Review scores have always troubled me. Ever since I found out how the industry uses them to judge bonuses for developers (something I knew long before that article was published thanks to friends working in the industry) the score I ended up giving the game always had a level of gravitas attached to it, even if I knew only a couple dozen people read the review. I tried to clarify my position in an attempt to give more insight into how the final score was constructed but still that nagging feeling remained. Since then I’ve had many discussions with friends about review scores in general and I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re staying around but there’s a set of rules around their use.
For starters I think the biggest issue with review scores in general is when they’re used in aggregate to compare titles on the same medium (games/movies/books/etc.). The problem with this is that it ignores the unique perspective and thought process that goes into curating that score, something that’s intensely personal and becomes meaningless when stripped of its context. For instance my preference to start games out with perfect scores and then take points off is likely not the same process other reviewers go through and thus my 8.5/10 does not compare to the same score elsewhere. Indeed I try incredibly hard to lay out any personal bias on the table so that when you do see that final score you can make a decision as to how valid that is compared to your viewpoint or other reviewers you might follow.
Following on from this its logical to then assume that scores bear no correlation between different game genres. It’s impossible to compare something like MirrorMoon EP to Payday 2 using only the review score because their commonalities end almost as soon as they begin. However I feel comparing MirrorMoon EP to say Kairo quite valid as they’re quite similar in many regards and whilst their differences are nuanced if you wanted a general idea of how they compared to each other the review score is then appropriate. I’ve been told that this kind of philosophy is what drove the late and great Roger Ebert’s review scores for movies and I believe that it’s very applicable to the world of gaming.
Of course I can really only enforce these rules here where I have total control over how the content is presented but I think some generalization of these ideas applied widely would go a long way to reversing some of the damage that review scores have done to various parts of the industry. They’re still not ideal of course, nothing that boils down hours upon hours of invested time to a single digit is, but if we as consumers become more nuanced in the way we use reviews then they might start to become meaningful. This would have to go hand in hand with turning down our usage of review aggregators as they’re arguably the primary source of most of the complaints that center around review scores.
I don’t see that happening anytime soon but I can at least do my part to improve the situation.
3 years. That’s how long I’ve been writing about the R18+ rating in Australia. I had thought that I was pretty much done with it when the rating sailed through the lower house 6 months ago but a week ago the guidelines for the new rating were released by the Australian Classification Board and the gaming community collectively sighed in dismay at what was presented. Taking a look over the guidelines it’s clear that the idea of a unified classification scheme for all forms of media will never come into reality in Australia as apparently games must be treated differently to all other mediums of expression. Their reasoning for this might look sound on the surface (games are interactive and thus more impactful) but their thinking isn’t based on any science I can find and we all know how angry that makes me.
The guidelines themselves are short and concise which makes them rather easy to compare to their previous iterations. Whilst the R18+ rating does open the doors to games that are adult in nature there are some pretty severe restrictions when compared to it’s sister medium of film. Indeed if you look at the guidelines for film’s version of R18+ and then look at the one for games the number of justifications, limits and “in context” qualifiers the comparison is quite stark which shows that the classification board believes that games are more impactful due to their interactive nature. I’ve heard this line before but never actually did some research into whether it was true or not.
Today I found out that it’s not.
Whilst it’s hard to find causative links between video games and any sort of trend in behaviour due to the impossibility of doing proper control testing there is some decent data out there. However meta-analysis of previous studies can show data trends that we can get correlations from. Before you repeat the “correlation is not causation” mantra at me don’t forget that correlation is required for causation¹ so any time you see it pop up the relationship almost always warrants further investigation. In this case whilst the research suggests that violent media may lead to increased aggression that does not directly translate to increased violence and violent media is never the sole factor responsible.
What the research does show however is that the tendency towards aggressive behaviours is no more influenced by interactive games than it is passive consumption of other forms of media. Indeed more research shows that contextual justification of violence is by far more influential than the interactivity or quantity of violence present. Thus the idea that games have to be somehow held up to a different standard than that of other mediums due to its interactivity is at best an emotional argument and not one we should be basing laws around.
Of course since these are a set of guidelines it ultimately comes down to the reviewers to enforce them and there’s a chance that they won’t do so literally. Indeed many games that got slapped with R18+ ratings in other countries previously were waved through under the MA15+ here in Australia and it’s quite possible that with the introduction of the R18+ rating that many of the games that fell under the NC banner previously will get waved through in much the same way. This is pure speculation on my part however and we shall have to wait for the first lot of R18+ games to come through the ACB before we’ll know if there’s any credence to that theory.
