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.
It was just under a year ago that what seemed to be the last barrier to a R18+ rating in Australia came tumbling down in the form of Senator Atkinson’s retirement. I was elated, not so much by the idea that I’d finally be able to legally purchase excessively violent and sexually explicit games but more that finally Australia would cease looking at games as a children only zone and recognize them as a medium that actually caters mostly to adults. Still here we are a year later and for all the talk about Atkinson being the last hold out on a R18+ rating we’ve had next to no movement on the issue since his replacement took office. It would seem that Australia just isn’t ready to admit that games aren’t just for children anymore.
Of course this rant doesn’t come from no where. In my usual stroll for blog fodder I came across an article that detailed the latest game to be given the deadly Refused Classification rating by the Australian Classification Board. Usually these stories aren’t particularly interesting, especially since I’ve covered it in the past and most of the titles aren’t anything to write home about, but the story today saw a long term franchise running up against the ACB:
Australia’s content classification regulator has banned the highly anticipate remake of the classic Mortal Kombat video game series from being sold in Australia, deeming the game’s violence outside the boundaries of the highest MA15+ rating which video games can fall under.
The full text of the Australian Classification Board’s decision is available in PDF format here. It goes into detail about the decision, stating that the game contains violence which “goes beyond strong in impact” is therefore unsuitable for those under the age of 18 to play — particularly noting Mortal Kombat’s famously gruesome ‘fatality’ finishing moves.
Now whilst I haven’t been waiting anxiously for the next installment of Mortal Kombat like I have been for say, Deus Ex, I’m still a long time fan of the franchise having played nearly every incarnation since the original release on the Super NES. They’ve never been restrained with the amount of gore they include especially when it comes to fatalities so it does come as somewhat of a surprise that the ACB takes offense to their use of explicit violence just for this version and hasn’t batted an eye at any of the previous incarnations. The process of classification is, as it seems to be in many modern countries, quite the black box as there are many games with comparable levels of gore that go through unheeded. At the very least they don’t seem to care if you’re a small or large publisher when it comes to banning games, but that still doesn’t detract from the fact that the lack of a R18+ rating hurts Australia in more ways than just keeping games from being sold on our shores.
Conversely I do know that even though the average age of a gamer in Australia (and most of the world) is well past 18 the R18+ rating can be quite devastating to sales, as has been demonstrated by several titles in the USA. However since the average age of your typical game consumer is increasing the more mature rated games have shown to be the most stable in terms of sales, showing that there really is a demand for adult oriented titles. Sure the R18+ rating may mean a publisher might consider censoring parts of their game in order to get a less restrictive MA15 rating but at least then it would be their choice rather than the decision being made for them.
Australia needs to cast off the shackles of the past and start making decisive steps in the right direction. The idea that games are only for children is an extremely archaic way of viewing the medium and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be subject to the same classification process that we apply to all other forms of media. The restriction of such material only serves to hurt publishers and push people to illegitimate means in order to acquire these games that they have been denied, something which many minors are quite capable of accomplishing. An R18+ rating system would help to raise awareness about such material and give parents the information they need to decide what is appropriate for their children. The time has come for Australia to grow up and recognize games as a mature medium and to stop ignoring the rest of the modern world.
Media classification is one of those subjects that affects everyone but it never really gets discussed apart from when it causes a bit of stir like when a game is refused classification. Unfortunately this has meant that new forms of media have either slipped under the classification radar or have been stuck with a system that wasn’t designed for today’s world. The problem with Australia’s current approach to media classification is that it is unable to deal with new forms of media as they are created and as such either ignores them or attempts to shoe horn them into the models developed for old media. This has most publicly affected Australia’s gaming community with the lack of a R18+ rating which, admittedly is a small issue in the grand scale of things, still remains as an issue today.
However the lack of a R18+ rating for games is symptomatic of a larger problem. Whilst new forms of media aren’t exactly an everyday event the advent of new distribution channels for content have made the single source of truth style of classification almost irrelevant. Take for instance YouTube who, whilst having their own set of guidelines as to what is acceptable, don’t have any relationship with the Australian Classification Board (ACB). Considering you can see something as innocent as a double rainbowto Baraka beheading Johnny Cage in the new Mortal Kombat shortwithout even a hint of classification about it (although YouTube does allow users to flag content as adult, requiring a login) the task of classifying such vast amounts of material seems almost impossible for an organisation like the ACB.
