So you’ve already heard the news – those Aussies have shafted us yet again and we are getting the Australian version of GTA IV. Though we love to dig the boot into our poorer cousins, in this case we have to feel sympathy for them, as it is their politicians that are making these decision rather than the general public. Australia gets some cut down game version because current censorship laws do not include an “R18+” classification, so anything that doesn’t meet the MA15+ standard (analogous to R16 in
New Zealand) simply gets banned. Changes to these laws must be agreed on by the Commonwealth and all state and territory attorneys-general, but South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson (pictured below) continues to be opposed to changes that he argues would allow children easy access to “potentially harmful material”, meaning that there is no end in sight for the current situation.
What can New Zealanders do about this? I contacted the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) in New Zealand to clarify points of law surrounding censorship as it relates to GTA IV.
The OFLC classifies video games in New Zealand. They were established by the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.
Under section 8 of the Act, video games (any video recording that is designed for use wholly or principally as a game) are exempt from labelling requirements, and don’t have to be classified – unless the game would be likely to be restricted if it was classified.
This means that games already classified in Australia as G, PG, or M, are generally not reclassified in New Zealand. However anything rated MA15+ in Australia does get submitted for classification, and depending on the content an R13, R16 or R18 classification may be given (even though there is no R18 classification in Australia). It is illegal for any game that requires classification under law to be sold without an New Zealand classification label.
We already know that GTA IV (in some form) was submitted for classification, and was given an R18 rating in New Zealand. However, as already mentioned, an R18 rating does not necessarily mean that it was a different version to that rated MA15+ in Australia. What is clear is that Rockstar can only release in New Zealand, the version that they submitted to the OFLC.
Just to reiterate: they cannot submit the “rest of the world” version to the OFLC, obtain a classification, and then distribute a different version – even if that version is supposedly “cut down”. That cut version would need to be submitted individually for classification before it could be legally sold.
Therefore, the fact that it is now confirmed that New Zealand will be receiving the Australian version of the game means that Rockstar knew all along that we would be supplied with a cut version of the game. Ease of production and distribution has been favoured over delivering us the full version of the game as intended by the game developers – gee thanks!
So what are the options for the disgruntled NZ GTA fan? Importing is the obvious solution that comes to most people’s minds, but some are cautious because they are unsure about the legality.
You can import GTA IV is the short answer. The long answer is that as an individual, you are legally entitled to import whatever you want for personal use as long as the material is not objectionable. From the OFLC website:
An objectionable publication is defined by section 3 of the Act as one that deals with matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence in a way that is likely to be harmful to the public good.
The website has more detail but here are some things that would be deemed objectionable: sexual exploitation of children, sexual violence or coercion, torture or extreme violence, bestiality, necrophilia, urophilia, and coprophilia. If you were to import something deemed objectionable (such as Manhunt 2), it would be seized. But GTA IV would be unlikely to be deemed objectionable (in my opinion) given that it has received classification without “excision” elsewhere in the world.
So what about the rest of New Zealand? Is there any hope for those buying in retail outlets?
Anyone can submit anything for classification. While you do not need a classification and label to import something for personal usage, one is required if you wish to on-sell it. Similarly if a distributor wanted to sell “uncut” GTA IV in New Zealand, they could import the game themselves and submit it for classification – if given a rating in New Zealand the game could then be sold legally.
Submitting a video game for classification costs $1400 plus $100 per hour (how many hours gameplay does GTA IV offer?), but you may apply for this to be waived if you are an individual and do not have any financial interest in the classification. There are no set criteria for this waiver that I was informed of, and each case is considered on its merits. However once someone (anyway) has submitted the game and had it classified, all New Zealanders benefit from those actions as the game does not need to be reclassified ever again. See the hypothetical example below:
Mr. Joe Bloggs submits GTA IV for classification. He either pays $1100 or gets it waived. The censor (theoretically) classifies the game R18 and does not request any cuts (”excisions”) to be made from the game. Now EB games or anyone else can legally sell the game, after they obtain R18 labels from the Film and Video Labelling Body (who provide labels and are in charge of ensuring that those labels match the intended game). It’s a long process, but theoretically possible. However if the censor deems that excisions are required from the game, that would be the end of the story given that we don’t have the ability to make those excisions from the game before they are sold.
In summary, here are the ways you can obtain the real GTA IV:
- Import from overseas (for personal use only, not able to be resold in NZ)
- Obtain and then submit GTA IV to the OFLC for classification
- Wait for someone to do (2) and then buy it from a retail store selling it
- Lobby Rockstar and T2 to do (2)
So there you have it. An idiot’s guide to how to get GTA IV uncut. Good luck Mr. Bloggs!