It makes me incredibly angry to see policy based around emotional arguments rather than solid research. If I can find the right articles in the couple hours I spend on researching these things then I’d expect nothing less from public servants who are paid to do the same in order to advise their politicians. I can only hope that the government takes the advice of the ALRC seriously and looks towards unifying the classification scheme so we can abandon these silly schemes of differing levels of classification for different types of media. It’s another long shot for sure but after 3 years of shouting to get to this point I’m not about to give up now.
¹And for those smart asses out there who will then tell me that you can have causation without correlation I’ll tell you to go back to your data and have a good hard look at it. If SPSS tells you that there’s no correlation in the data when you somehow know there is then there’s a problem with your data or hypothesis.
It’s been a long time coming but the first major milestone in getting a R18+ rating for games in Australia has just been hit: the bill has passed the lower house:
Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice Jason Clare today said that an R18+ category for computer games was another step closer today with legislation passing the House of Representatives.
The legislation passed the House of Representatives without amendment and will now move to the Senate for debate in coming weeks.
The reforms bring the classification of computer games into line with existing categories used to classify films. It also makes the Australian classification regime more consistent with international standards.
This is absolutely wonderful news, especially since the bill passed without any amendments to it. This means that the Liberal party has realised that there’s little point in fighting the legislation, especially in light of the parliamentary committee’s recommendations that were handed down just over 2 weeks ago. The next challenge for the bill will be the senate however with the support of Labor and the Greens it’s almost a sure thing that it will pass through there without incident and it will be law before we know it.
The current schedule for implementation has the law coming into effect at January 1st 2013. This is still a while off but it is a required part of the process as once this becomes law all the local governments have to pass accompanying legislation in order to regulate the sale of R18+ games in their state or territory. Unfortunately this means that we’ll could still have the weird double standards like we have for other R18+ material but at the very least it will mean that R18+ games will be available for distribution in Australia.
I’ve been reading some comments on other articles reporting the same news and it seems some people are confused about what the R18+ rating might entail. Whilst there will be a lot of games that will be able to resubmit and hopefully get the R18+ rating it won’t mean that any game that was given the dreaded RC rating will automatically get slapped with R18+. It is up to the publisher or distributer of the game to resubmit it for reclassification and should they not bother to resubmit the game will stay as NC. Additionally the introduction of a R18+ rating does not mean that we won’t see games given the NC rating in the future, only that such occurrences will be far more rare. There are games out there that would still exceed the limits of the R18+ rating but I’ve yet to see one that wouldn’t get NC if it was done in another medium.
It’s been a long, bitter fight to get the Australian government to recognise that the gamer community has matured far beyond what it was when the original classification scheme was produced, but we’re almost there. The success of this grass roots campaign can’t be traced back to one individual or organisation, it’s the cumulative effort of thousands of Australian gamers who rallied behind the cause and forced them to listen. It makes me immensely proud to say that I was a part of this and I’ll be even happier when I finally see it come to pass in less than a year’s time.
For what its worth I usually avoid writing about the R18+ rating these days as I’ve run this issue into the ground over the past 3 years. However I won’t stop complaining about the fact that the only reason why it’s taken so long for this to happen is that vocal minorities have caused this piece of legislation to go through the wringer, even when there’s a crazy amount of public support for it. There’s a massive light at the end of the tunnel though and it’s looking like by early next year we’ll have a R18+ rating for games in Australia and I’ll stop harping on about it.
Recently the R18+ legislation was referred to a parliamentary committee for review by an unknown party in the Liberal government. I’ll admit that at the time I was a bit peeved about that happening; it looked like an abuse of a process used for controversial legislation more than the government doing their due diligence. However the results of the committee have come back and their recommendation is a straight up “pass the legislation”:
The Committee recommends that the House of Representatives pass the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012.
So I read the report in its entirety (it’s only 16 pages, most of them with only a couple lines) and the committee’s sentiments echo those of my own. Of particular interest is the public consultation section which I’ve reproduced below:
On 14 December 2009, the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) issued a Discussion Paper for public consultation on the question ‘Should the Australian National Classification Scheme include an R 18+ classification category for computer games?’2
The AGD received 58 437 valid submissions from both individuals and groups in response to the Discussion Paper. Of those, 98 per cent supported the introduction of an R18+ category for computer games while 2 per cent opposed.3
In November 2010, the AGD commissioned an independent research company to conduct a telephone survey of 2 226 individuals across Australia on attitudes toward an R18+ classification category for computer games.4 The poll found that 80 per cent of respondents supported the introduction of the restricted category.
