Okay, I have been standing on the sidelines, trying to resist the temptation to contribute to this debate, at least until we have some meaningful understanding of the true Australian Government position on this topic. However, until we have that, here are some thoughts:
You will not fail to have seen the media comments that the Australian Government is going to block access to online 'games' not suitable for under 15s. The problem arises partly because the highest rating for computer games under the Australian classification regime is MA15+ but it is complicated further by the question as to what regime an online world, such as Second Life, should correctly fall under. In Australia, content must be rated under the classification scheme, but actual enforcement of the scheme falls under the state and territory laws for film, publications and computer games. TV is subject to a self-regulatory scheme, but 'online content' is under the auspices of ACMA. This is all subject to change when the Internet filtering scheme is introduced.
By my reckoning Second Life is not a game, and therefore should not be classified as such. More correctly it should be recognised as an online community, and therefore not subject to the games classification regime.
The definition of 'computer game' is:
'5A Meaning of computer game
(1) A computer game is a computer program and any associated data capable of generating a display on a computer monitor, television screen, liquid crystal display or similar medium that allows the playing of an interactive game.
(2) A computer program, data associated with a computer program or a computer program and any associated data that:
(a) is capable of generating new elements or additional levels into a game (the original game) that is a computer game under subsection (1); and
(b) is contained in a device separate from that containing the original game;is also a computer game.
(3) However, a computer game does not include an advertisement for a publication, film or computer game.'
There is no time here to get into game theory etc and there is scope for a bigger project on this, but in short Second Life is not a game.
For example, see the Human Rights Guidelines for online games providers, developed by the Council of Europe in 2008, which state: 'Although online virtual universes, such as Second Life, are confronted with some of the same issues connected with online social interaction as games, they are, for the purposes of these guidelines, not seen as online games. In comparison with online games, such universes only to a lesser degree constitute a programmed experience under the control of a game publisher. Virtual universes also lack a specified gaming scenario and set of goals to achieve for the gamer, characteristics which are normally found in online videogames.'
Needless to say this is causing a lot of angst in the Australian SL community. For the Metaverse Journal's take on this, see here.
I think logically Second Life should be regulated as communication rather than content, given its function as a social networking platform. I will be monitoring developments closely.