as the final version to be used on DVD covers and the like. Instead, the OFLC plonked for a hybrid version incorporating elements from every single one. So how could the survey have been useful, when the OFLC decided that none of the proposed designs in its entirety was appropriate? And the physical size of the logos on the packaging was never broached with the public, so it came as no surprise when they decided to make the classifications the most prominent feature of the cover art.

The Markings


The OFLC settled on a final design and released it to the public. If they really cared what the public thought they could have taken the time (and added cost, admittedly) to test out the new logos in order to gauge public reaction. But they didn’t, and this is what we’re lumped with:

The Region 4 Ratings Logo Disaster
Again, in isolation they don’t look too bad. The colours might be a bit of a pain but they’re bearable. Everything looks clear and relatively concise so that consumers are well informed about the classification. On the other hand, however, are the major issues brought about by the OFLC’s penchant for over-reaction.

The size of the markings borders on the ridiculous. Firstly, with the new colours making the logos stand out more than ever before, there is no direct need to increase the physical size as well. And the descriptions can easily be transferred to the back cover without any major ramifications. Surely the word “General” is redundant, as I would defy anyone with two eyes (or even one, I suppose) to tell me they can’t recognize the triangle logo, or at least deduce that it’s a very friendly rating.

The Arguments



“The whole point of the survey was to receive feedback from the public before they made any decisions, so you should have been arguing back then, not now.”

Well, I did. But one lonely reviewer among the hundreds (possibly thousands, but the OFLC hasn’t disclosed how many participants there were in the survey) isn’t going to make much of a difference. And the real likelihood is that the conservatives and prudes who complained to the OFLC in the first place would have made up the majority of respondents to the survey, throwing their ill-directed weight behind the changes in order to protect us from the big, bad world outside.

The fact that the final design resembled none of the initial proposals doesn’t give you much confidence that the feedback would have been taken on board anyway. So now is the perfect time to give the OFLC a jolt to ensure that their conservatism is reined in a little so we can settle on a happy medium.

“The OFLC have put in so much time and effort with these changes that they’ve gone way too far to change anything.”

True, but they can work with what they’ve got and modify it slightly so it’s not so ridiculously over the top. If there’s enough public backlash they may be forced to make some sort of change, hopefully for the better. We’ll outline some options below, all of which don’t require any major changes in policy or basic design of the logos.

The other point is, now that we seem to be stuck with these changes, we have to speak up if they aren’t up to scratch otherwise there’s a real danger of other countries following suit. The OFLC made a specific point that they were pioneering a system which linked film and video game classifications, with other countries looking to adopt a similar model. While most other countries don’t have the same high level of conservatism as Australia, you wouldn’t want your native country trying to re-decorate your DVD covers based on the Region 4 model.

The most interesting and humorous example is the cover of Scrubs: Season One. The UK version on the right includes the quaint little logo in the bottom right corner, small and unobtrusive but obvious enough to tell you that it contains some themes which aren’t right for the kiddies. The Region 4 version, on the other hand, throws up a ratings logo which almost completely covers up the spoon in the picture. It’s almost a little ironic that it now seems Zach Braff is screwing up his face at the logo rather than what’s in the spoon.

The Region 4 Ratings Logo Disaster
“There needs to be some protection for parents when selecting films and video games for their children, and these new classification symbols make it more obvious.”

Yes, but how far do we go? We can’t protect parents from themselves. Many years back there was a case of a young girl becoming highly distressed when her mum rented Scream for her daughter’s slumber party. Everyone was quick to blame the film industry, the OFLC, the Government and the rental stores, basically everyone but the parent who ignored the warnings on the cover (which were in place back then, and had been for twenty years). Said parent was also present at the party but failed to realize that the film might not have been too appropriate for young, impressionable minds. Will the increased change in size and colour guard against a parenting error such as this? Doubtful. And who is to say that incidents like this won’t happen with the new logos? No one, but the point is you can’t jump at shadows and become reactionary every time a twelve year-old claps her eyes on some blood and guts, or a pair of tits.

“What’s the big deal? They’re just logos on a DVD cover! You buy DVDs for the content, not the cover.”