The committee really did do its homework on this one and the wide reaching support heavily influenced their recommendation. Their comments are also well informed, recommending that no further public consultation be undertaken (since there’s already overwhelming support for it) and submitting that there’s more than sufficient evidence to support the introduction of the R18+ rating. It’s sad that bouts of rational thinking like this are few and far between, but I’m glad that the committee didn’t fall prey to the minorities like the rest of the legislative process have.
With committee’s recommendation in hand the R18+ rating should have a relatively easy time passing through the lower and upper houses. It’ll still be some time before we will have R18+ games on our shelves here as their sale will be treated much like R18+ movies and literature are today. However a timeline of late this year to early next year isn’t unthinkable and it won’t be too long after that that we might see some previously banned titles making their way onto our shelves. It’s been a long time coming but we’re almost there, almost in an Australia that doesn’t view gamers as children only.
We’ve just heard word from Ed Husic, MP for Chifley, who has tweeted that the Coalition has asked that the R18+ bill be sent for an inquiry.
As part of the legislation process, if one MP calls for an inquiry on a proposed bill, that bill must undergo extra scrutiny and further examination by a Standing Committee. This inquiry process is usually utilised for bills that are deemed complex or controversial.
The frustration with this is that, as far as anyone can tell, this really isn’t a controversial topic for anyone but a few vocal minorities. All public consultation on the matter has been overwhelmingly in the postive so referring it to an inquiry seems like the work of someone just looking to delay this as long as possible. The timing is rather curious as well as if the bill doesn’t come back before parliament sits again in March then it won’t be looked at again until May, since they don’t sit in April.
There’s a slim bit of hope that this will be handled by those knowledgeable on the matter and that the turn around time for it could just be a single day. Well this particular news story broke 2 days ago now and I haven’t heard anything so my guess is that it’s not being fast tracked as everyone was hoping it would be. Is that a surprise? Not really as any government process usually takes at least 20 times as long as anyone expects it to but it does show how desperate the gaming community is to see this through if we’re willing to hope for something like that to happen.
And who can blame them really. By the time this legislation gets into gear it will be well over a decade since it was first talked about and 3 years since people started forming grass roots initiatives to make it happen. It took one Attorney-General retiring, another capitulating and a Minister on a war path just to get to this point and that’s with overwhelming public support. Why something as simple as this has been so difficult for the Australian political system to handle is really beyond me and calls into question just who these people in parliament are representing.
Yes I’m pissed off about this as the only reason this is happening is because we have certain MPs who pay far too much attention to certain lobby groups. Whilst I’m glad it’s not as bad as it is in America it still seems like we, the gaming community, are the butt of some long play legislative trolling as I’ve never seen something with such great support endure such torture on its way to realisation. The worst part about it is that, for now at least, there’s not a whole lot we can do. If it gets referred for a full inquiry then we’ll be able to have our voice heard (again) but I’d much rather just see it go through the houses without this kind of time-wasting tactics employed.
But who am I kidding, I’ve been blogging about this for 3 years and I really should know better.
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 2 and a half years have seen the lack of a R18+ rating for games issue ramp up from just a few vocal supporters to an issue that now captures the attention of a good chunk of the nation. The movement has been heavily catalyzed by many notable releases being either outright banned in Australia or receiving significant changes, leaving many Australians to either acquire these through nefarious means or simply doing without. In both instances this robs the developers and publishers of a potential sale making Australia a somewhat hostile environment for games developers, especially those ones who like to flirt with the boundaries of what may or may not be acceptable. Thankfully it seems we’re on the right path now, but until the new rating system is implemented we’re unfortunately still in the same backwards state as we were when this movement started.
The latest casualty in the R18+ war is the reboot of the Syndicate franchise. Citing excessive and highly visceral violence the Australian Classification Board decided to slap the deadly NC rating on it, thereby making its sale illegal in Australia. “Bugger” I hear you saying, “But we’ll still get some nanny-state version to play right?”. I wish it were so, EA has decided to not pursue reclassification and is instead not going to release Syndicate to Australia:
“The game will not be available in Australia despite its enthusiastic response from fans. We were encouraged by the government’s recent agreement to adopt an 18+ age rating for games. However, delays continue to force an arcane censorship on games – cuts that would never be imposed on books or movies,” EA Corporate Communications’ Tiffany Steckler wrote Joystiq in a statement. “We urge policy makers to take swift action to implement an updated policy that reflects today’s market and gives its millions of adult consumers the right to make their own content choices.”
