Why Michael Atkinson's Opposal Of An R18+ Rating For Games Does Bugger All To Protect Kids, Promotes Crime

r18_big.jpgToday, State Parliament heard Attorney-General Michael Atkinson's arguments against an R18+ rating for video games.

Actually, that's not quite true. According to News.com.au, Atkinson was interrupted shortly after bringing up the use of drugs in the game Narc, which was refused classification back in 2005. However, News.com.au was able to get a hold of the full speech from his office.

If you haven't been following the saga, the R18+ rating for games will again be looked at during the next meeting of Attorneys-General, scheduled for later this month.

Unfortunately Atkinson is the AG for South Australia, and he's been against the rating since the beginning of time... possibly longer. His reasoning is, essentially, that every reasonable measure should be taken to prevent children from playing games containing adult content. Without the backing of every AG, there's no way the R18+ rating will be approved.

While noble, Atkinson's arguments against the rating are flawed.I had a chance to speak about the topic on ABC Radio Melbourne yesterday, though there wasn't time enough to put forward the case for the rating. So I'm glad I have the opportunity to do this now, and rebut Atkinson while I'm at it.

To start, Atkinson outlines the current ratings situation. It's only a few paragraphs in that he hits the meat:

I am concerned about the harm of high-impact (particularly violent) computer games to children. Games may pose a far greater problem than other media – particularly films – because their interactive nature could exacerbate their impact.

I should state off the bat that I believe we should have a consistent, and if possible, enforceable ratings system for games. I also agree with Atkinson that the interactive nature of games could, in terms of promoting violence, put them a step above other forms of entertainment. This leads me to his next point:

The risk of interactivity on players of computer games with highly violent content is increased aggressive behaviour.

There are not enough conclusive studies for Atkinson to assert this as true, let alone that games provoke more aggressive behaviour than TV or film. Even so, it's a weak reason to deny adults the right to purchase violent games.

I do not want children to be able to get their hands on R18+ games easily. I understand that the lack of an R18+ classification denies some adults the chance to play some games, however, the need to keep potentially harmful material away from children is far more important.

It'd be naive to say that games don't provoke any emotion - but enough for an 18-year old to go on a murderous rampage? I don't think so. As for those under 18, there are plenty of violent games with MA15+ ratings on the market to make up for those that have been refused classification. For Atkinson's reasoning to be consistent, any game that includes violent content should be banned also.

Note that having an R18+ rating doesn't magically mean games can no longer be banned - the OFLC still has the power to refuse classification and request modified versions for resubmission.

Proponents for the classification say the latest technology allows gaming platforms and computers to be programmed to allow parental locks. Today’s children are far more technologically savvy than their parents. It’s laughable to suggest that they couldn’t find ways around parental locks if R18+ games were in the home.

Atkinson attacks his own argument here. I agree that parental locks are not the way to go, and even a waste of time. But by Atkinson's own reasoning, there are kids intelligent enough to pirate games via P2P file sharing or, if they seek a legitimate method, importing titles from overseas. In fact, by not having an R18+ rating, the government unintentionally encourages people to pirate games or spend their money outside the local economy.

I have mentioned that, despite there being thousands of computer games available to consumers, only a handful are banned. I want to give some examples of games refused classification in Australia because I’m certain that fair-minded people would not want the kind of content in them to be available to children.

This is a decent point - it's not like Australian gamers have been denied triple-A titles because we don't have an R18+ rating. However, other than keeping it out of the hands of kids and adults - at least until they download or order it - Atkinson does not mention the side effects of a game being handed an RC.

If the publisher is adamant about selling the game here, it has to go back and retool it to remove the offending elements. It then has to be resubmitted for classification. For the publisher, this means a delayed release, loss of profits, wasted developer time and cash and effort blown on marketing, packaging and logistics. For consumers, we have to wait longer for the game, and then accept a cut-down or censored version while pretty much the rest of the free world enjoys the game on schedule and as the developer intended.

Atkinson then goes on to mention five games that have been refused classification by the OFLC - Blitz: The League, Reservoir Dogs, 50 Cent: Bulletproof, Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure and Narc. The specific points he brings up however are largely irrelevant, and are more for the shock and awe factor than to reinforce his argument. Firstly, the fact we don't have an R18+ rating means that some games that should have received it get an MA15+ instead. Rockstar's Manhunt is the best example of this - it was retroactively refused classification in 2004 after being on sale for a year with an MA15+ rating.

