18 July 2022

FPB’s Guidelines may be unnecessarily rigid

With the release of the Classification Guidelines for the Classification of Films, Games and Certain Publications on Friday, 1 July 2022 (“the Guidelines”), the Films and Publication Board (“FPB”) have increased the scope of the guidelines that are taken into account when their classification committee evaluates and classifies the films, games, and publications submitted to it.

For some context, no film or game may be distributed or exhibited in public unless it has been classified by the FPB, so their guidelines are extremely important in determining age restrictions and consumer advisories. The stated objectives of the FPB in this regard includes ensuring that consumers of content, and particularly parents and guardians, are “informed of what may be contained [in such content]” and will be “able to ensure that children are not prematurely exposed to harmful content that may have a socio-psychological impact on their development.”

The extensions of these guidelines run the spectrum between reasonable and outright ridiculous.

On the more reasonable end, “competitive intensity” (i.e. the degree to which a player becomes personally involved in the game, and the level of excitement created in the player, as they engage with the various game levels in order to gain incentives and rewards) is now taken into account where incentives and rewards are granted for violence (the definition of which now includes “threats of violence”). Rewarding violence is absolutely something that should be subject to age restriction. The person playing the game should be able to understand the context of the violence, and should have the ability to determine that the acts depicted on-screen should never translate into real life consequences (no matter how badly you got whipped in an online match). One would hope that competitive intensity may in future be applied towards the incentives and rewards granted in the form of lootboxes as well.

As a lifelong gamer, who started playing Ice Climber and Circus Charlie on the NES in 1991 at the tender age of 3, I have very strong views over censorship, especially censorship for its own sake. The Guidelines’ removal of an “All ages” rating, and the ban on allowing children under the age of 10 years to play a game classified ‘Parental Guidance’ (‘PG’) “unless and only when supervised by an adult” is, in my view, an example of censorship for its own sake. It is difficult to imagine a world where children are called to acts of violence by playing Candy Crush, or where they seek the help of a therapist after a particularly intense game of Pinball, or Tetris.

There are indeed particular reasons for these rules, but are those reasons really of such general application that it is necessary to intrude on the parent/guardians’ ability to parent and control the media and content that their child consumes? Gaming has demonstrable benefits for children with regard to deductive reasoning, hand-eye co-ordination, and other developmental aspects, why then is the submission that an “All ages” rating for games cannot exist being supported in our law?

Unfortunately, we must adopt the good, reasonable guidelines alongside the bad, ridiculous ones. At the same time, it will be borderline impossible to stop children under 10 playing games unsupervised, particularly with the proliferation of personal devices (especially those with a younger userbase, like the Nintendo Switch). It accordingly remains to be seen how effective these guidelines will be in controlling these aspects of use.

If you or your company are confused about how these guidelines will affect your business, get in touch with us at info@legalese.co.za and we can assist you.

– Kyle Freitag