The Australian Attempts Criticism of R18+ Classification for Video Games

r18_left.jpgSigh. Refuting opinions against the R18+ classification is really starting to tire me, especially when a little research on the author's part would save me a lot of time. But hey, that's what I'm here for.

Take this rant today by Ross Fitzgerald over at The Australian, regarding the SCAG's decision to consult the public on the R18+ rating.Fitzgerald first remarks on a comment made by Quentin Tarantino on the OFLC qualifying the violence in Kill Bill. According to the piece, the comment was: "How violent are the movies here, when this is 'medium'?". Fitzgerald then goes on to ask why the SCAG, based on this comment, did not investigate "whether levels of violence in Australian entertainment are set too high".

All I can say is Ross, that's an excellent point. But how is an R18+ rating for video games going to hurt this situation? If anything, it'll mean games currently slipping into the MA15+ category will be correctly rated.

Given that this is the first time SCAG is composed entirely of ALP attorneys-general...

Sorry, I'm going to stop you right here. I know it's a lot to ask, but less political bias and more on the issue at hand, please? Take your left-wing/right-wing/turkey breast somewhere else, because we don't care. We really don't.

Back to the show:

... one would have thought they would have at least paid lip service to their 2007 federal election platform, which stated that the ALP was most concerned about violence and sexual violence in classification matters and that federal Labor would in fact commission an extensive research project on the impact of the portrayal of violence on our society. So why don't the Labor attorneys-general just honour their commitment to convene this inquiry and get the research under way?

Maybe because they have? If you read the latest notes regarding the public consultation, you'll see that the attorneys-general are in the process of putting together a discussion paper that will contain research on the issue. This is for the benefit of not only the AGs, but the public and interest groups as well. Sounds like they have the right idea to me.

I'm no supporter of Atkinson's deep social conservatism.

Fantastic, neither are we!

Fitzgerald goes on to stipulate that R-rated films are around 80 percent violence and 20 percent sex. I'm not going to ask where these statistics are from, but I'm happy to assume, for the sake of argument, that they're reasonably accurate. He mentions that if it's plain old sex you're after, there's X-rated porn that'll serve your purpose.

There is no suggestion that R-rated computer games will be any different from R-rated films in this regard and so this will be a category for mindless and instructive violence for those who get off on this sort of thing.

Wow. Just... wow. Way to miss the point, Fitzy. It's okay though, I'm happy to entertain this argument. Let's have a look at two recent games that have been banned here, but overseas received an adults-only rating.

Most recently, there's Dark Sector. We're getting a modified version that has no decapitation and other forms of dismemberment removed from human characters. Otherwise, it's the same version the rest of the world has. Graphic, maybe, but I fail to see how it's instructional, unless humans somehow gain the ability to throw glaives from their arms and aliens invade the Earth.

Next, there's Soldier of Fortune: Payback. The OFLC banned this title, then Activision came back with a new version the board approved that had reduced ragdoll physics and blood effects, and no dismemberment. Apart for these changes, it's the same game the rest of the world got.

Now, the setting in SoF is a lot more realistic than that of Dark Sector and the series has always been (sadly) about the gore rather than gameplay. But it's still about a nigh-invincible mercenary jumping into foreign countries and taking out entire armies solo.

If an adult is taking instruction or "getting off" on either of these games, I don't think the problem is with the classification system. Just like no one is going to rent out Rambo 4 in the belief it'll make them some sort of unkillable commando. It's just stupid.

I will say that if there's any game that should be R-rated, it's SoF: Payback. I actually agree with the board's decision here - the game is pretty absurd with its violence - but denying adults the right to purchase the game as the developer intended is a disservice to our rights. It doesn't matter if it contains mindless violence - if I want to play a game like SoF, I should be able to. Being able to separate fantasy from reality is not the issue - of course we're mature enough to do that. We can do it for films with an R rating and we can just as easily do it for games.

Countries with R-rated games seem to handle them just fine. No riots, no violent orgies. It might have something to do with the government being mature enough to realise it's up to parents to monitor what their kids are subjected to, but that's just a guess.