Indeed these services rely on the fact that the material doesn’t have to go through such classification channels. Getting a classification through the ACB incurs a feefrom around $400 all the way up to $5,000 depending on the type of material and intended means of distribution. Such fees would pose a significant barrier to anyone looking to distribute content online should the classification of such media become mandatory and unfortunately it appears that the ACB intends to do just that:
At a conservative estimate, one-third of them are games, suggesting compliance costs would be in the millions.
A spokeswoman for Minister of Home Affairs Brendan O’Connor said he was “concerned about the classification of games playable on mobile telephones and had put the wheels in motion to address this with his state and territory counterparts”.
Definitions of computer games under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 do not exclude games distributable or playable on mobile phones.
This isn’t a new idea either. Back in April Minister O’Connor (the director of the ACB) expressed concerns over the mobile space that bypasses their classification process. Whilst I share some of his concerns it appears that little thought had been given to the impact that his words might have, especially when it comes to developers and content producers looking to Australia as a potential market.
Now I understand that the ACB has the best of intentions when it comes to this but the way they’re going about this only serves to create a hostile environment for those looking to distribute their product on our shores. The app store and other similar product distribution methods have been successful because they have been allowed to self regulate and imposing fees on them will more than likely see all but the biggest players pull out of the Australian market. With most paid iPhone applications selling less than 10,000 units at the average price point of $0.99 (with 30% of that going to Apple) even the cheapest classification severely cuts into any sales they make, even to the point of making it completely unprofitable.
What’s required then is a complete rethink of the current classification system and how it can be applied to the new digital world and its various distribution methods. This comes down to a fundamental shift away from the current system which is highly segmented between different media formats. Unifying all these classification bodies under a single banner with a standard framework for classifying content would eliminate the disparity in classification information and serve as a basis for new forms of media as they are created. It would also ensure that markets such as the iPhone and Android app stores don’t suffer unnecessary financial burdens by being shoe horned into a classification framework that couldn’t fathom their creation. In essence classification in Australia needs a rethink on a national scale and it needs it soon.
The good news is that such an idea is not new and I’m not the only one who supports it. The Australian Sex Party (who are readers of this blog, which I find rather cool :D) also supports a national classification scheme as part of their larger stance on making adult material available across all states and territories, as you can currently only legally buy it in the ACT and NT (but you can also import from these territories too). I support their stance on this issue as it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to put these artificial restrictions on such material but it also has the flow on effect of ensuring that new media doesn’t get killed in Australia simply because we refuse to change our ways for the better part of 2 decades.
These issues were something that we simply could not fathom when we first set about creating standards for media classification. It has come time for a fundamental change in the way we do these things in order to keep pace with our ever changing technologically driven world. To not do anything risks Australia being seen as a media blackspot, unable to cope with the world that is changing around it. However there is hope for change as the roots of movement against the status quo are already taking hold and it is only a matter of time before we will see the first steps towards a more sensible future.
Tip of the hat to my old university pal Dave Woodgate for hooking me up with the inspiration for this post.
I’m not what you’d call a big grassroots political kind of person. Really the only thing I was ever actively involved in was the Internet Filter malarkey (which in fact was the original inspiration for this blog). Still I’ve become more politically motivated recently when things started hitting closer to home, namely when Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification in Australia. So you can imagine my surprise this morning when Triple J’s news headlines had a bit of a negative beat up on the R18+ rating, considering their demographic is the people who feel most strongly about it. Doing a little bit of digging this morning found that they had just taken the negative spin on the larger piece of news which was that the government is reaching out to the public for consultation on this matter:
The Federal Government has this afternoon released a discussion paper on the merits of an R18+ classification for video games. The move is part of a round of public consultation on the issue that will continue until the end of February next year.
The paper contains a brief overview of the National Classification Scheme and outlines the arguments both for and against the introduction of an R18+ rating for video games. It also describes how the Australian public may make a submission and let their voices be heard in the debate.
They’re not kidding around either, they’re taking submissions by email, fax and good old snail mail. Filling out the form takes about 5~10 minutes (depends on how much of a rant you go on in the comments) and we really need all the support we can get on this matter in order to overwhelm the current road block of Senator Atkinson. If the public comes out and overwhelmingly supports the movement his hyperbolic rhetoric will get him no where and he’ll have to concede. So take 5 minutes out of your day and download the form and fill it out and then send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s my submission to them:
Today in Australia the average age of a person who plays games is 30 years of age and over 90% of all Australians support a R18+ rating for games. Denying the gamer demographic a R18+ rating fails to recognise that the majority are mature adults that are capable of making informed decisions about the media that they consume. It is a hangover from times when the computer games industry was in its infancy and should be modernised. Refusing to do so only serves to damage Australia’s reputation amongst game developers locally and world wide.
