R18+: This Is What You Get

This is what happens when those in power ignore the advice of experts. This is what happens when the narrative remains stagnant. This is what happens when you ignore legitimate research and allow the poorly informed to influence your decision making process. This is what you get.

Today the new R18+ guidelines were released and today there was much gnashing of teeth. It was a document rife with error, filled with basic misunderstandings, to the extent that working through these mistakes one by one would be pedantic in the extreme.

So, instead, let's first go through the positives. Or, to be precise, the one positive: there are games, that were banned under the previous guidelines, that would most likely pass classification under the R18+ rating.

We should be clear: the R18+ we have is not an MA15+ rating with a false face — it's an easy conclusion to leap to (and I made the same mistake initially) but it's inaccurate. The new R18+ rating accounts for 'high' impact video games (in terms of violence and sexual content) while the MA15+ rating will be applied when that impact is 'strong'. The terms are relative, but the difference is important. Allowing for different interpretations a game like, say, Mortal Kombat may have been classified in this country.

So in terms of adults being allowed to play the games they want to play this may be the only actual positive. But it comes with the following caveat...

Due to the interactive nature of computer games and the active repetitive involvement of the participant, as a general rule computer games may have a higher impact than similarly themed depictions of the classifiable elements in film, and therefore greater potential for harm or detriment, particularly to minors.
 

"Interactivity may increase the impact of some content: for example, impact may be higher where interactivity enables action such as inflicting realistically depicted injuries or death or post-mortem damage, attacking civilians or engaging in sexual activity. Greater degrees of interactivity (such as first-person gameplay compared to third-person gameplay) may also increase the impact of some content.

We have no way of telling precisely how this 'higher impact' of interactivity will translate to video game classification in the real world. It will all depend on the Classification Board's interpretation, but it instantly removes cross media parity and I find that a worrying precedent to set.

Leigh Harris from MCV mentioned that he believed this 'interactivity' caveat was mentioned in the guidelines purely because the Classification Board has to represent community standards — and it is a sound argument — but it still smarts to see that old chestnut being rolled out, particularly when it is being used to justify video games being treated differently from other media. Particularly when there is no evidence to suggest that interactivity increases the negative impact of violent or sexual imagery.

There is also the issue of 'minors' or, to be more specific, the issue of why the word 'minors' is being used at all in this context.

Before R18+ was passed, there were two major arguments put forward in support of an adult rating for video games. The first was that adults should be allowed to play the games they wanted to play. The second? Children should be protected from adult material, and parents should be liberated from the confusion of the current system. The existence of an R18+ rating, and the clear message that classification sent, was supposed to help parents distinguish what was suitable for their children and what should be left on the shelf.

So why do we still need to engage in these old arguments? Why are we still discussing the greater impact of violence on 'minors' in the context of R18+ rated games — games that should not be available to them, games that are only suitable for adults. Why is this something that needs to be taken into account?

I understand and I agree: children must be protected. But this is why the rating is being implemented in the first place — to draw that dividing line between content for children and content for adults. Absolutely, a subset of younger teenagers and children may still be exposed to R18+ video games, but censoring games designed for adults is not the solution to that problem.

We should be educating children, educating retail staff. Watering down an adult rating to cater to minors actually sabotages the reason for the actual existence of an R18+ rating in the first place! It blurs the lines; it creates further confusion when we should be drawing a line in the sand. This is a game for adults, it is unsuitable for minors. End of story.

Yes, the R18+ rating is a step forward and absolutely there are areas within which we must compromise. It is the Classification Board's responsibility to reflect public concern, and I don't have a problem with that. I do, however, have a problem with the language of this document, with the words being used. They suggest an inability to push this debate where it needs to be pushed. We are still using the same words in the wrong ways — the government is still treating adult video games as something children play and adults tolerate. It returns endlessly to arguments about interactivity that hold little water in any legitimate research. It panders to ignorance, instead of moving forward with good sense.

