The Australian gaming community is closer than ever to receiving an R18 rating for games - but will we get there?
On the whole, we gamers aren't exactly renowned for our unification; particularly when it comes to the online battlefield. And our battlegrounds are diverse too: digital depictions of snowy fortresses, sci-fi wastelands or, more commonly, online forums where wit is your weapon and avoiding the apparent inevitability of having one's argument compared to something Hitlerian is nigh impossible.
A sordid history
But it wasn't so long ago that we were united; albeit briefly. Michael Atkinson, the South Australian Attorney-General, was infamously opposed to the introduction of an R18+ rating for games. He claimed that he wasn't the only voice of opposition, but he really did seem to be the only public voice of opposition, holding onto his conservative "won't someone please think of the children?" viewpoint until a day after the South Australian elections when he stepped down from his Attorney-General throne.
All around Australia, we gamers dared to do something we hadn't been able to do in far too long: hope.
A new hope?
With Michael Atkinson no longer in the position of South Australian Attorney-General, we had taken a step closer to a future that brings us in line with the rest of the developed world as it relates to having an adult classification for games.
But, as tends to be the way of this cruel world, our hopes were soon dashed when, in spite of a throng of public support, our government announced that there was too much support for an R18+ rating from gamers: huh? Apparently they wanted more voices than just upset gamers, so went to the opposite end of the spectrum, seeking the opinions of community, church and, y'know, those kinds of conservative anti-R18+-for-games types of people.
All is not lost
As it stands, with the announcement that the Attorneys-General meeting on the 10th of December will cover the R18+ for games topic, we may be closer to some sort of forward momentum on the topic. For now, it's a whole bunch of sideways codswallop that's, unrefreshingly, covering very familiar ground.
The ‘pro R18+' side can still be broken down into arguing the freedom of speech angle (i.e. why shouldn't adult gamers have access to adult-themed games?) and how an adult classification for games would actually protect children by further guiding parents' buying decisions. The ‘against R18+' side is still very much focussed on the potential concerns of an influx of adult-themed content, which is inappropriate for children, flooding our shores.
Right now you don't have to look too far to find a wealth of information-mostly repeated or regurgitated-for both sides of the debate, as it is, once again, the flavour of the month. Politicians are walking the fine line of saying that they're closely looking at pros and cons of introducing such a rating, while conservatives and progressives continue to fire up their respective brethren who already seem to know the rhetoric all too well. Oh yeah, and both sides are reverting to the old ‘scientific proof' of various studies that show violence in video games to be connected/unconnected to violent behaviour.
But on the positive side of the spectrum, it was announced over the weekend that the federal government are behind the introduction of an R18+ rating. That's a fantastic step in the right direction, but our gaming fate still hangs in the balance until, at earliest, this Friday when the Attorneys-General meet to discuss this topic (among others).
Where to from here?
Interestingly, both side of the R18+ debate seem to be in agreement when it comes to the topic of classification reform. With violent titles such as the two recent Call of Duty games receiving our highest games rating, MA15+, while the rest of the developed world smacked them with an adult classification, there is certainly cause for concern.
And this is exactly the point that we gamers need to be focussing on now. Forget the freedom of speech angle; although a valid argument, it tends to make us look more militant than anything else. Besides, there really isn't much hope of winning over the opposing conservative viewpoint anyway, right?
Who we really need to be convincing of our need for an adult classification for games in Australia is the silent majority: those people who comprised the 63-percent of Australians that were unaware we didn't have an R18+ rating for games (taken from the Interactive Australia 2009 report).
And the way to win them over isn't with fiery speeches about violations of individual adult rights; instead, they will be won over by telling them that an R18+ rating means they won't be buying games for their 15-year olds that have had their ratings ‘scaled down' to an MA15+ classification.