R18+ is now a real rating for video games in Australia, although it'll probably be a while before we see any R18+ rated games on store shelves. R18+ should impart knowledge, and knowledge is power. Why shouldn't we make use of that power in a positive way?
Every once in a while, when I'm looking over the shelves of a game store, I'll see a small child take up a copy of an MA15+ rated game up to a counter and try to buy it. In one respect, it's the kind of thing kids do -- I certainly recall as a teenager trying to (and sometimes succeeding) in getting into MA rated movies for example. R18+ provides a way for games to be rated across more criteria, which is a good thing, but at the same time, it raises exactly the same troubling scenario.
When R18+ games become a physical reality on Australian store shelves this year, it's sadly only going to be a matter of time before someone under-age scores a copy of... let's say Grand Theft Auto V, which, content-wise, is probably going to be a straight candidate for an R18+ rating.
Now, the purpose of the R18+ rating is, in theory, to enable games purchasers to make a more informed decision. A G-rated game (possibly featuring sparkling ponies) is unlikely to directly worry anyone, whereas its R18+ rated counterpart (possibly featuring the decapitated heads of sparkling ponies) is much more likely to. Information is power, and the power of R18+ isn't just one that will be in the hands of parents this years. It's also a powerful tool that we as the wider gaming community can use to both inform and spread a more positive image of gamers generally.
Anecdote time: A couple of years back, I was helping out with my daughter's infants school class. The activity I was helping out with was sentence construction. The kids had to finish the sentence "The thing I would most hate to lose is...", with most kids of that age opting for obvious targets; their teddy bears, LEGO, mum and dad and so on. One kid's written response?
"The thing I would most hate to lose is my copy of House Of The Dead for Xbox".
Some parents, clearly, don't care much as long as it keeps the kids happy.
But as gamers, that doesn't do us any favours at all. It's a relatively easy step from an underaged buyer getting an R18+ game to the screens of A Current Affair or Today Tonight, and that just perpetuates the dual myths that games are just for kids, and that they're only to do with blood splatters and titillation. We can't entirely stop that kind of thing from happening. But why shouldn't we do something equally positive to combat that position?
That's why I've got this challenge. I know I've chickened out in the past from speaking up when seeing kids trying to buy games they shouldn't be playing (and inwardly cheered when sales staff have refused), but that's not the way it should be. The next time you see this happening, say something. Be polite, but approach either the sales staff or the parents (if they're around) and point out the rating.
If they're the parents of the House Of The Dead kid, they may not care, and it won't change much -- but then it's not as though they can realistically complain about the content in that case! It's also possible that if you do so (politely, remember), you may just shame them into doing the right thing, although that is admittedly a bit of a long shot.
Chances are with some parents that they haven't looked properly, and while you may be annoying a youngster dying to get in on some GTA V action, you're also doing the right thing.
Not just for the parents and the kid, but for gaming in general, because you'd be promoting the idea that gamers are socially responsible types. You may not win over the parents or the sales staff, but the chances are in a busy shopping centre that you'll never see them again anyway -- what have you got to lose? Conversely, anyone noticing what you're doing -- if done politely rather than in a "busybody" way -- should come away with the idea that gamers care about R18+, not just for the expanded games scope, but also for the way it can educate gamers of all ages.
I can see some complaints about the idea already; the concept that guidance should be the job of parents. Yes, absolutely, it should; my own kids know what the different rating systems mean, and generally even ask me if they're allowed to watch or play PG material, just in case. But not every parent cares about games beyond their ability to keep their kids happy. It's a functional truth, and the reality, I reckon, is that it's better to give a positive impression than deal with the inevitable tabloid-esque hype. Rather than just letting it be and complaining about the coverage, it's a chance to take matters into our own hands.
There are games for younger players that I would have utterly adored when I was that age -- more than enough these days to keep them busy up until they're of a more appropriate age to do so. R18+ doesn't just allow us as mature gamers to enjoy a wider scope of gaming material; it also allows us to educate the wider community, and be responsible in doing so. Who's with me?