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.