Secondly and as previously mentioned, many kids are smart enough to download banned games, and it doesn't take the brightest child to figure out e-commerce. True, by preventing their sale in the country you're reducing the potential for them to fall into younger hands, but by the same token, you're encouraging piracy.

There are not adequate safeguards that can properly protect our children from those disturbing scenes and I know how computer-literate they are. Like other parents in Australia, I want to try to protect children from being able to access computer-generated pornography and violence.

The thing is, kids are buying MA15+ games right now, games where people explode, get shot, bled and die. At least with an R18+ rating, the classifications board would not be forced into either giving borderline games an MA15+ rating or banning them and wasting the time of publishers and consumers.

Overshadowing all of this are the issues of free speech and censorship. Why should the government decide what free-minded adults can and cannot play? Shouldn't parents and not the government take responsibility for restricting what games their kids play? The problem lies not with the games, but education.

The UK, Europe and the US seem to handle an R18+ rating just fine, isn't Australia mature enough to cope as well?

Games ratings speech cut off in Parliament [News.com.au, thanks Anthony]


Comments

    Good, well reasoned article. It's too bad the old farts in parliament choose to block out anything that makes sense and cling to their old paranoid ways.

    One day, when all these old bogans have died or stepped down, and the generation that grew up playing games is in power, then we will see videogames receiving fair treatment.

    I really want R18 games but I thought it was Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo policy not to allow games on their consoles that have an 18+ rating anyway despite whether the country in question legally allows it.

    PC would be the only one to benefit right? :(

      @Darcy

      Nooo. They only ban games with sexual content. Not R18+ :).

    Called it.

    Pull your head out, (tw)Atkinson. An R rating means kids WON'T be playing them

    "The UK, Europe and the US seem to handle an R18+ rating just fine, isn't Australia mature enough to cope as well?"

    Well, according to Labor, adults in Australia aren't mature enough to have default uncensored Internet access, to buy R18+ rated games, OR to parent their own children correctly. (By the way, I'm not saying this because I preferred Liberal. I didn't vote for either of those parties.)

    Why the hate on parental locks? They are an easily implemented system that takes no toll on anything else, and make it a little easier to make sure your kids aren't playing or watching things you think aren't appropriate. It's no substitute for good parenting that includes watching your children and being active in their upbringing, but neither is banning anything that might harm them.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. Nothing else will ever be a substitute for good parenting. Having children is a huge responsibility, and you can't expect the whole word to revolve around your kids. We know you're busy. We know it's hard being a parent. That's why we have the classification system to help you choose what's appropriate. If you're a parent, get off your ass and use it.

    internodes gaming network had a nicely organised sample letter / email written to petition the guy but I doubt it reached enough people. Let alone I doubt it would affect Micheal Atkinson opinion anyway. Its depressing how backwards our nation is because of the mass votes gained appealing to the uninformed.

    All hail Play-Asia and eBay and PirateBay.org.

    Need I say more? Except that I'm 23 and well capable of making my own damned decisions.

    Heck, I've downloaded and played Manhunt, and yes it was arse, and most definitely not worse than watching Saw, which offended me even more. Heck, I threw up after the pig scene in Saw III and no game has ever made me feel that way?

    Honestly, what the fuck is worse?

    Glad to see you're out there Logan, and with a cool head. I struggle not to be infantile about such matters but when it comes down to it, I just want to say "fuck you". Though, it really doesn't help a damn.

    Sometimes, however, people fail to see rationally, least of all when they've got some whacked-ideal in their head about them doing justice and "thinking of the children."

    Again Logan, thanks for speaking.

    The most frustrating thing is that Atkinson doesn't realise that an R18+ Rating is the most perfect, simple and effective answer to all of his arguments.

    This would have never happened if some Fat old skank on her period got her panties in a bunch after buying her kid a violent game.

    This is what pisses me off, if a parent buys their kid a gun and they shoot themselves or someone else are they going to blame the gun company??? even if they don't whose fault is it. Of course it's the parents fault, why buy them a
    gun without knowing what it does.

