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.
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.
Long time readers will know that one of my favourite bugbears is the R18+ rating for games. It’s not that I’m some masochistic lunatic who revels in violence and depravity, more that I believe that video games aren’t just for children any more and that video games are just a valid medium of expression as any other. The rest of the world seems to have been way ahead of us in this respect with most modern countries having classification schemes that recognize games are able to deal with mature themes and should be rated as such. The campaign to bring Australia in line with the rest of the world has been one that’s been going on for the better part of a decade and even up until recently it seemed like there was no end in sight.
But here we are, 2 years and 12 posts after I first wrote on game censorship, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Just under a month ago I wrote a rather… impassioned piece on the latest developments with the R18+ rating. In essence we were there with all the attorney-generals agreeing to support it. However there was one hold out, AG for NSW Greg Smith, who seemed to be holding out for no good reason in particular. My political genius friend told me that this was probably part of some bigger plan to gain a bit of leverage in other matters, which only made me that much more frustrated at the whole situation. You can then imagine my shock when I read late yesterday afternoon that the NSW cabinet would now give the R18+ rating its full support:
The NSW Government has given its formal support for the introduction of an R18+ classification for computer games, according to Attorney General, Greg Smith SC.
Mr Smith said after a meeting of Federal and State Attorneys General in Adelaide that he expected NSW would join the agreement.
Cabinet has now given its “in-principle” support for the introduction of the R18+ rating.
This is fantastic news and is the first bit of progress we’ve seen in a long time on this matter. However there’s an awful lot of weasel words peppered throughout the AG’s statement, enough to give me a bit of pause before being able to celebrate this as a victory. Sure the in-principle agreement means that they can actually start moving forward with drafting legislation and the issues can be raised as part of that process rather than being the stonewall that we Australians have been butting our heads against for the past decade.
What starts now is the long process of formalizing the guidelines for the R18+ rating and, if I’m reading the press right, a reworking of the MA15+ rating. This isn’t going to be a short process by any stretch of the imagination and I’ll be surprised if we see the rating’s implementation within the next year or so. It also doesn’t mean that every game that got a RC rating under the old scheme will become available under R18+ either and there’s still the question of whether or not games rated under the current system will need to be redone or simply grandfathered in. There’s also the question as to whether R18+ games will require more stringent rules around display and sale since they are in essence a controlled substance much like tobacco and alcohol.
All that being said however I’m still very happy with this announcement. It signals that our politicians have finally recognised that games aren’t just for kids any more and they can be just as expressive as any other medium and should be treated as such. There’s still a long way to go until we catch up with the rest of the modern world but at least now we’re moving towards the end goal rather than chasing our tails constantly. I’m hopeful that today’s revelation marks the last road block coming down and from here on out we’re just going through the motions that will take us to a better, more sensible future.