And that is disappointing.


Comments

    At least we won't look as stupid in all the other first world countries eyes anymore. ;)

    And we can just keep importing the games we need to, like we have for years...

      Replace 'anymore' with 'to a lesser degree' and your claim would be more valid.

      Now let's all petition for the X rating for games so my city builder/scat simulation can get a release!

        Patent pending, patent pending, patent pending!

        I'd totally buy a Kinect to play that.

          Oh my... I don't even... I'm laughing so much I might just poop myself. I hope that's included in the simulator.

    regardless if "interactivy" does have any effect..ITS IRRELEVENT because R18+ should be for adults and adults only

    essentially they are saying they want to nanny us as well

      A Nanny-State law? In this country? Surely you jest!

      The reason they use this language is because they aren't thinking of the R18+ rating as a brand new rating. They are thinking of it in terms of rebrand of their MA15+ rating. This is evident by the type of language they use and how they include minors in the equation.

      They think of adults as minors, this is clear. The government doesn't consider adults as fully formed human beings, they view them as giant children who are impressionable even at the age of 30. They think that if we play a violent game we will lose our minds and go on a killing spree.

      This is bullshit.

    im with GUS on this, ceebs dealing with this just gonna continue to import

    I can only speak for my self when I say this but with me I do enjoy violent computer games and movies also anime lol but I have a strong dislike for violence in the real world. I enjoy it in games and movies because I know it is not real and just fantasy. That is what has to be taught to the kids these days the difference between violence in computer games and real life. Well that is my 2 cents.

      That is a basic tenant of parenting. It is commonsense. What is at issue is that the government are positioning this responsibility into public legislation. In effect the public is being told - we (the government) know that you (as someone who elected us) are not able (as an adult that votes) to discern between reality and fiction (but only in video games.) Most kids (see Lacan) recognise what a mirror is and hence an avatar. Part of growing up is realising the difference.

        basic *tenet of parenting
        Sorry, couldn't help myself :S

          Sorry. It was my Phonejinx which was nearly phoenix. :-( I did indeed type tenant which my phone turned into tenant. Apparently twice - which was thrice until I turned it off. - but I do implaude you Sir for providing the irony I suck. Sorry - seek - By correcting my digital idiocy you prove that both peer censorship and commonsense prevail. Which is one of the points I have previously tried to make.

            "I did indeed type tenant which my phone turned into tenant"

            still not having much luck with that phone? :P

    The first paragraph reminds me of the Big Lebowski

    "Do you see what happens, Larry? Do you see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass?! [Proceeds to smash up what he wrongly believes is Larry's new Corvette] This is what happens, Larry! This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!"

    We don't really know how this applies in real terms, it's possible all it results in is that a game which would just barely scrape in to an MA15 going by the standards of a movie rating system would get bumped up to R18 under a games classification system. If all it's doing is making classifications err on the high side (as opposed to the banning going on now), I don't really care.

    Looks like ill continue to buy my games from the UK. At least its still cheaper that way.

    This is what you get when you allow governments to be in control of what media you can and cannot buy or watch.

    The people who make these guidelines just need some time to step back, grab a controller and play some of these games, because it sounds like they've never played a game and disregard the age of the average gamer is 35

    Well, it should only take another 10 or so years before they get around to looking at whether there really is a difference between film and games...

    I have a feeling that this caveat is going to result in the classification of R18+ for games being only slightly higher than what MA15+ is right now and something considerably less than what passes for R18+ in film. How does this reduce confusion? Will we now start having R18+G and R18+F?

    Yeah games will get bumped up R18+,games will still be refused classification but the worst thing will be when game companies "self-censor" to avoid the R18+ rating like movie studios do now in the hope of a wider audience/Mo Money.
    I feel if the gaming population wasn't so eager to get their hobby "validated" to feel all grown up and actually looked at the facts they would see there is the very real risk of this all going very wrong.