Indeed ever since the tragedy that was the censored version of Left 4 Dead 2 (it’s predecessor had me captivated for months whereas it could barely hold me for a couple hours) the standard reaction to a NC rating has been to simply not bother with the Australian market. EA’s statement above shows that companies view Australia as a hostile environment and can’t be bothered to rework their product should it not meet our backwards standards. Until we have a really real R18+ standard things like this will continue to occur, and that isn’t going to help anyone.
This news coincides with some saber rattling from NSW Attorney General Greg Smith, the last of the AGs to hold out on the R18+ rating. He’s apparently all for a R18+ rating in Australia but wants particular games, he singled out Grand Theft Auto, to be outright banned. Forgetting for the moment that all of the GTA titles sailed through in the MA15+ category (minus a couple changes for GTAIV, but the content he was complaining about was still in there) Smith is basically attempting to force his own view of what’s appropriate on everyone else. The final guidelines for the R18+ rating are more than adequate at keeping out content that’s already banned in other mediums and provide enough freedom for developers to not have to worry about running afoul of the dreaded NC rating. Whilst Smith probably won’t do anymore damage than he already has it’s irritating to see someone in his position doing such a disservice to Australia with his narrow views of what is and isn’t appropriate.
The R18+ rating really can’t come soon enough as until it does we’re still a nation that’s stuck in a world from 20 years ago, one where gamers were a minority and games were seen as a childish distraction. Today this is far from the case with the vast majority of gamers being over 18 and looking for titles that are appropriate for their demographic. It’s a real shame that some developers will then decide to leave us by the wayside but at least the loss of those games will highlight the need for change and hopefully accelerate its coming.
I get the feeling that we’re entering something of a golden era for gaming in Australia. 2 months ago we got in principle support for the R18+ rating from all the attorney generals, signalling the start of a reform process that would see Australia bring itself in line with the rest of the world. Shortly afterwards I discovered G2Play and was able to get the same games at a fraction of the price, skirting around Steam’s price gouging Australian store. You’d think then that things really couldn’t get much better for us gamers as we’ve basically had all of our demands met (even if through unofficial means) but it seems us gamers are in for more good times to come.
Just over a fortnight ago the Australian Law Reform Commission released a discussion paper on the review of the national classification scheme, the first such study done in over 20 years. What’s interesting about the discussion paper (If you’re after the cliff notes, check here) was its surprisingly level headed approach not only to games, but all current and potential future media. Indeed the report is very well aware that the past 2 decades have seen rapid changes that current legislation is just incapable of keeping up with and full reform of the system is required if it is to remain relevant. So surprising was the report that Kotaku writer Mark Serrels tracked down the chairman of the classification review, Terry Flew, and interview him on the paper.
What followed was this glorious piece (which I heartily recommend reading in its entirity):
“One of the things we were aware of from the outset taking on the inquiry,” begins Terry, “was that there was considerable dissatisfaction with the R18 classification issue – that this issue had been on the agenda for over a decade and, as you may well be aware, gamers were a very important group in making submissions to this enquiry. So we’re certainly aware of the importance of the issue.”
According to Terry, R18+ was an issue that really exemplified and exposed the difficulties of using 20 year old legislation to navigate a post-internet age.
My once PR student buddy was familiar with Flew’s work but I’d never heard of him before. Employing some rudimentary Google-fu I found that he’s been highly interested in the games and new media industry for quite some time, publishing several books on them. He was, as far back as 2005, advocating the fact that gamers are no longer the realm of the stereotypical, socially inept youngsters. Flew also asserts that gamers were one of the catalysts in popularizing new media as well due to the communities that they developed. He’s far from a games apologist however and is taking a holistic view of the current classification scheme and where it should be heading.
