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.
I’ll be honest with you I was starting to give up hope on Australia ever getting a R18+ rating for games. It seemed at nearly every turn there was another roadblock or stumbling point which pushed the issue further out of the reaches of reality. Since none of the games that I was interested in had been hit by the dreaded RC rating I let the issue slide for quite a while, but that doesn’t mean I stopped thinking that the lack of the rating was an issue. However I was beginning to feel that if we can’t make progress for almost a year after the primary roadblock had been removed then there’s little hope for change in the near future.
As it turns out, the wheels might just have started turning.
News just came out this morning that the federal government is seeking a decision from state and territory governments on the R18+ rating for video games. Should they be unable to come to a decision before July they’ll be staring down the barrel of a complete classifcation reform, something I’m sure they’d like to avoid:
Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor says after a decade of debate, it is crunch time.
“We’re becoming the laughing stock of the developed world, where we’re the only country that doesn’t have an R18 classification level for video games.
“I foreshadow that if there is not a consensus around this issue, the Commonwealth will certainly be considering other options because we cannot continue to have an outdated classification system that’s actually, in my view, causing harm to young people.”
Indeed I agree with Minister O’Connor, the lack of a R18+ rating to games is harmful in many ways not the least of which is the restriction of material that is quite appropriate for adults to consume. Due to the lack of the R18+ rating Australia’s classification board tends to be far more lenient with their classifications than other countries are. This means material which other countries have deemed inappropriate for that age range is available to them in Australia. Not having a R18+ rating also means that parents, unless they’re up with the latest gaming news, will have little information about RC games. Couple this with the ease of importing and pirating such banned material and you’ve got a situation where the material ends up in the hands of kids anyway and the parents are none the wiser.
It seems the primary source of resistance for the introduction of a R18+ classification for games is coming from lobbies like the Australian Christian Lobby, who seem to be a constant thorn in the side of issues like this and other issues like Internet freedom. They argue that imposing a R18+ rating would make it easier for children to get their hands on such material. Making it available in stores would not make it any easier than it already is, in fact most stores would be required (as they are now) to check ID for games labelled with this classification. You might argue that the parents could buy it for them but that’s their decision and it would mean they are aware that the material is probably not suited for children of their age. The ACL would seek to take that power of judgement away from parents, instead preferring to pretend that the material never makes it across our borders, which is patently false.
So hopefully in 3 months we’ll start to see the beginnings of either a R18+ rating for games or an entirely revamped classification system for Australia. Both options bode well for gamers in Australia and hopefully in the future we won’t have to deal with games being refused classification simply because they’re not suitable for children. With games rapidly maturing as a medium this decision can’t come soon enough and I for one can’t wait for the day when Australia drops its archaic view that games are only for children.