The Australian Customs Service confirmed yesterday that importing UK and North American copies of Grand Theft Auto IV into the country would likely contravene the Prohibited Imports Regulations. This is an offence that carries a fine of up to $110,000.
"Imported copies of GTA IV could potentially fall within the definition of a prohibited import, if they contain material above the MA 15+ rating [given to the Australian version of the game]", a Customs spokesperson said yesterday. "The maximum penalty for this type of offence is a fine of up to $110,000. Customs may detain or seize any items that are suspected of contravening the regulations."
The statement was prompted by media reports indicating that Australian gamers were ordering 'unmodified' copies of the game from overseas that may contain legally objectionable material. The import of objectionable material into Australia is prohibited without permission under Regulation 4A of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956. This includes computer games that are unsuitable for a minor to see or play.
As was confirmed last week by developer Rockstar Games, the Australian version of GTA IV has been modified to conform to the MA 15+ standard. (Unlike the UK and New Zealand, Australia does not have an R classification for video games.) These changes were made by the developer before the game was submitted to the Office of Film and Literature Classification. The UK release of GTA IV was classified 18+ by the British Board of Film Classification.
Rockstar Games has refused to release specific information about cut content, other than to assure gamers that the changes "are not significant." There has been a great deal of speculation on the Internet about what these edits/cuts could entail, including rumours of missing cinematic scenes and toned-down sexual content. "We would not release the game in Australia at all if we felt such changes compromised the quality of the game," Rockstar Games stated in a press release. A persistent rumour, involving the game's protagonist using a handgun to sexually molest another male character, has been described by Rockstar Games as "ludicrous" and "100 per cent false."
Whatever these modifications involve, it would appear that law-abiding gamers would be best advised to stick with the local version of the game. The furore has drawn attention to the need for a revised classification system. As Rockstar Games stated in its press release, "we believe the Australian rating system needs an R18+ rating for games, or edits will continue to be necessary... Speak up and let your local politicians know you support an R rating for games."