Most fans of the Grand Theft Auto franchise reacted with shock when it was announced that New Zealand would receive the same edited version of the game that Australia will be getting.

We were similarly confused as to why a MA15+ title in Australia would be rated R18 in New Zealand, so we put a few questions to Bill Hastings, Chief Censor for the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

Mr Hastings was kind enough to answer our queries, so we hope this will help everyone gain a better understanding of the situation.

GP: Did Rockstar submit to you the Australian edited version of Grand Theft Auto IV to be rated in New Zealand, or did they submit to you the full, unedited version?

Mr Hastings: Rockstar submitted a game called Grand Theft Auto IV to us for classification. They did not tell us which version of the game they submitted, or even that there were other versions. All we know is that the version they submitted for classification was the version they intended to market in New Zealand. Because we only got one version for classification, we cannot compare it to any other version.

GP: If they submitted the edited Australian version, why was it rated R18 here instead of a rating more in line with Australia?

Mr Hastings: The game was classified R18 in New Zealand because the version we examined was sufficiently violent to warrant an R18 classification. We noted little, if any, difference between GTA IV and any of the other games in the series. Rockstar itself says in its press release that there are only “minor differences” that are “not significant” between the Australian and US/EU versions. This makes me think that if indeed there is a US/EU version and if it was to be submitted to us for classification, it too would likely attract an R18 classification.

You should also consider that Rockstar says it edited the game to comply with Australian law, not New Zealand law. In the past, US/EU versions of the Grand Theft Auto series have complied with New Zealand law without the editing required to comply with Australian law. This is because, unlike Australia, New Zealand has always had R16 and R18 classifications available for games.

I leave it to you to surmise what pressure there must be on the Australian MA15+ classification to absorb games that would otherwise have to be banned in Australia because they have no R classifications. I also leave it to you to ponder (because I have no answer) why Take-Two Interactive appears to have submitted the Australian version to us for classification instead of the usual US/EU version of the GTA games that have always passed muster here in the past.

GP: If our readers import the unedited version from, for example, the UK, what is the likely penalty if they get caught?

Mr Hastings: Unless the game a person imports is objectionable (as is the case, for example, with Manhunt), there is no penalty for importing a game for your own use. A foreign classification is no guarantee that a game is not objectionable under New Zealand law. In the case of GTA IV however, I note that the British Board of Film Classification has given it an 18 certificate, so I rather doubt that either version is objectionable.

If your readers import the UK version into New Zealand for their own use, there is no penalty provided it is not objectionable under New Zealand law. It does not even need a New Zealand label if you import it for your own use. If anyone decides to offer the UK version for sale or hire in New Zealand however, it will have to be submitted for classification and a New Zealand label.

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Well, there you have it! Our thanks to Bill Hastings and the Office of Film and Literature Classification for taking the time to answer our questions.