The last two months have seen the R18+ debate flare up to fever pitch levels once again with gamers all around Australia enjoying both the joyous highs and perilous lows. It all started back at the start of March when the Australian Classification Board banned the upcoming release of the latest Mortal Kombat, leaving gamers reeling from the loss of yet another AAA title to the dreaded RC rating. Just over 2 weeks later saw Minister O’Conner give an ultimatum to Australia’s states and territories giving us hope that one day Australian gamers wouldn’t have to put up with being treated as children forever. This was then brought crashing down again when Attorney-General Clark decided to oppose the idea, effectively forcing O’Conner’s hand at a full classification system upheaval and delaying the introduction of a R18+ rating for a good while.
The seeds of dissent have already taken hold however with the vast majority of the Australian public being very supportive of the introduction of a R18+ rating. Whilst it’s not a big enough issue to swing an election one way or the other it still manages to garner a good chunk of media attention whenever it pops up and its opposition face an uphill battle in convincing Australia that it’s a bad idea. It seems that the issue is starting to reach boiling point with the South Australian Attorney-General, Jon Rau, declaring that he’ll go it alone if the national scheme gets stuttered (with the ACT following suit) and wants to abolish the MA15+ rating entirely:
Rau, and the South Australian Labor Government, has said that he will abolish the MA15+ rating in that state, as a way of “more clearly defining” what is (and is not) suitable for children.
His proposed plan would change the system to include G, PG, M and R18+ classifications (while still allowing for games to be Refused Classification or effectively banned), making a “clear difference” between what adults can play and what is available to children.
There has been quite the reaction to this news in the media with many supporting the introduction of the R18+ rating but staying mum on the whole removal of the MA15+ rating. It’s true that the MA15+ rating has been used quite broadly in Australia with many games that got R18+ equivalents in other countries being down rated for Australia, many without modification. Additionally MA15+ rated titles are supposed to be controlled via identity checks (since they’re restricted to people over 15) however there’s no real enforcement of this and I can tell you that as a enterprising youth I was able to acquire many MA15+ titles and I was only ever checked once, when I was 16. I would happily pay the price of the MA15+ to get R18+ but I’m not so sure that it’s in Australia’s best interests to do away with the rating entirely.
You see the idea of a R18+ game brings about a whole set of rules that will need to be followed for the rating to be effective. Since these games are effectively becoming a controlled substance like cigarettes and alcohol there will need to be ID checks for those who look under 25, possible regulation of marketing materials for the games and access to the physical copies of the games restricted. This does place a burden on the retailers and could see some of them refuse to stock R18+ games just so they don’t have to bother with the controls. This already happens in the USA with Walmart refusing to stock any game classified AO or movie classified as NC17+. The MA15+ rating could still prove useful to publishers who are seeking to make their product more accessible, even if that means reworking it slightly.
That doesn’t mean that the MA15+ rating itself couldn’t be reworked a little to match up more closely with its international counterparts. The M rating already covers off material that is considered to be unsuitable for people under the age of 15 and many countries put their mature delineations at 16 or 17 (PEGI and ESRB respectively) along with their R18+ equivalent. In all honesty I believe PEGI gets it most right with their incremental ratings system but there’s even still merit with the ESRB model that allows for some material to be sold unhindered whilst still giving the R18+ option for when its required.
Realistically Australia’s rating system needs an overhaul as whilst I’d love the R18+ rating to be introduced tomorrow doing so in the style of “You can buy it in one place but not the other but ordering it from there is fine” sort of thing we’ve got in the ACT for porn (and soon R18+ games) isn’t doing us any favors. We’ll probably have to deal with the virtual R18+ ghetto for a while whilst the wheels of the government slowly turn which is still a positive result for Australian gamers, even if they’ll have to route all their purchases through Canberra or Adelaide. It’s the first step in a long way to the total reform of the classification system and it really can’t come any sooner.
It was glorious, we started to see the beginnings of a rational discourse over the whole lack of a R18+ for games and there was hope for an overhaul of our decidedly archaic and convoluted classification system. I was happy, thinking I would soon be living in a country that had cast off the shackles of its past in favor of adopting a more progressive view of the games industry. A country that recognizes that games are predominantly not for children anymore with the vast majority of gamers now grown up, wanting the medium to grow up with them. Realistically I knew it was a small issue, but the fact that it could get dragged out over such a long period of time was the driving factor behind my outrage. I just couldn’t (and still can’t) understand why it has been so difficult.
It was over a year ago that what appeared to be the final wall standing between us and a more rational future was Senator Atkinson came tumbling down with his retirement. We still lost one title to the dreaded Refused Classification black hole in this time but I consoled myself in the fact that soon all of this would be a distant memory, a blip in Australia’s history where it stubbornly refused to modernize for no reason in particular. The news shortly afterwards that reformation was on the horizon was confirmation of this fact and made my spirit soar once again, only to be dashed by this recent news:
LONG-AWAITED reforms of Australia’s censorship of computer games look set to fail after Victoria declared its strong concern that the move will legalise games with ‘‘high levels of graphic, frequent and gratuitous violence’’.
Backed by a groundswell of support from the gaming community, the Gillard government is determined to fix the classification system for computer games, which allows unsuitable games to be rated for 15-year-olds, yet bans popular games for adults.