That may be true, but a large portion of the DVD-buying public like their covers free from intrusive ratings logos and are prepared to put their money where their mouth is. They are the ones who are clued in to the ease in which one can import movies from overseas. They are the ones with the disposable income, the DVD collection of over 100, and the nous to severely affect the sales figures in Australia because of the horrid impact the logos have on DVD covers, among other things. Region 4 has often been the poor cousin to the US and UK in terms of release dates, special features and nifty packaging, most of which is out of the distributors’ control. The logos are also largely out of the control of those who produce the discs and their covers (Madman, for one, is reportedly really peeved at the drastic change) but this time the OFLC has stepped in and created another reason for cashed-up and internet-savvy consumers to head overseas for their movies and games. And why do you think websites like DVDCoverart existed? Because there were plenty of people out there who really did care about the outer casing that holds their favourite DVDs.

Governments and studios are so hell-bent on curtailing piracy, yet they neglect to see the impact an ugly cover might have on sales. Those techno-savvy DVD customers come into play again, with their cable internet access and DVD-burners able to whip off a copy of any latest release with ease. The appeal of the “official” versions is that you’ve buying a total package, with a nice-looking case to keep the disc in and hopefully a bunch of extras that you don’t usually get with the pirated versions. Why pay for the total package when the cover looks so damn ugly? Might as well just download the ripped version for free. (Note: I do not, in any way, encourage film/video game piracy. The argument is purely there to demonstrate the lack of thought the OFLC has put in regarding the consequences of the new logo designs.)

“It’s not as if you’re going to change anything by whining or boycotting Region 4 discs. And it will have a minimal impact on sales in Australia, if at all, so just learn to live with it.”

We’re not talking about a boycott, but the impact it will have on sales of Region 4 titles can’t be underestimated. If I had a choice between a Region 1 or 2 title with standard cover art and ratings logos and a Region 4 title with the same cover except for the large logo in the bottom left I’d go for the better cover every time, especially since the discs in the US and UK are often cheaper than the Australian price anyway (particularly for new releases). The ease and immediacy of buying a Region 4 title over the counter has now been overshadowed by the fact you’ll have to live with one ugly looking cover when there’s a better option elsewhere. If it means a cover that isn’t compromised by a big ratings logo then I’m happy to wait for the import to arrive.

One would suspect there are plenty more customers like me who will hit the internet retailers more often as a result. Think of the millions of Star Wars fans who have purchased the first two Region 4 discs in the new trilogy. They now have to put up with the third installment being ruined by a great big blue “M” in the corner, not to mention the description of “moderate science-fiction violence”, whatever the hell that means. You think the Star Wars fanboys won’t make an impact? If anyone wants their product free from compromise, it’s those guys. Check out the cover below (admittedly not the final product but the only thing that will change is the description) for an example of the unsightly logo having a disastrous impact on the artwork itself:

The Region 4 Ratings Logo Disaster

The Incredible Video Game Oversight


The Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia (IEAA) was quoted as saying “70% of video game players are aged over 18 years.” That quote alone makes the Government look incredibly foolish, not to mention stuck in a time warp when computer games were tackled only by eleven year-old boys whose most violent gaming experience was being hit by a barrel playing Donkey Kong.

At present the classification system does not include an R rating for video games. Why, you ask? Well, that’s not entirely clear. The Government and OFLC have gone to great lengths to give continuity to the classifications of films and video games, yet have neglected the R rating for games because of Australia’s constant need to be politically correct. Adult film lovers are able to enjoy movies directed solely at their age range (not without censorship in many instances, mind you) but adult gamers are cut off because misinformed and reactionary bodies such as the OFLC continue to jump at shadows and protect parents from themselves.

Some responsibility has to be placed on the parents, who should be the ones monitoring what games their children are getting their hands on. And if enough money and training is directed at the retailers and rental outlets to enforce the age restrictions, then there should be no problem including games designed solely for adults that don’t need severe cuts to fall into an MA15+ classification.

The refusal to include an R rating for video games has severe ramifications. Firstly, it undermines the efforts of the OFLC and the Australian Government to regulate the classifications themselves. Secondly, and more importantly, it closes the door to a potential gold mine of adult video game sales, considering that 70% of the gaming audience doesn’t have access to games marketed specifically towards their demographic.