    Mark, have you actually TRIED looking for serious scientific research on the difference between interactive and passive learning?

    As I posted in the previous article today, this article is a useful primer:
    http://www.psychology.iastate.edu/faculty/caa/abstracts/2005-2009/06BA.pdf

    Accepting the fact that violence in video games can have an effect in conditioning someone to interpret events in the real world as hostile does not mean you have to believe violence in video games has to be eradicated.

    But representations of violence do have psychological effects, and these effects vary depending on the mode of delivery. Ignoring that makes you hardly any better than the moral crusaders on the other side of the argument.

      Have you read 'the story of O' - American psycho or watched Elvis Presley dance? This is essentially a question of censorship and a democratically elected representative body eroding the rights of I. No matter how many links you post arguing for the fact that interactive FICTION affects subjects depending upon the medium - this IS NOT A CONSENSUAL FACT DEEMED VALID BY EITHER PEER AGREEMENT OR SCIENTIFIC CORROBORATION OR PROCESS. It is an opinion. An opinion that detracts from the real argument at play. That being - i can vote for you but i can not play this literature as the author intended.

        At the risk of launching an ad hominem attack, one of the authors for the paper you cite, Craig Anderson, has been criticised for overstating findings, neglecting to give weight to other viewpoints, and question marks hang over his methodology. He also has links to a lobbying group that had an active interest in monitoring media content.

        Wikipedia on Craig and NIMF would reveal more. He's not exactly impartial.

          Whoops. Meant as reply to George above. :/

          >_

            Bwahahaha. As I pointed out. Don't even bother reading that sh!t. It is merely opinion. Heavily biased opinion it seems. Don't apologise for stating truth and actuality. Focault says look at a statement - look at the underlying power structures - therein lies the truth. This dude quotes something as FACT. The substantive argument being that if it is a link it must be true. You look at who gains from this alleged FACT - therein lies the truth.

          That's a valid criticism to make, but the Wikipedia page doesn't quote from its references, which I can't access without paying.

          For the most part though, I just get really annoyed at how polarised the entire discussion about video games is, on both sides, to the point of ingrained cognitive dissonance.

          It wouldn't cause any controversy here whatsoever, for example, if I said video games can help people learn new things, not only in an educational context, but more generally games might make players slightly more predisposed towards teamwork or altruism depending on what happens within the game, and to credit this to the interactive nature of the medium.
          If I suggest that a game might in fact make someone marginally more predisposed towards what we might consider antisocial behaviour, however, well then I better put on my flame retardant suit.

          (Note I do say predispose, and marginally at that, because there's definitely nothing deterministic about the effects video games have, just like any environmental factor that might influence behaviour and thought processes.)

          Then, of course, is the fact that people like Martin, and the author of this article, seem to think that any suggestion of the latter immediately marks someone as some moral crusader hell bent on censorship, when I believe in nothing of the sort, and fully support making this a question of personal responsibility.

        I do get the feeling, from your post, that you're ideologically committed to not seriously looking at the actual arguments.

        All I would say to you is that I do not believe in censorship, and that the type of media we consume should be a question of personal and parental responsibility.
        But I can't ignore what I've learned in my (admittedly limited) study of psychology, specifically that environmental factors, such as the content and mode of delivery of media, is capable of having effects on the attitudes and behaviours of people, particularly children.

          George, you just shot a hole in your argument the size of the Titanic and its two sister ships combined!

          Key word here, "children". R18+ games are for ADULTS! If there are kids playing such games then it is clear that proper parenting has been neglected.

          Seriously, what proper parent allows his or her own child such exposure?

          Also, it is pretty rich you claim that actual arguments are not seriously being looked for yet you point to an article by Craig Anderson.

            The behavioural and cognitive effects of external stimuli persist into adulthood. That's really not a controversial statement, except when it comes to the absurdly polarised video games debate.