    The same principal applies to games. If the parents do their job and supervise their kids then we wouldn't be having this discussion. But kids nowadays have it too easy, parents don't want to know what there up to as long as their not bothering them. But who is the first to complain/sue and show up on a current afair when their kid hurts themself.

    With r18+ restriction not only do we ensure that the majority of games will hit our sures untouched, but we also ensures that kids aren't going to end up with something they shouldn't have. Yes there are going to be exceptions but again i ask who's fault is it if a child ends up with an r18+ rated game????

    I think more studies need to be conducted that investigates how much money the Aussie economy misses out on from people/children importing and downloading games, to just highlight the fact that people will get what they want.

    Alternatively they could just approve the 18+ classification and mandate that copies only be sold at adult stores. I wouldn't mind going to a porn palace to pick up the latest copy of Grand Theft Auto...

    How the hell are we so different from the UK, Europe and the US? Maybe we should be censoring stupid comments as every time the issue of 18+ classification comes up i.e. that there is none, some nobody steps up and makes us Australians look like idiots to the rest of the world.

    Michael Atkinson is clearly only thinking of himself and should be deported to another country that will take idiots like him.

    Another thing is regardless of any of these issues it is completely against our democractic society to have one person's opinion hold back the opinion of the majority.

    That's the bottom line Michael Atkinson!

    The problem is that Australian culture is far too laid back. So much so that the politicians KNOW they can get virtually anything through parliament without a great deal of public pressure because Australians are just too lazy to do anything about it. This "she'll be right" attitude is why Australia is behind the rest of the world in many aspects. Australians put far too much faith in the government, although most Australians would say they hate the government, they're never willing to get off their footy watching asses and do something about it. They think all that matters in life is sport and beer. For example, it disgusts me that Australians continually put up with the mass corruption of the political system. The rest of the Western world laughs at us for calling ourselves a democracy while every adult citizen is FORCED to vote either for Mickey or Minny. Democracy my ASS. Also, how is this co-operative classification scheme considered democratic? Why is ONE man allowed to dictate whether we have an R rating for games or not? The OFLC makes decisions based on a majority system, could you imagine the uproar if media were banned if ONE classifier thought it should be? Americans on the other hand are rather high strung and extremely protective of their "rights". Although mass hypocrites, their involvement in politics differs dramatically and plus they have their rock solid bill of rights.

    In the end Australians have no one to blame but themselves. This retarded "she'll be right, fair go, sport = god" culture is the core problem. It's exactly the reason nothing changes year after year. People might have a bitch on the internet every now and then but when do they ever take half an hour to fire off a well thought out letter to a politician? Take a look at Michael Atkinson's home town, Adelaide, arguably the shittiest, most backwards, god forsaken large city in the whole of Australia. Ironically I was born in Adelaide and after living in Brisbane for 3 years and coming back here for a visit it's obvious just how much of a backwards dump Adelaide really is. The sad part is no one who still lives here can actually see the city for what it is. Expand your horizons and understand that while you keep Atkinson in power, you're ensuring Adelaide stays fucked up and you're beginning to fuck up the rest of the country.

    "Why should the government decide what free-minded adults can and cannot play?" - that is what governments are there for to prevent individual and arbitrary decisions taking the place of the law. Without the law you have NO freedoms - some huge guy can smash into your house, kill you and rape your wife.

    You guys are thinking "What about me?!?!"

    This is just a step in trying to limit what kids are exposed to. I am not sorry to say that they are more important than an adult getting a little more gore or sex in their game.

    It doesn't stop all exposure, but it does reduce it, and that is worth it.

    To say that this advocates piracy is like saying speed limits advocate speeding.

      You think it doesn't advocate piracy? I think it does.

      Because if a game is censored to MA15+ or not released in Australia, people (including CHILDREN under 18 years old) will turn to piracy.

      There are countless torrent sites, such as Mininova and ThePirateBay. All you need to do is type in a query and click search, and you can find pretty much anything.

      A lot of these torrent sites have sections just for finding porn.

      So in theory, children could be at a greater risk of being exposed to inapproriate content than if there was a R18+ rating, as they seek out a banned game, they click the wrong link, and BAM. Titties and such appear on the screen. One thing leads to another and then your children are watching hardcore pornography. Not to mention the large amount of torrents that claim to be a game or movie and turn out to be porn.