Ultimately the responsibility for minor’s consumption of material such as that contained in R18+ games lies with the parents. In an increasingly technologic society minors are more capable than ever of obtaining such material illegitimately, and will continue to do so. Having such a rating would increase awareness of such material and ultimately ensure that parents are more informed and can then properly regulate their children’s consumption of said media. Simply denying classification only drives the problem underground.
Australia’s lack of a R18+ rating for games makes no sense to the wider international community and only damages our reputation as a progressive, modern country. The introduction of a R18+ rating requires little effort from all require parties with distinct, tangible benefits to be had. I fully support the introduction of such a classification and encourage the government to change its stance on this issue as swiftly as possible.
So please, send this around, get the word out and let’s show the government that us mature gamers want and deserve a rating for our choice of media. Australia’s policies on this matter are in dire need of being modernised and the more people that speak out the more chance we have of making some real difference in this matter.
Sometimes even when bad things happen there’s that little bit of light at the end of the tunnel that will keep you going. I guess somewhere deep in my head I had the idea that the Australian Classification Board would see how silly it was being denying Left 4 Dead 2 a classification in Australia and thereby forcing us to have a completely butchered product. Turns out they’re pretty consistent with their rulings and the appeal has fallen on deaf ears:
After the Australian Classification Review Board first refused to classify Valve’s zombie first-person-shooter Left 4 Dead 2, Valve appealed the government’s decision.Valve’s Zombie shooter was refused classification, which means it can’t be made commercially available in the country. Not quite the same as a banning, but it has the same effect.
The company’s appeal to overturn the Board’s earlier decision has been refused, and the original, unedited version will not be sold in Australia later this fall when the game launches there.
As Valve told us earlier, the version of Left 4 Dead 2 submitted to the Australian government for rating is “the adjusted version.” This version has been rated and will be commercially sold in Australia.
The cut down version of the game sticks in my craw for a couple reasons. The first is that it highlights a critical flaw in the Australian classification system which can trace its roots back to one man, Michael Atkins, who in the past has used extreme hyperbole to defend his positions. Here’s an excerpt from a charming letter he wrote to the Adelaide Advertiser back in March:
Their vote is hardly likely to hinge on the “right” to score gamer points… by running down and killing pedestrians on the pavement, raping a mother and her two daughters, blowing oneself up in a market, cutting people in half with large calibre shells, injecting drugs to win an athletics event or killing a prostitute to recover the fee one just paid her (Welcome to the world of R18+ computer games).
Those of my constituents who are refugees have been subjected to the practical instead of the virtual suffering that R18+ nerds seek to inflict for their gratification on the computer screen.
Probably the worst thing about this situation is that the seat he’s in, the just over a decade old seat of Croydon, is a safe labor seat with him winning 74% of the vote in the last election. If it was a marginal seat we might have seen a swing against him on an issue like this but for the time being this man with his hyperbolic rhetoric and conservative viewpoints are keeping the mature Australian gamers behind the rest of the developed world. He uses an appeal to emotion to say that he represents people who’ve endured the horrors of R18+ games for real, and that’s the reason why he’s opposing it. If we’re to take his view to its logical conclusion does that mean every other developed country which has such a rating for these games is encouraging behaviour that is seen in these games? Although I should hardly expect any kind of sense from him, especially when he’s mislead parliament in the past.
Secondly what does coddling all the gamers in Australia net for society at large? Since the rest of the developed world has such a rating and have yet to descend into an anarchist orgy of drugs, sex and violence I can’t see how introducing a rating would do any damage to the Australian public. In fact present research shows that violent video games have no link to real world violence and in fact since games have become more popular in the last 2 decades violence amongst the young has decreased. The end affect is that the Australian gamer receives an inferior product or none at all, removing income from Australian game distributors and encouraging more nefarious means of acquiring what they want.
In fact I’m going to detail one way us Australians can get the game we deserve. First you’ll need yourself a Steam account and a friend in the USA. Get your friend to buy a copy of Left 4 Dead 2 and gift it to you and voila! You now have yourself an as intended from the developer copy of Left 4 Dead 2, thereby circumventing Australia’s draconian classification scheme. There are of course other ways, but they’re left an as exercise to the reader.