But the Baillieu government’s Attorney-General, Robert Clark, has echoed the concerns of the Australian Christian Lobby, putting him on a collision course with Canberra, which requires the backing of all states and territories to change classification laws.
The article goes on to say that coalition wants to put the matter to “careful scrutiny and public debate”, happily ignoring the fact that it’s been hotly debated for the last 2 years and had a public consultation that was overwhelmingly positive with 98.2% of respondents supporting the cause. Opponents also ignore the fact that Australia is one of the few modern countries that lacks a R18+ rating for games yet has such a rating for books, films and TV. I probably shouldn’t be surprised as the facts haven’t been the opposition’s strong suit in trying to cut down the R18+ rating in its infancy.
I’ve said it time and time again, the R18+ issue provides nothing but benefits to Australia and it’s gaming populace. The R18+ rating would make parents aware of material that isn’t appropriate for their children, allowing them to regulate the consumption of such materials. It would ensure proper classification of games as well, rather than shoe horning many games into the MA15+ rating that in reality belong in the R18+ category. A R18+ rating would also make Australia far more attractive to developers who are creating games targeted towards adults (I.E. the majority of the consumers in the games industry) instead of them shying away from us for fear of the dreaded RC rating.
The reason that the R18+ rating has languished in this political shitstorm for so long can be almost entirely blamed on a single lobby group: The Australian Christian Lobby. Wherever opposition to the rating is found you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re involved some how, and I’m not just saying this for dramatic effect. Whilst I won’t link to any of their tripe directly, since I don’t think they deserve the attention, a simple search for “R18+ acl” brings back dozens of articles of them supporting the demise of the R18+ rating. Indeed they’ve also been major proponents of other, more aggressive censorship efforts such as the Internet filter going so far as to label my views as “extreme” back when I was heavily involved in the No Clean Feed movement.
The ACL is of course in the minority here since the Australian public is overwhelming in support of a R18+ rating for games. Yet they keep managing to swing people in key positions leaving the battle for the R18+ rating effectively hamstrung. Thankfully the recent ultimatum on either a R18+ or a classification system overhaul (which would be far more painful for those in opposition to endure) shows that there are people willing to stand up to this vocal minority who has shown they can not act rationally when it comes to people doing things they don’t agree with.
It seems my dream of an Australia that finally brought itself into the 21st century are still a long way from being realized and the thorn in my side that was Senator Atkinson has since been replaced by Attorney-General Clark, but there’s still hope on the horizon. One day I’ll be able to buy games built by adults that have been designed to be consume by adults and the ACL won’t be able to say anything about it. Until then however I’ll continue to angrily blog about any development in the R18+ space until it gets fixed and I’ll put in every effort to make sure it becomes a reality.
I won’t let the irrational vocal minority win.
I’ll be honest with you I was starting to give up hope on Australia ever getting a R18+ rating for games. It seemed at nearly every turn there was another roadblock or stumbling point which pushed the issue further out of the reaches of reality. Since none of the games that I was interested in had been hit by the dreaded RC rating I let the issue slide for quite a while, but that doesn’t mean I stopped thinking that the lack of the rating was an issue. However I was beginning to feel that if we can’t make progress for almost a year after the primary roadblock had been removed then there’s little hope for change in the near future.
As it turns out, the wheels might just have started turning.
News just came out this morning that the federal government is seeking a decision from state and territory governments on the R18+ rating for video games. Should they be unable to come to a decision before July they’ll be staring down the barrel of a complete classifcation reform, something I’m sure they’d like to avoid:
Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor says after a decade of debate, it is crunch time.
“We’re becoming the laughing stock of the developed world, where we’re the only country that doesn’t have an R18 classification level for video games.
“I foreshadow that if there is not a consensus around this issue, the Commonwealth will certainly be considering other options because we cannot continue to have an outdated classification system that’s actually, in my view, causing harm to young people.”
Indeed I agree with Minister O’Connor, the lack of a R18+ rating to games is harmful in many ways not the least of which is the restriction of material that is quite appropriate for adults to consume. Due to the lack of the R18+ rating Australia’s classification board tends to be far more lenient with their classifications than other countries are. This means material which other countries have deemed inappropriate for that age range is available to them in Australia. Not having a R18+ rating also means that parents, unless they’re up with the latest gaming news, will have little information about RC games. Couple this with the ease of importing and pirating such banned material and you’ve got a situation where the material ends up in the hands of kids anyway and the parents are none the wiser.
It seems the primary source of resistance for the introduction of a R18+ classification for games is coming from lobbies like the Australian Christian Lobby, who seem to be a constant thorn in the side of issues like this and other issues like Internet freedom. They argue that imposing a R18+ rating would make it easier for children to get their hands on such material. Making it available in stores would not make it any easier than it already is, in fact most stores would be required (as they are now) to check ID for games labelled with this classification. You might argue that the parents could buy it for them but that’s their decision and it would mean they are aware that the material is probably not suited for children of their age. The ACL would seek to take that power of judgement away from parents, instead preferring to pretend that the material never makes it across our borders, which is patently false.
So hopefully in 3 months we’ll start to see the beginnings of either a R18+ rating for games or an entirely revamped classification system for Australia. Both options bode well for gamers in Australia and hopefully in the future we won’t have to deal with games being refused classification simply because they’re not suitable for children. With games rapidly maturing as a medium this decision can’t come soon enough and I for one can’t wait for the day when Australia drops its archaic view that games are only for children.