            The Anderson article was the first I came across in a google search, and I haven't seen compelling evidence that he's committed such grave mistakes that everything he's written should be ignored. If you want a treasure trove of research into both sides of the argument, check out this site:
            http://www.procon.org

            Sorry, here's the direct link:
            http://videogames.procon.org/

              *Puts the articles in reading pile.*

              Believe me when I say this, George, it would do your own discussions a world of good if you dropped the works of Anderson. His process is academically flawed and does not contribute to a body of knowledge.

              That aside, I will give the articles a read when things quiet down on my end. But I am not optimistic as research these days is more political than academic.

      I agree with George, gamers are very selective with their evidence. Kotaku, being the tabloid blog it is, is even more so.

        Please provide some unselective evidence to support this.

          They won't Martin. Because that would mean pointing to something not written by Craig Anderson thus defeating their own arguments.

      We're all aware of the "people learn by doing better than by watching". The more realistic the simulation, the more effective the learning. People learn to fly aeroplanes using incredibly detailed simulator hardware, hardware designed specifically to teach. The "military training games" in your reference are complex hardware simulators and squad-based tactics games. The former is a simulation, the latter teaches team coordination and leadership. It's the same reason why there are books devoted to paintball as a team-building and leadership exercise.

      The thing is, in violent video games, the simulation method is atrociously unrealistic, and the purpose isn't to teach, but entertain. People in real life don't beat each other up by pressing buttons on a controller. People in real life don't shoot each other by moving a mouse and pressing a button (okay, that one's a little closer, but still nowhere near realistic). No-one walks around by moving a joystick. Light guns are a little closer to reality, but lack basic elements such as safety-switches, recoil, reload mechanisms, etc. that make them ineffective teaching tools - they're about as effective at teaching someone to shoot as nerf guns or water pistols (which at least have a physical effect on the target). And, quite frankly, no-one learns to play FPS by joining the army. (Apologies for the reductio ad absurdum arguments, but I'm trying to make a point, and there aren't any video game control methods that aren't absurdly inaccurate.) It may be the reason Kinect-based fighting games don't exist.

      So the whole "video games teach people to kill" is just fearmongering, and quite frankly, I'd have thought people were past that by now. (I almost descended to using myself as an example but as someone that plays games for the same reason they read a book - the story - I would be a poor example of the psychology talked about in the article - when I get angry or frustrated, I punch a pillow, mainly because punching a table would hurt, and I don't condone violence against anyone - myself or others).

      Links to "smoking, obesity and poorer academic performance" are also, funnily enough, symptoms of addiction, which would much better account for their results. Short-term aggression is a given in competitive video games, but it's a given in competitive anything. As for long-term, it's impossible to tell, because it's illegal and unethical to perform such an experiment without it being contaminated by other factors of the subjects' lives. Not to mention the fact that most (6/7) of their claims on the impact of violent video games come from various papers authored or co-authored by one person who is also a co-author of this paper - this doesn't invalidate the claims, but surely they could have found more corroborating evidence than their own?

      It's fascinating reading, certainly, but to me it sounds like pure hyperbole, mainly due to their leaps in logic and lack of evidence; let's face it - that's how most of those arguments sound.

      As a side note, I remember a tale regarding an uncle of mine, now a high level Taekwondo teacher. My dad asked him what he'd do if someone threatened him with a knife and asked for his wallet. The response? "Hand over the wallet, and let him leave." Violence only ever makes things worse. Not saying that everyone thinks like that (obviously the mugger wouldn't), but I don't think violent video games are any more to blame than any other form of media.

        Well, that was somewhat longer than I'd intended. Oops! :P

        As I've said, I agree that it doesn't teach someone to be violent. That's not really how these kinds of stimuli work, and of course it depends on a host of other factors. It's not a coincidence that many of the incidences of violence being blamed on video games have occurred in poor households, coupled with a history of unhealthy relationships with family and friends.

