News

A Letter From Michael Atkinson

Kotaku reader Robert wrote to South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson earlier this year on the topic of video game classification in Australia. Robert has just received a reply. Would you like to read it?

Below are several key excerpts from the letter Robert received from the minister. You can also download a scan of the entire letter via this link.

You may be aware that there was talk of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General releasing a discussion paper on [the introduction of an R18+ classification for games] . I have been awaiting the release of this paper… Alas, the paper has not yet been released and, despite my inquiring, I do not know when it will be available. I want the discussion paper released as soon as possible and have done nothing to impede its release.

Although some members are advocates of this classification, I believe other Attorneys-General, like me, reject it. Other Attorneys-General who are opposed to introducing an R18+ classification for computer games are content to let me be the lightening (sic) rod for the gamers.

I am well aware that many game players are adults… However, it is important you do not confuse the classification rating of a game with the game’s sophistication, or the challenge or interest to the player… It does not follow that a game is more interesting to an adult simply because it contains extreme violence, explicit sexual material or highly offensive language. Indeed, with all the effort and money that goes into game development, coupled with the effects and graphics now available, there is no need to introduce these extreme elements. I am bafffled and worried about why proponents of R18+ games are putting up their hands and saying ‘Give us more cruel sex and extreme violence!’

‘Interactive Australia 2007′, a report prepared by Bond University for the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia, surveyed 1,606 Australian households randomly. The report found “79% of Australian households have a device for computer and video games”. Further, 62% of Australians in these gaming households “say the classification of a game has no influence on their buying decision”.

Given this data, I cannot fathom what State-enforced safeguards could exist to prevent R18+ games being bought by households with children and how children can be stopped from using these games once the games are in the home. If adult gamers are so keen to have R18+ games, I expect children would be just as keen.

Classification of electronic games is very different from the classification of film. In cinemas, the age of movie-goers can be regulated… Rising game and console sales make it clear that this is a growing area that needs careful regulation, even more so than cinemas and private D.V.D. hire and purchase. Access to electronic games, once in the home, cannot be policed and therefore the games are easily accesible to children.

What the present law does is keep the most extreme material off the shelves. It is true that this restricts adult liberty to a small degree, however, I am prepared to accept this infringement in the circumstances.

I am concerned about the level of violence in society and the widespread acceptance of simulated violence as a form of entertainment. I am particularly concerned about the impact of this extreme content on children and vulnerable adults.

I believe the repeated act of killing a computer-generated person or creature desensitises them to violence. To my mind, a child being able to watch depraved sex and extreme violence in a movie is damaging to the child, but the child’s participating (sic) in depraved sex and extreme violence in a computer game is worse.

Game-houses are always free to adapt games that would otherwise be R.C. [Refused Classification]and modify the game content to be in line with the M.A.15+ classification… I do not accept that this destroys the artistic integrity of the game – excusing gore and depraved sex as art is an immature argument.

Contrarily, it has been suggested that games that would otherwise be classified R18+ are instead slipping through as M.A.15+ and becoming accessible to children. This argument does not support an R18+ classification for games. There may be games that some people consider too violent for the M.A.15+ classification but the solution is not to create a classification that would permit even more violent games in Australia. M.A.15+ games are restricted to children over 15 and if younger children access these games it further justifies complete protection from R18+ games. It is up to parents and responsible adults to ensure a game is appropriate for a minor whatever age he or she is. It is up to members of the Classification Board to apply the Guidelines correctly and not to try to defeat the Guidelines because they disagree with the outcome of the actions of elected officials in a democratic rule-of-law society.

Please read the full letter now. I’d like to hear how you would respond to Mr Atkinson. Where are the weaknesses in his reply? Has he contradicted himself? What is the best way for the pro-R18+ movement to counter Mr Atkinson’s argument? Or perhaps you feel he actually makes some very valid points and, if so, which ones?

Sensible comments only, please.