Fitzgerald then argues that the entire classification system needs a review, citing a number of reasons including the system's love of Hollywood violence and strong political influences. Hey, this may indeed be the case. All we're asking is that games be treated in the same way that films and books are. Once that's done, feel free to look at the classification system as a whole. If things need to be toned down or more regulated, fine, we're prepared to roll with that. But as it stands, games are regarded as a kids-only pastime when research by the IEAA quite clearly shows it's not. How can you compare forms of entertainment when they're not even on equal terms in the eyes of the government? Now that's utter nonsense.

He then makes this statement:

With the conspicuous exception of Atkinson, the rest of Australia's state and federal attorneys should hang their heads in shame for trying to foist a category of computer games on us that will contain mostly mind-numbing violence.

What Fitzgerald fails to realise is that the push for an R18+ rating for video games is not about "trying to foist a category of computer games on us that will contain mostly mind-numbing violence". Yes, I, a 24-year old games journalist, want an R18+ rating so I can enjoy mindless violence. Please. The rating is about a great many things. It's about giving the OFLC the ability to properly rate games, reducing release delays, reducing the amount of games we import from overseas, reducing piracy and bringing our ancient classification system in line with the rest of the world. I've already talked about this at length.

But there are powerful forces behind this push. In 2006, sales of computer and video game hardware and software in Australia exceeded $1billion and Australians purchase 12.5 million computer and video games each year. A survey of popular Sega and Nintendo games taken a few years ago found that 80 per cent of them primarily featured violence or aggression.

Amazing! Games contain violence! So do books and movies. All three industries have lots of money behind them. Is there anything else blindingly obvious you'd like to share with us? If anything, it shows that games are an expanding industry, one that includes children, teenagers and adults. It should be considered as a form of entertainment enjoyed by people of all ages and our classification system should reflect this.

Fitzgerald wraps up his opinion with this:

... I don't have a problem with consensual sex on film and vastly prefer it to films showing murders, rapes and serious assaults. On this I believe I carry the support of most fellow Australians. So why can't the attorneys find a way to introduce a regulatory scheme to make non-violent erotic films legal in all our states and territories and, at the same time, keep violence away from impressionable young minds?

I can't really argue with Fitzgerald's approval of sex but not violence, that's personal preference. What I can argue with is Fitzgerald's assumption that games are just for kids. How many times can I say this: They're not. According to the IEAA, the average age of the Australian gamer is 28. Twenty-eight. This is hardly an impressionable young mind. It's a mind that wants the freedom to watch, read and play what it wants, without the government getting all uppity in its space. Just as Fitzgerald, who I'm assuming is an adult, is okay with sex, gamers, as adults, are okay with violence.

Feel free to add your own opinion to the proceedings. I'm interested to hear what you have to say. If you'd like to help with the push for an R18+ rating, be sure to read my post from last week.

R-rated video games sop to powerful [The Australian, thanks Patrick]


    If you're an adult Australian gamer you should be breaking out the type writer and composing a letter asap.

    People need to start letter writing if we want to see a change. Plus the sooner we see a change in the laws and the issue put to bed the sooner we can get rid of sensationalist crap like Mr. Fitzgerald's opinion piece.

    I don't know what to say logan. Besides thank you. I really have nothing else to say that wouldn't lead to being counter productive to the issue at hand.

    I really hate the futility of argueing to those who really at the end of the day were never going to be affected by the decision despite the validity of our positions.

    Yet another foolish article, by a writer in the public eye, who doesn't have the facts and is letting personal opinion get in the way of an opportunity to actually EDUCATE the population of this country. Kotaku AU keep up the good fight and one day those in power may actually wake up and see sense.

    Just to add to the items this newspaper author missed in his OPINION piece he suggests that X would be more appropriate but last time I looked the X rating specifically excludes violence - it is reserved for explicit sex only so would not change the ratings games receive.

    Thanks for posting this Logan. I was on the train to work reading the article and I almost choked on my breakfast.

    Once again, the public is subjected to a single view while all others are quashed.

    " are just for kids. How many times can I say this: They're not."

    As many times as it takes to get the message through. Keep on keeping on Logan.

    What happened to letting the people decide? He's just so wrong about so many things! I don't even know where to begin.

    We'll it's a good thing Logan does. Thanks for the great write up, now if only some of the old alzheimer’s sufferers running parliament knew how to use a computer then they might see this article. Not that it would help, since when does what the people think matter?

    Unfortunately there seems to be a "Ban it and it will go away" policy in place in this country.
    Not only for the classification of games but in everything we do on a day to day basis.

