Comparing classifications 2010 & 2011

Comparing Classifications: feature films and video...
01 May 2013

The classifications assigned to films and games by different countries are substantially variable as are the symbols, names and meanings used on classification labels. Nevertheless, it is interesting to compare New Zealand classifications with those of other jurisdictions, to find out what is similar and what is different between us.


The classifications assigned to films and games by different countries are substantially variable as are the symbols, names and meanings used on classification labels. Nevertheless, it is interesting to compare New Zealand classifications with those of other jurisdictions, to find out what is similar and what is different between us.


To enable comparisons to be made, we developed and applied a scoring system. Classifications were listed and ranked in increasing order of age restriction. A numerical score was attached to each classification, with less restrictive ones receiving lower scores. In general, classifications allowing parental/caregiver accompaniment below a given age were considered weaker than those that have a legally enforceable age restriction.

228 films and 128 games are included in the analysis. The film titles were mainly for cinematic release, but in some jurisdictions were only released on DVD. Respectively, 99 films and 115 games were classified in all of the jurisdictions compared.


Key Results

The comparisons for film show that

  • In general, the greater range of age restrictions available in New Zealand (eg: R13, R15, R16, etc) means that decisions can be tailored more than in jurisdictions with catch-all classifications for content targeted at an adult audience: for example, MA15+ in Australia, or R in the United States.
  • Australian classifications are inconsistent with New Zealand’s largely because of the differing principles the systems are based on which allow for parental choice in Australia at the MA15+ level, where in New Zealand these films are more likely to receive an age restriction of R16. In the comparison with Australia, a large group of films, 97 out of 224, is restricted to people 16 and over in New Zealand but has the parental accompaniment MA15+ in Australia. New Zealand’s closest classification equivalent to MA15+ is RP16. The only film classified RP16 during the period of the study was by the Film and Literature Board of Review who overturned the Classification Office R16 decision for the film 127 Hours.
  • While overall the United Kingdom and New Zealand systems are equally strong, the British Board of Film Classification is more likely to negotiate cuts than ban outright compared to the New Zealand Classification Office. New Zealand is a small market of 4 million and distributors and producers may not be as motivated to make cuts for a lower classification as they are for the United Kingdom market of 63 million people.
  • The strength of the New Zealand system tips closer to that of the United States because 18 films in the sample are classified M (unrestricted) in New Zealand, but rated R in America. The reason is most likely because sexual content is assessed differently between the two systems. In the United States, R was applied to 91% of the titles and is the only option for films intended for an adult audience, apart from NC17+. NC17+ does not appear at all for the 134 titles in the data set, and was therefore not applied to 18 films classified R18 in New Zealand — all rated R in the United States. These films included Drive, Saw 3D, The Human Centipede, and Harry Brown.
  • While 180 film titles formed the data set for comparison between New Zealand and Ontario, just three (less than 2%) are fully age-restricted in Ontario. Ontario and Australia are on a par as the most liberal systems in the comparison group. In Ontario, this is mostly due to the high use of their 14A classification which, similar to Australia’s MA15+, is a parental accompaniment restriction.
  • The relative strength of the Singaporean system compared to New Zealand’s is due to a number of films receiving an M (unrestricted) classification here, but classified restrictively in Singapore as either NC16, M18 or R21. Many of these films contain sexual references and material of a sexual nature that may be less acceptable within the Singaporean cultural context.

The comparisons for games show that:

  • Overall, the New Zealand game classification system is more restrictive than Australia’s during the period under comparison. While New Zealand made frequent use of its R18 option for games — other than banning games — no high-level restriction was available in Australia during the period. Australia has since introduced an R18 for games. Although it’s a small subset of the total sample, the majority of games classified M in New Zealand were classified MA15+ in Australia. Almost all of the games classified R16 in New Zealand were classified less restrictively as MA15+ in Australia.
  • Similarly, the United States’ ESRB system is also less restrictive than New Zealand’s system. The only classifications that have equivalent strength between the two systems are the New Zealand unrestricted M and the United States Teen classification. Of the 19 Teen games in the sample of 130, 15 were restricted in New Zealand.
  • While New Zealand and Ontario film classification systems are at odds, the effect of enforcement of ESRB ratings in Ontario strengthens their game classification system to equivalency with New Zealand’s. 71% of the games compared between the two countries are classified relatively consistently.
  • Where it is not enforced, but treated as advisory only, the PEGI system is much less restrictive than New Zealand’s. The decision whether to enforce PEGI ratings at point-of-sale is made at government level. For example, in the United Kindgom, which switched to the PEGI system in 2013, the ratings will be enforced at point-of-sale for 12, 16 and 18. In Ireland, anything receiving a PEGI 18 is assessed by the Irish Film Classification Office (IFCO) against Irish classification criteria, and may be banned or released with an IFCO classification. Otherwise, in Ireland, videogames are exempt from classification, but the country does support the PEGI system. Germany is notable for remaining outside the PEGI system.
  • The Singaporean system is less restrictive than New Zealand’s in spite of 67 ‘M18’ restricted titles, compared to 28 R18s in New Zealand. The overall comparison could be skewed by the number of games in the sample that were ‘approved for distribution’ – in other word, not rated by the MDA. The basis for Singapore’s Media Development Authority’s decision whether to classify particular games or just approve them for distribution is unclear at the time of writing, but games approved for distribution can carry another jurisdiction’s advice, for example, ESRB labels. Of the 62 games classified R16 in New Zealand, half were restricted to 18 years and over by the MDA, indicating a more restrictive system than ours in some respects.
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