        By comparison, the effect which a game might have would be pretty small, but it's a factor contributing to particular behaviours that should needs to be taken seriously, but not reacted to hysterically, like so many of the "moral crusaders" like to do, because it means they don't have to think about treating all the other societal problems which are always a factor.

          Okay, we can agree there. Violence in any form of media has a small effect, but in and of itself it has no lasting effect. Environmental factors, such as those you pointed out, exacerbate the effects. All I'm saying is that people (read: politicians and those with political agenda) are making mountains out of molehills, and they're getting away with it because those that know what they're actually talking about are in the minority. Politics has never been about the truth, it's always about what people believe to be the truth, and beliefs can be easily manipulated. It's been this way since the first democracy, and it's unlikely to change any time soon.

      George,

      1. There is no link between violent media and violent behavior. It is the old nature versus nurture argument. Also, it is 99% related to the individual. A violent form of media does not turn a person violent - there has to be something wrong with the individual in the first place.

      2. Craig Anderson is on the list so the work cannot be taken seriously. I'm an academic myself and despite the titles of his works, he does not prove anything.

      So sorry, George, but unless you can provide something credible you claim is bordering on trolling and we have enough of that already.

      This nation needs an R18+ rating so adult games are treated as adult only games.

        1. That's a patently absurd thing to say. To the extent that nature v nurture is settled, it is to the fact that both are absolutely vital in human development.
        But please understand this, if nothing else - I have not said, and do not for a second believe, that violent media, of any form, TURNS someone violent. In fact, that's not even the argument Anderson puts forward in the link I posted above.We are the sum of our learned experiences, and the effect of a video game, good or bad, cannot overturn a lifetime learning to behave in a particular way.

        2. So you've effectively decided to write off every assembled piece of research on that site which does not conform to your own.
        And of course, just because I have not contributed to the echo chamber of one-eyed dogma, you've labelled me a troll. What a marvellous academic you must be!

          And just to prove I'm not a troll, I'm not going to bother responding to you again, since you've clearly not even attempted to take what I've said seriously.

            Probably because nobody Can take you seriously.

    "But this is why the rating is being implemented in the first place — to draw that dividing line between content for children and content for adults."

    This reminds me of a claim I'm currently dealing with. A lady fell down some stairs and broke her arm. Tragic. She asserts that she slipped, and engaged solicitors, who engaged slip test experts.

    The slip test experts said "We have tested the steps and they are safe when dry, but slippery when there is moisture present."

    The solicitors were overjoyed! "Your stairs were unsafe when wet!"

    "But", we asked, "why didn't you say they were wet when your client made her claim?"

    "Oh," they responded, "they weren't wet when she fell down."

    Brows knitted, we persist with our interrogatories. "So, of what relevance is the condition of the stairs when wet?"

    "The stairs are slippery when wet!" beam the solicitors, their eyes glazed and litigation boners standing tall "That's all we need!"

    We place our head in our hands, and heave a deep sigh. They're probably going to be proven right. If you make your worst case scenario compelling enough, no one cares about the reality.

    Was the word "minors" used specifically in the R18+ guidelines or just in relation to determining the difference between R18+ and MA15+?

      The quotes Mark is referring to that discusses interactivity and mentions minors is actually in the Guidelines section, NOT in the R18+ part of the Categories. Therefore they is no conflict in mentioning minors in the paragraphs dealing with interactivity. At no stage does it mention minors in the R18+ category wording.

      It seems like Mark's gotten a bit emotive with this particular article and lost sight (a bit unusual for him) of what the guidelines actually say.

      Now the fact that it was felt that the interactivity bit needed to be in there at all is somewhat disappointing given the lack of evidence, as Mark rightly points out.

    It's like smoking and drinking... they have age guidelines too... but NOBODY cares! The government can waste a billion dollars on the best system ever and it won't mean a damned thing because kids and morons will always get their hands on things they want, whether it's illegal or even deadly. The truth is most parents don't give a damn about what their kids are doing as long as they shut the hell up and stay out of the way. You can deny it... but it's true.

    fucking idiots. If its to much for MA15+ its R18+. Print, send to parliament, new legislation.

