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.