    I feel we are in danger of becoming a nation of mindless zealots who have no free will because we are not given the respect (or EDUCATION) to make our own choices.

    I challenge parliament to grow some stones, put aside the cowardly and lazy attitude to solving societies fears and tackle the real issue EDUCATION!

    Seriously great article Logan. Truer words, my friend, truer words.

    As for the R18+ rating. I really don't care about it as I will always be able to get vastly cheaper games from overseas.

    If 18+ is inappropriate for "impressionable young minds", how old does a person have to be before they possess an "unimpressional old mind"?

    What if we had a 21+ rating instead?

    A 30+ rating?

    How old do we have to be before we can make up our own minds about what we do and don't like?

    Hi Logan,

    It's Mahesh Sharma. I write for The Australian but i used to write for ITJ. how's it going?

    While I think your criticisms of the article are fair enough, i think the one key point to note is that Ross has brought this issue to the mainstream.

    So far reporting on this would've been on the side of the SA AG, or just online, where it would be picked up by a very techy audience.

    For it to get in the paper is a big deal, and an even bigger deal when it's considered that he's arguing for an R 18+ rating, which is not a very common view in the mainstream media (ie. the television channels and other newspapers)

    What alot of bloggers and online writers fail to understand is that they're pretty much only reaching a tech savvy audience, and aren't reaching the mass audience.

    That's not meant to be an insult, but just the way that audiences are geared atm.

    I must admit I was shocked that Ross Fitzgerald 'stooped' to covering our humble hobby but frankly ever since The Australian became a rustic, conservative mouthpiece the quality of it's editorial has been lacking...(I think this happened somewhere around its inception).

    Fantastic job on the response Logan, couldn't have said it better myself.

    Logan, while I agree with your article and the majority of points you've made, the fact that you have attempted to portray Fitzgerald's article as politically biased is completely untrue.

    Fitzgerald makes an entirely legitimate point, which you've sought to take an unnecessary cheap shot at. Yes, it is the first time ever that the SCAG meeting is comprised entirely of ALP Attorneys-General. That's a perfectly legitimate point because he qualifies it right away linking it to a policy platform that the ALP took to the election.

    I believe the fact you unnecessarily mentioned that detracted from a good, well-written article and dented your credibility.

    call media watch!

    So sad when you think about it. I instinctively scrolled down to bottom of Fitzgerald's rant to post a comment, but no, we can't do this. The Australian is a newspaper, and Fitzgerald's a columnist, not a blogger, so apparently his opinion is unquestionable gospel.

    In short, who cares what Fitzgerald says? He's a dinosaur who's getting fewer readers every day. If trends continue he'll soon be going into full tabloid mode in a desperate attempt to attract enough readers to keep his job.

    @Mahesh Sharma: Hey Mahesh, I'm not bad at all.

    I don't take it as an insult at all. In fact, I hope Ross' article drives people online for more balanced opinions, where hopefully they'll read this piece. While I agree that our audience is mostly comprised of gamers and the tech-savvy, this article is as much for them as it is for interested individuals that type "r18+" into a search engine.

    You mention that Ross is arguing for an R18+ rating for games. If that was his objective, I have to be honest, he did a very bad job. I did not get that impression at all, especially with comments such as "trying to foist a category of computer games on us that will contain mostly mind-numbing violence". If I missed something, please let me know.

    I agree that Ross, at the very least, has given the issue some much-needed mainstream attention. However, I don't think this should stop us from making sure that people who do want more information have a chance to see both sides of the story. I also don't think that reaching a mainstream audience is a good enough excuse for me not to reply.

    @JP: That's a fair point. The problem is that Ross goes on to mention that the Labor AGs have failed to get any sort of research underway, when they have. This read to me as a cheap shot, and I didn't want it to cloud the issue.

    I should also mention that it was not my goal to portray the entire article as bias.

    Write a letter they say.

    I did. But it would seem that as a Victorian, the South Australian AG isn't interesting in coresponding with me. Maybe cause I'm not in his state?

    Except his decision affects the entire damn country. At least 90% of the time we can import these games from New Zealand...but again, this clearly shows the lost revenue to the Australian industry.

    Not the mention that I'm 29. I'm sure a 16 year old wouldn't be importing. They'd be torrenting.

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