    @John: You'll note I said "play", not "do". We should have laws and a structure in place to enforce them, I completely agree with that, but playing a game with violence in it, and committing violent acts in real life are two very different things. Please don't confuse them.

    I'm all for making sure games with adult themes don't make their way into the hands of kids that really shouldn't be playing them. An R18+ rating is about more than just adult gamers getting "more gore or sex in their game". It's about our rights. It's about not wasting our time, and that of publishers. It's about giving the OFLC more options to correctly rate games, rather than making do with MA15+. Yes, the flat out ban most likely reduces exposure (something I did point out), but if kids who are smart enough to circumvent parental controls want a game, then they're intelligent enough to download them or purchase them from overseas. What we need is education for parents and retailers, not restrictions on our rights.

    Finally, I never said that a lack of an R18+ rating "advocates" piracy - it's an unintentional side effect. I'm not saying the government is actively encouraging people to download games via P2P, but banning games that people want to play (and own legitimately), doesn't help.

    Please, I encourage you to read the entire piece, as I believe you may have missed a number of important points.

    The current review and ratings system is laughable. A game like Indigo Prophecy / Fahrenheit sees a modified release in the US to remove the full-view nude sex scene, yet in Australia we get the uncut version as MA15+ and nobody bats an eyelid. Yet a huge stink gets kicked up over something like Hot Coffee.
    There is no consistency.

    I worked in computer retail for a couple of years and sold games computer hardware etc.. Every time i had a kid come in and ask to buy a game that M15+ rating i would ask him\her "Are you 15?" They more often then not say "Yes" I ask for ID they cant provide it so i ask them to come back with their parents for them to buy the game. On more then a few occasions i have parent berate me for not selling these games to their kids. Game with Horror gore sex scenes etc in them. The same parents that will get all up in arms about The sex and violence in the game that THEY just bought for their child.
    But then again there were the parents that thanked me for not selling the game to their kid.

    I am all for a R18+ rating, but with some of the types of parents out there I would be encourage that these games be sold in Adult Stores. I have no insecurities about walking into a Sex Store to buy a game.

    This was the bit of his speech that really got me, in describing one of the banned games
    "Just to show that the current system does work, a censored version of the game was released later with an MA15+ classification."
    So essentially he is advocating games with adult content being available to 15 year olds after slight censoring. Geez won't someone think of the children and give this guy a clue.

    what do you guys think the best forum for protesting this is?

    Don't spend tax payers money minding your kid. There was a similar article in India about a granny politician shocked that her grandson bought a "violent" game and force her hand to get the government into introducing banning based on rating

    mr atkinson wants to protect children?

    KEEP THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY KIDS!!!
    YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO PROTECT THEM!!!
    PISS OFF!!!

    Thats what id say to his face if had the chance

    I sent him an email too - about 2 weeks ago. I also forwarded it to JJJ's Hack program who have contacted me about a story they may be running in the next week or so.

    I got an email from MA's office asking for my postage address so he can send me a letter in return, but so far my letterbox has remained empty. I also find it kind of ironic that after all the calls that he's clearly out of touch with technology, that of the 3 email addresses he has to contact his office, he's written me a letter that he's sending in the mail.

    To think my grand father fought in WWII, and my father in Vietnam, to keep people like him out of this country.

    I want my freedom, freedom of Choice.

    "I understand that the lack of an R18+ classification denies some adults the chance to play some games, however, the need to keep potentially harmful material away from children is far more important."

    I'd come up with a rebuttal, but Mark Twain beat me to it:
    "Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it "

    "The thing is, kids are buying MA15+ games right now, games where people explode, get shot, bled and die. At least with an R18+ rating, the classifications board would not be forced into either giving borderline games an MA15+ rating or banning them and wasting the time of publishers and consumers."

    Why is it THIS point that the opposers never acknowledge! This point, I believe, is the core logical arguement for R18+ classification.
    The example of this are games like Rainbow Six, Gears of War and Call of Duty 4. They SHOULD BE R18+!

    Honestly, what do we have to do to get the opposers to stop ignoring this point!?

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