Friday, December 10

The Rating Game

Today is a big day for gamers, with a meeting of federal and state ministers discussing the possibility of introducing an R18+ rating for games released in the Australian market.

A hot topic providing robust debate among gamers, politicians, religious groups and retailers, the issue has been discussed for many years with no positive resolution for gamers; an outcome that simply leads to the purchase of uncensored titles from overseas vendors.

Although the argument has strong support from the Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, industry lobbyists and the general public, the key problem has been the position of ex-South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson.

Since his appointment in 2002, Mr Atkinson believed the introduction of an R18+ rating would not benefit society or protect children; instead it would make gratuitous violence and sexual content more readily available to them.

In a reply to a discussion paper sent to Mr Atkinson, he goes on to explain his position, citing the family oriented Wii console and games as proof that violence and gore are not required for challenging and entertaining gaming.

Whilst I can understand the opinion of Mr Atkinson and see his concerns, his views and arguments are flawed. For example, when discussing his concern about the new rating making it easier for children to be exposed to gratuitous content, there was no mention of parental responsibility. Are parents no longer meant to guide their children towards media that is suitable?

Additionally, the average age of gamers is 30. An entire generation of people have grown up playing games and continue to do so. The National Classification Code states adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want, so why are we unable to do so?

Thankfully, he was voted out of office in the March election and replaced by John Rau, who fully supports the introduction provided there are safeguards to protect minors from content.

The next hurdle is gaining the support of West Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter, who is under pressure from his party to block the classification.

Unfortunately it only takes one Attorney-General to veto the new rating. Hopefully Mr Porter will not succumb to the pressure and support the move, however even if he does, it is unknown how newly elected Victorian Attorney-General, Robert Sercombe, views the classification.

Almost one year after his initial discussion paper was released, Brendan O’Connor has compiled a strong case as to why a new rating should be introduced and is confident of gaining the support required to pass it.

Included in his argument is a study indicating that there is no indication that ‘violent video games have a greater impact on players than other violent media, such as movies or music videos.

In addition, there is a strong economic argument, claiming that an R18+ rating will boost the $1.3 billion industry and assist parents and adults in determining what is and truly isn’t acceptable for children and teenagers to play.

If the new rating is passed, it means banned titles such as Man Hunt, NARC and Reservoir Dogs could be released, while games edited for the Australian market such as Left 4 Dead 2, GTA and Fallout 3 could be re-released as the original version.

Furthermore, future releases of games similar to COD Modern Warfare 2 or Black Ops may be given a stronger rating.

It is important to remember that if the new R18+ rating is approved, the Office of Film and Literature Classification would still have the power to ban games they believe are too violent or inappropriate, such as the Japanese game, Rapelay.

For more information about the rating introduction, visit R18+ Games Australia or simply search the Herald Sun or ABC News archives.

What do you think of an R18+ rating? Is it necessary and do you think it will benefit you in more ways than just free speech?

On a side note, when looking up lists of banned video games, Brazil banned Cat in the Hat: The Game. Granted it was for copyright infringement but it made me giggle to see it among titles such as Doom, Carmageddon and GTA.


  1. I hate to say it, but things may be better if they stay the same. I'm not saying that there was any merit in Michael Atkinson's rants, or the uninformed opinion of the Australian Christian Lobby; what I am saying though is that few worthwhile titles have been denied release in Australia with our broken ratings system.

    Adding an R18+ rating without looking at more wholesale reforms won't result in anything but confusion. If you take a game like GTAIV that has a PEGI rating of 18+ in the UK, which then receives an MA15+ rating Australia; it is hard to see for my money, what would drag a game over that line for an R18+ rating to be required.

    For me there is only one solution: A complete reform of Australia's classification system, that has clear criteria, and is consistent across all forms of media. This, in concert with education programs that demonstrate to parents that videogames aren't just for kids would be effective in changing the way games and their impact are viewed in Australia. You might scoff at this, but I can remember several (thousand) instances where a parent and child were in a retailer, where one had a copy of a GTA game, or something equally child-inappropriate, and the parent purchased the game. Despite the fact there was a rating sticker advising that the game was not suitable for children under 15 years. I'm not saying all parents are so ignorant, but I'm sure there are still a few who think that games are pretty harmless because Billy will play it on his Nintendo system.

  2. Agreed dude. Let's be honest, the ratings won't stop kids playing games, because their parents or uncles or older friend bought them the game.

    However, in counter arguement, I would like to see un-edited games in Australia. Honestly, I don't care if some 12 year old kid is playing COD or Halo or GTA or whatever, as long as I get the full game as it was intended.

  3. Maybe you are right Dutch. Maybe a complete overhaul is probably what we need. Funnily enough that is the only thing the Attorney-Generals seemed to agree on.

    There was no concensus but the debate will continue to carry on.

    Unfortunately parents are ignorant and will comply in order to make their child shut it, however I just want to play a game in its uncensored format.

    With the average age of a gamer being 30, the games should suit the key market, not the minority or the perceived target market (in this case children).

    In addition, educating parents that some games aren't for kids is a great idea. Educating adults and other key stakeholders should be a large part of the reform. Implementing it may not be so easy.