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.