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.
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.