The Options


Believe it or not, there are several options which can really minimize the impact of these logos yet still keep the fundamental classification guidelines in place so that legislation doesn’t need to change.

Size Matters


A simple change would be to include a smaller version of the coloured ratings logo on the front of the packaging, with the rest of the classification information on the back cover. It is going to take time for the public to get used to the new colours, but once they do they will be able to easily recognize the rating of each film or video game. Parents can still search out the green and yellow logos for the kiddies, and those who want more information on the contents of what they may be viewing can simply flip over the cover. Look at the example below (whipped up in two minutes using the magic of Photoshop). Which would you prefer?

The Region 4 Ratings Logo Disaster

Use Stickers


Now, I’m no legal expert, but surely by using a sticker instead of printing the classification on the actual cover itself, the message is still getting across to consumers. Those who wish to remove the sticker have to go through the process of physically taking it off, thereby relinquishing any claim they have to not knowing or understanding the classification of the film. The rest of the ratings info (including another logo if need be) can still be printed on the back cover so that when you do take the sticker off the classification is still available for reference.

This seems like the easiest option, as the OFLC gets to keep their ugly and oversized logos, the distributors can use cover art which doesn’t have to feature a symbol that takes up a quarter of the space and consumers can receive the classification information without having it shoved in their face after they’ve purchased the product. But knowing Australia and some of the utterly monumental cock-ups of the past, I wouldn’t be surprised if the stickers ended up tearing the cover to shreds instead of using the new kind of sticker which is a breeze to peel off. Only time will tell...

Reversible Covers


While Madman isn’t exactly one of the largest distributors in Australia, they might just be the most important organisation if the OFLC doesn’t back down and resize the logos or use stickers on the covers. With such a loyal band of Anime devotees and film fans in general, Madman is reportedly promising to use either removable bands (as distinct from stickers) on their box set packaging or design reversible covers so customers can simply use the “B side” cover without the classification logo when they get their product home. It’s a brilliant move which will hopefully be taken up by the bigger distribution houses, but let’s not hold our breath.

An R Rating for Video Games


Simple. What’s the point of cutting off the video games ratings at MA? Adults play video games in larger numbers than children, so having to censor violence and sex performed by tiny little pixels borders on the ridiculous. There isn’t enough pressure from gaming groups and other bodies such as the IEAA to lift the ban on R rated games. Now is the time to do something about it.

Conclusion


Will all this analysis and argument come to much? Probably not. Is it necessary to voice our disapproval anyway? Absolutely. Once again the Aussies have been shafted by an over-zealous Government and an OFLC that is trying too damn hard to please everyone. Put the onus back on the parents to take responsibility for their children. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, so plastering these giant logos on the front of our DVD and video game covers is completely over the top.

Spare a thought for the distributors, who had this nightmare thrust upon them and may well oppose the change as much as a lot of the public. It’s just that they’ve got no choice but to comply, and any objections from their end would have done them no favours or at the very least fallen on deaf ears.

The need for classifications and appropriate markings cannot be denied. But the way the Government has gone about it is completely out of touch with reality. It’s not too late to make changes, many of which are simple alterations that should have been considered and implemented in the first place. The public was consulted but there has been no mention of the feedback obtained in the survey, and none of the proposed examples became the final product after all.

The frustrating thing is that Australia has tried so hard to come across as a “nice” bunch of people, yet the Government sees this as a green light to make regulatory changes which are completely over the top. I’m sure the OFLC heads will sit back in their leather chairs and denounce the classification logos a complete success, safe in the knowledge that there can’t be any complaints from ignorant parents because the markings take up as much cover space as the damn title.

We’ll see just how successful this ridiculous change turns out to be. The vast majority will just grin and bear it, knowing full well that you can’t mess with pig-headed politicians and Government organizations. The rest of us will vote with our hip pockets by choosing a cover that isn’t compromised by giant coloured squares with letters in them. Or, at the very least, we’ll continue to snigger at just how much of a laughing stock Australia, and region 4 DVD in particular, continues to be.

Do you want to voice your opinion? Check out the online petition set up by one of our readers here.

Or you could go staight to the source itself and email . And tell them I sent you...


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