The backwards view that Australia is taking with respect to a R18+ rating for games is a black mark that we can easily erase if a couple people started practicing critical thinking. The evidence is on the table and their flat out refusal to acknowledge it shows a purposeful cognitive delusion, something that I can’t stand for when they’re supposed to be representing the people. I know one day we’ll see the end of this, and it can never come soon enough.
Anyone got a friend in the US I can talk to?
I can’t imagine what it must be like for game developers who want to sell their games to us Australians. Being a prosperous nation there’s enough spare income flying about that people are willing to spend up on non-essential items such as games so it makes sense to try and market their product to us. However from time to time the developers run up against the wall that is the Australian Classification Board when their game pushes across some boundaries:
THE sequel to a popular video game has been banned in Australia after failing to receive a rating of MA15+.
Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification by the Classifications Board this week, meaning it will be banned from sale.
In its report the board said the game, due to be released in November, contained “realistic, frenetic and unrelenting violence”.
“The game contains violence that is high in impact and is therefore unsuitable for persons under 18 years to play,” the report said.
Here’s the decision in PDF form which actually makes for some entertaining reading. I’ve never seen someone so formally describe a game where you are basically hacking up zombies with cool weapons. But this does bring up a point which I’ve lamented before: Australia needs a R18+ classification for it’s games, especially considering the average age of the Australian gamer is now 30.
Now I know a couple people who are in the game industry and nothing seems to stress them more than the last few months up until release. The amount of work that they put in to make sure that every bug they can find is ironed out and the game play experience is as best as it can be is staggering. I’m still frankly amazed that many game development houses attempt to release their games in Australia when the threat of refusal of classification is always there as it means putting the developers through another crunch cycle so that the game can be sold in Australia, something which will never go down well. Indeed if your game is one that is guaranteed to get refused (like say Postal) you will probably not bother and save yourself the time and money.
For the most part though a lot of game development houses have learnt from previous rejections and know what to avoid. The best example I can think of is dismembering bodies after you’ve killed someone. If you’re a particularly twisted individual like myself you’ll usually test a game to see if you can do this sort of thing. You can then imagine my surprise when I played Dead Space and Fallout 3 that both allowed you to do such things yet have been classified as MA15+ in Australia. The decision on Left 4 Dead 2 makes note that you can’t do this but it appears that their refusal for classification is based around the use of melee weapons that allows you to make quite a pile of bodies with a decent amount of blood and guts spilling everywhere. Since that’s probably one of the major selling points of the game (who doesn’t love chainsawing up a bunch of zombies with 3 friends?) they’re going to be hard pressed to remove that, so we’ll probably end up with guts and gore replaced with rainbows and sugar plum fairies.
Maybe then it will be suitable for our sensitive little minds.
I’ve been a gamer ever since I learned how to use a keyboard and I’ll be damned if the government believes it knows what’s safe for me to see and what isn’t. Too often do we have games that are refused classification in Australia because of some petty aspect of game play that in all seriousness most Australian adults would have no problem with. If parents are worried about their little tykes getting their hands on these games then that’s not a problem for the classification board to solve. Realistically retail stores would have to be more strict in checking ID, but 30 seconds at the cash register is a small price to pay when compared to the high cost that is incurred when you have to redevelop your game in order to dumb it down for the Australian market.
It’s not for lacking of trying either that we don’t have a classification. There was supposed to be a public discussion on the matter back in July however due to a shuffling of cabinet members the minister responsible Bob Debus was replaced by Brendan O’Connor, and this has stagnated any progress on the matter. In fact a recent interview with O’Connor on Gamespot shows that they’ve basically rolled back to square one, since they’re now reconsidering their methodology for consulting with the Australian public.
At this point I’ve just lost hope with the Australian government doing anything solid on this matter. Realistically refusing classification to a game doesn’t stop people from getting their hands on it either because if they can’t buy it locally they’ll import it. If they can’t import it, they’ll pirate it, and so far any attempt to stop piracy has failed miserably. In essence the government is attempt to keep “extreme” material away from the Australian community, failing, and souring a multi-billion dollar industry’s view of our market. Keeping Australia behind all other developed nations in this regard is short sighted and provides no tangible benefits to the community at large.
Don’t make me throw a temper tantrum.