Monday, March 22, 2010

Australia needs an R18+ rating for video games

Sadly, Australia currently has no R18+ rating for video games. Despite the average age of a gamer being 30, Australia remains one of the last major territories in the world in which an R18+ rating for gaming does not exist. As a result, games that fail to get the MA15+ rating are either banned or require editing to pass the Classification's Board's strict guidelines. Other outcomes of this situation include restriction of freedom of choice, encouragement of piracy, and the placing of adult material into the hands of children.

Last year the Federal Government released a discussion paper on whether or not an R18+ rating for games should be adopted and called for submissions. Submissions to the Government closed on 28 February 2010.

According to a report in The Australian, the Federal Government received over 55,000 submissions on whether an R18+ rating should be introduced for video games. has reported that one of the submissions was made by Paul J. Hunt, former Deputy Director of the Classification Board, who has written a 17-page response on the issue. Hunt begins his argument by providing readers with first-hand knowledge about his past experiences working for the Board.

“When I made a decision, or participated in a decision, that a computer game was unsuitable for minors, I was forced to refuse classification for that game. It was not because I thought that the game depicted, expressed or otherwise dealt with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that it would offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults. It was simply because the game was not OK for kids.

Not being able to restrict computer games to adults was an impediment to my ability to reflect Australian community standards.”

For years, one of the most vocal opponents for having an R18+ classification for video games has been South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson. Mr Atkinson has acknowledged that blocking the R18+ rating does deny adults choice, however, he has said this is necessary as the alternative would allow children easy access to "potentially harmful material". Bizarrely, earlier this year Mr Atkinson claimed his family was more at risk from angry gamers than outlawed motorcycle gangs.

Any changes to the current 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 in April this year at the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. Mr Atkinson has previously confirmed he will maintain his long-running opposition to the idea.

But will he?

The results of last weekend's South Australian election reveal that although Mr Atkinson won his seat of Croydon, he still suffered a massive 14.3% swing against him. In news just released, Mr Atkinson has announced his resignation as South Australian Attorney-General.

Mr Atkinson's decision to leave the front bench means he will no longer be in a position to vote on changes to Australia's classification system, including the introduction of an R18+ rating for video games.

Maybe, just maybe, R18+ video games are a step closer to being allowed in Australia.

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