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.
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.
Many of us have something that we started doing when we were younger and will probably refuse to give it up for a very long time. For me, and a I can bet many more people, this was video games. It’s something that pretty much everyone in my generation would have grown up with but many grew out of it, seeing it as something they could do without. For the rest of us we grabbed a hold of our consoles and computers and declared that we would continue on with this tradition of whiling away the hours in front of a glowing screen.
I’ve often thought back to my first experiences with games and wondered why they have become such a big part of my life. I think the first game I can vividly remember playing was Captain Comic, with my father teaching me how to type in the magical commands into a DOS prompt in order for the game to start. For an inquisitive 3 year old the game was quite a challenge and the only way I could ever see it beat was to have one of my father’s friends finish it for me. The next game I can remember was Golden Axe, one that I struggle with yet again but still managed to lose countless hours on.
Moving forward a couple years I can see the games changing rapidly as technology improved and gaming firmly planting its feet in the entertainment industry. What I don’t see changing however, was the reason that I continued to play games.
Even my earliest memories of playing games are bathed in the social experiences that I got from playing. Whilst this may seem counter-intuitive to what the typical geek might be (the anti-social basement dweller) games were and still are a social activity. Back when I first got my hands on the original Nintendo Entertainment System and barely convinced my parents to shell out for 1 game and another controller (so my brother and I could both play) the only way to get other games was to trade with my friends. Often this would end up with them coming over and us all taking turns marvelling at how lucky they were to get that other game.
Fast forward 20 years and really the base reasons as to why I play games remain the same. I still love playing games with my friends, whether it be online or when they come over. I still swap console games with my friends, as we all take a bit of a gamble on unknown games just to see if they turn out ok. At it’s very heart gaming is one of those staple activities for me that if I were to give up, would leave a large gap in my life.
And that my friends is why I will never grow up and out of playing games.