Ask a gamer 4: What’s the ‘M’ rating mean?

Posted on March 9, 2015

This  is a very good question, as the details of the Australian Classification Board‘s rating system are not really all that intuitive. I’ve commented previously on the age-appropriateness of Halo but it’s worth going into a bit more detail. The key difference here is the distinction between the standard ‘M’ rating (with the blue symbol) and the MA 15+ rating (look for red). Both ratings are a recommendation about the suitability of a film or game for children under the age of 15, but they differ in the strength of that recommendation.

A legend to all the classifications in the system

A legend to all the classifications in the system

The standard ‘M’ rating is what is known as an ‘advisory category’, meaning that the game or film is rated as being moderate in impact and might not be suitable for children under the age of 15. Technically, under-15s are still able to legally access the game, but parents are advised that it may have elements such as violence or nudity that are not appropriate for under-15 year-olds. Crucially, ‘Parents and guardians may need to find out more about the film or computer game’s specific content, before deciding whether the material is suitable for their child’.

In contrast, the MA 15+ rating is a restricted category, and denotes material that is classed as ‘strong in impact’. This means that children must provide identification to prove they are over the age of 15 before buying games or films with this rating, and that parental supervision is essential for children under the age of 15. Content like this usually has more graphic or realistic violence or sexual content which needs to be moderated by ‘an adult exercising parental control’.

Common Sense Media is an excellent resource for parents, and includes the voices of parents and kids too

Common Sense Media is an excellent resource for parents, and includes the voices of parents and kids too

In practice, what families do within their own homes cannot be regulated, and many parents are more liberal than the guidelines suggest. However it is important that families make informed decisions, and classifications can help in this. Another way to get information might be to browse some launch or gameplay trailers for specific games to get a sense of their content, or to search for it on Common Sense Media which provides much more detailed guidelines for families making such decisions. (For instance, see their take on Grand Theft Auto V, which pretty much agrees with mine.) Alternatively, you can always ‘Ask a gamer‘ and I am always happy to give my perspectives on a particular game or genre.

Game Truck Australia events are very careful when it comes to age-appropriate material. Many of our parties are for 9-11 year olds, which means that I usually keep M and MA 15+ games right out of the mix, despite the number of guests who insist that they are allowed to play them at home! I will often allow a PG game to bring some variety to the event, and if an event really wants M games available I have a process for parents to give their consent, ensuring that I monitor the gameplay closely and provide the kind of supervision suggested in the classification guidelines. At all times I am highly sensitive to the wishes and perspectives of the parents: not just of the host but those of all the guests as well. This provides the structure and boundaries necessary in such a complex situation, but also allows for flexibility and all partygoers to have a good time.

What are your views on age-appropriate video games? Comment below!

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