3 years and 15 posts have all been leading up to this: In a little under 2 weeks the House of Representatives in Australia will sit down to vote on the bill to introduce a R18+ rating for games into Australia:
The first parliamentary session in the new year is set for the 7th February – giving the poor fellas a nice long break – where the bill to introduce the new age rating will be voted on by the lower house. If it passes there, it will go on to the senate, which has the ability to pass it into law.
Current minister for human services and ex federal minister for home affairs, Brendan O’Connor, is the man behind the bill and he’s been pushing it forward for quite some time according to Games Industry (requires free account sign up). Thanks to his vocal public support, it is believed the bill will pass easily in its first parliament debate, though the outcome of the senate hearing is still up in the air.
I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Whilst I’m grateful for the Australian government giving me a near endless stream of blog fodder over the years I’ll be far more happy to see this changed than have to write another article telling you why Australia needs it. At the moment everything is looking pretty good for the R18+ rating to make it through the lower house without too many troubles. What’s still something of mystery is how the bill will go in the Senate as whilst there are some supporters like Senator Kate Lundy and Senator Stephen Conroy I couldn’t dredge up anyone else who’s gone on record supporting it.
Theoretically there’s not much to oppose in the bill, especially with the final draft of the guidelines being fairly in line with what we have currently and just including the provision for content that’s already acceptable in other mediums. How this is viewed by the senators though remains to be seen but should it get through we could see many of the previously banned titles making their way onto our shelves before the end of the year. Whilst I’m sure none of them will enjoy the retail success that they would have if they weren’t blocked in the first place it’s better than getting nothing from Australia at all.
It’s been a long time coming but we’re finally on the cusp of seeing real change that was heavily influenced by the grass roots efforts of the gaming community in Australia. I’m so glad I count myself amongst the teaming masses of people who put their support behind getting a R18+ rating into reality and this shows that given enough time and effort we really can effect change in Australia. The fight’s not over yet, but it’s a hell of a lot closer to being won than it is to being lost.
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.