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R18+ Category for Video Games In Australia (The Saga Continues)

Australia has once again got an R18+ category for videogames on the discussion table. However, as Asher Moses reports in The Age:

In the gaming community at least, South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson has become the Darth Vader of politics with his opposition to R18+ ratings for games. But Mr Atkinson insists his forceful opposition is to protect children from “harmful material”. Australia is the only developed country without an R18+ classification for games, meaning any titles that do not meet the MA15+ standard – such as those with excessive violence or sexual content – are simply banned from sale by the Classification Board.

Any changes to the censorship regime must be agreed on by the Commonwealth and all state and territory attorneys-general. For the first time since November 2005, the issue will be discussed later this month at the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, but Atkinson has confirmed he will maintain his long-running opposition to the idea. […] In a speech in South Australia’s State Parliament yesterday, during which Atkinson was forced to return to his seat after being cut off by interjections, he acknowledged blocking the R18+ rating would deny adults choice. But he said this was necessary as the alternative would allow children easy access to “potentially harmful material”. “Games may pose a far greater problem than other media – particularly films – because their interactive nature could exacerbate their impact,” he said. “The risk of interactivity on players of computer games with highly violent content is increased aggressive behaviour.”

I’ve long been a proponent for the R18+ rating for video games in Australia and now that it’s in sight once again, I’m really troubled that one man – Michael Atkinson – could stand in the way.  Let me just reiterate why the R18+ category is important:

  1. The majority of video game players in Australia are adults and thus deserve the right to decide for themselves what games they’ll play.
  2. Banning video games increases their notoriety, making them more appealing to kids and teenagers, meaning that they are far more likely to download them illegally or purchase them in or from another country.
  3. Part of the argument against the R18+ category seems to be a presumption that Australia’s current ratings system for film, tv, etc., isn’t effective.  If the ratings system is broken, focus on fixing that, not blanket bans on whole sections of a medium!
  4. There is no substantial evidence that violent video games cause violent behaviour.  (There are small-scale studies which see some increase in violent thoughts (not actions: thoughts), but there are an equal number of studies that show no correlation.  A lot more research and study here would help!  Personally, I’m reminded that at the beginning of the twentieth century books were being banned for corrupting the moral fibre of society; in the 1950s and 60s rock music had similar charges levelled against it!
  5. Interactive doesn’t equal addictive, nor does it dull the critical senses of players.  If someone can’t distinguish between games and everyday life, the there’s a lot more to worry about than the games.

While The Age and other reports are supposedly trying to be neutral in their reporting, I suspect from the last few lines of Moses’ report on the issue, his sympathies are with those arguing for the R18+ category, too:

Research conducted by Bond University in Queensland for the IEAA found that the average age of Australian gamers is 28 and over 50 per cent of gamers are over 18.

Another survey of 1601 Australian households, conducted by the university in 2005, found 88 per cent of Australians supported an R18+ classification for games.

“From what I’m hearing the majority don’t seem to be opposing the R18+ [rating for games], so i’d be interested in what constituency he (Atkinson) is fighting this cause for,” [Ron] Curry [CEO of the games industry body, the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia (IEAA)] said.

Logan Booker, editor of the gaming blog Kotaku Australia, said that ultimately parents, and not the government, should be the ones take responsibility for restricting what games their kids play.

“The UK, Europe and the US seem to handle an R18+ rating just fine, isn’t Australia mature enough to cope as well?”

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  1. I have to agree with you on every point you have made. I am all for an R+18 rating in games, such as what is already in place for movies, because it will allow something very VERY important for a game retail worker like mysef e.g.

    Retailers: Hi how are you today. Looking to pick that one you today are you? Well, that’s an +18 rated game; show me some I.D. Don’t have it? Bad luck sorry you can’t buy it then. Why can’t you buy it? Because it’s illegal for me to sell it to you without seeing your I.D. first, that’s why… (end scene)

    Did anybody else see what just happened then?

    The ONLY thing we need, and i do stress ONLY: is to make it illegal to buy a game such as those with R+18 without proper identification – PROBLEM SOLVED

    Now if the South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson can’t get THAT through his thick, out-dated skull, then i truly believe our efforts are doomed, as it could not be any simpler

    – Aron Shick

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