    I've said it before.

    It's better to expect the worst when dealing with most public servants; because that's what you're most likely going to get.

      I'm a public servant, we do the best we can. It's the orders from politicians that get you the worst.

    Fucking called it, right from the get-go. Learn from this people, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

    The part of the article that disturbs me the most is:
    "therefore greater potential for harm or detriment, particularly to minors"

    Any more detrimental than a minor drinking a bottle of whiskey or smoking a pack of cigarettes? These items are "regulated" and that is considered to be acceptable, yet they sure as hell end up in the hands of minors. No different than an R or X rated movie, they're "regulated" but it seems that adults only movies in the hands of a minor is acceptable enough to let them entry to the country.

    If they wish to be the almighty hand of god that determines that adult Australians are not able to play games considered suitable for adults in the rest of the world, then they need to ban the sale of cigarettes and alcohol too. They wont, because they have far too much tax to deny.

    Time and again, the concepts being cited in this law have been disproven. There has been no link established whatsoever to indicate that violent games have more impact on the mental development or well-being of a child than, say, a violent movie. To the contrary, there have been several papers indicating that there is absolutely no difference physiologically or emotionally between witnessing a violent crime in a movie and witnessing it in a game.

    If they are going to codify these claims into legislation, they had best be prepared for the slough of lawyers that are likely to be hired to fight the false claims made therein

    Look, if we get this new R rating and we are still denied the same games that every other country has allowed, then i will truly be let down. A step forward is still a step forward, even if it was very misguided.

    This doesn't bother me one iota. I'll import if I have too., I have plenty of freedoms and there are bigger issues at hand. Reading kotaku would give you the impression that this issue is important.

    But again, it is not. It just isn't. It is just kotaku's tabloid style, if the only thing in your life is gaming, I can see how this would upset you.

      Kotaku is a gaming blog. This is huge gaming news. People who aren't into gaming won't come here

      Regardless, this is also a huge matter on a principal level. If the government is going to botch up something where they could almost copy and paste from a movie's R18+ rating then there is a level incompetence that is unacceptable

    "So why do we still need to engage in these old arguments? Why are we still discussing the greater impact of violence on ‘minors’ in the context of R18+ rated games — games that should not be available to them, games that are only suitable for adults. Why is this something that needs to be taken into account? "

    Because there are unstable "adults" in society that are considered to have the mental capacity, of that of a child. Mental instability is a very serious issue, it's why bad shit keeps happening all over the planet... if you haven't noticed. Do you honestly believe that serious, malicious crimes are committed by perfectly sane and reasonable people?

    Crazy people are crazy because they have a diminished capacity. A child has an under developed capacity, these are both akin and yet different for obvious reasons. Considering the vast majority of horrible things that happen on this planet are due to mentally unstable people, why is it any surprise that Australia are taking steps to restrict "interactive media" from these people?

    Don't get me wrong, I side with science on this one, there's no evidence supporting the impact of interactive media on adults or children, that differs from any other form of media. BUT considering the accepted norm is just that, the onus falls onto us, the gaming community to prove that it DOESN'T. Not the other way around.

    It's considered that certain people of this nature, are prone to influence from all forms of media. Considering these muppets think games are more influential than other forms of media, coupled with the fact that,

      The premise that sane people don't do insane sh!t is refuted by this debate. Further your inferences that people with mental disabilities / problems commit 'the vast majority of horrible things' is both intellectually retarded and frankly stupid. Crazy people are 'crazy' due to a multitude of reasons. You 'Sir' are one of the people that PERHAPS should have their civil liberties curtailed. You claim you are on the side of SCIENCE but I fear you are staring at the blank curtain of regurgitated idiocy.

        Sane people don't commit atrocities.

        Prove otherwise with peer reviewed science, or politely stfu.

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