Flew and the discussion paper are pushing forward with the idea that our classification scheme needs to be as unified as possible, in terms of both the process of classification as well as having a singular national body responsible for media classification. Right now whilst classifications are made at the national level the enforcement is done at a state level and thus states can basically opt out or form their own classification boards (like South Australia does) leading to an inconsistent application of the classification rules. If the recommendations in the paper are followed this system would likely be abolished in favour of a truly national scheme, which I feel is to the betterment of us all. The ratings would also be unified as much as they could across media platforms, meaning that there wouldn’t be as many separate rating systems for specific media types.
One of the more interesting points of the discussion paper is the idea of co-regulation. In essence this would allow the games industry to employ their own classifiers (who I assume would be licensed/verified by the classification board) who could rate games all the way up to MA. Not only would this reduce the load on the classification board it would also demystify some of the classification process, making it more open and accountable. I think it’s a great idea and means that the Australian market won’t be as hostile to those looking to release their games here, especially if the price of classification is driven down by market forces.
With someone like Flew heading up the classification scheme reform I’ve got a really good feeling about its future and the future of the media industry in Australia. Such reform has been a long time coming not just for games but for classification system as a whole. The discussion paper is a great start and hopefully many of its recommendations make it into reality but there’s still a long way to go until we see any of them realised. With Flew at the helm though I have every confidence that these sorely needed changes will eventually be implemented and then I’ll stop blogging incessantly about it.
It’s been almost two years since I posted my very first thoughts on the issue of game censorship and back then it was really only an issue because of the impending Internet filter that was threatening to turn Australia into an Internet back water. Thankfully the Internet filter hasn’t yet come to be (although it seems Conroy is still committed to the idea) and the barriers that once stood between the Australian gamers and titles deemed unfit for people half their age have started to come crumbling down. There’s even the possibility of the classification system getting a complete overhaul to do away with the disjunct between states and territories, something which will be beneficial for all Australians.
Up until now however most of the progress we’ve seen has just been in the form of promises and postulation from politicians with little actual progress to show for it. Last week however saw the first few real steps towards actual reform on this issue, something which I wasn’t expecting to see for another couple of months. The first bit of progress that I came across was a draft proposal from Attorney General Brendan O’Connor that outlined what the new R18+ classification guidelines would look like:
“The Gillard Government wants to provide better guidance for parents and remove unsuitable material from children and teenagers. The introduction of an R18+ classification will help achieve that and will also bring Australia into line with comparable nations,” said O’Connor in a statement. “This issue has been on the table for many years, without the necessary progress to make a change. We’ve recently seen several states publicly express their support for an adult only rating for games and I’m keen to reach a unanimous decision at the July meeting.”
Interestingly the proposed R18+ rating would also include reworking the MA15+ rating a bit, mostly adding in restrictions that things like sex, drugs and nudity can’t be linked to rewards and incentives. It’s a pretty small distinction but it does mean certain types of games like say Leisure Suit Larry or Strip Poker will find themselves firmly in the R18+ category (as they probably should) whilst most games currently rated MA15+ won’t be affected by the rating change. It does have the potential to shove quite a few titles into R18+ if you take a broad interpretation of “must not be related to incentives or rewards” for things like leveling up in Call of Duty or Battlefield, but I think the rewards are far enough away from the action for them to skirt around that idea. We’ll have to see what the Australian Classification Board thinks on that one though.
Additionally it looks like the ACB is going out to the public again to seek what the public’s reaction is to the proposed guidelines and R18+ rating. This time around however they’ve gone for a quick survey with a short comment box at the end of it. If you’re in support of the R18+ rating you should head over there now to have your say in this matter as hopefully we can garner the same sort of reaction we did last time they tried this and wrote off the results as “gamed” by the supporters. Realistically they underestimated just how passionate gamers are about this issue, heck my brother even asked me if I had written a submission for it and he’s not one for politics.
Of course the vocal minority has hit out at the proposed guidelines in the usual fashion. I was going to do a take down of their FUD line by line but honestly I don’t want to give them any more air time than what they’ve already got as there’s no swaying them away from their absurd opinions. Just let it be known that the Australian Christian Lobby fervently opposes the R18+ rating as they do anything that could legitimize the behavior of adults that disagrees with their world view, even if it would benefit them in some way.
We’re now only a few short months away from Australia casting off part of its archaic past and stepping towards the future. It’s been a long time coming with many political battles fought and nearly a dozen articles written on the subject by yours truly but finally the Australian gaming community might just be treated for what they are: mostly adults. There’s still many more steps to go before the R18+ rating becomes a reality but progress is now decidedly forwards instead of in circles and that should make every Australian gamer very happy indeed.
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.