Michael Atkinson, No R18+ For Games In Australia: Why It Hurts Children

Australian Gamer has posted a letter one of its readers received from Michael Atkinson, the South Australian Attorney-General against an R18+ rating for games. The letter is in response to the reader's arguments for the new classification.

I encourage you to read Atkinson's entire response so you can formulate your own judgement. I've previously dissected his position at length, and I won't be doing it again here - I'm afraid my head would explode from the sheer ridiculousness of the situation.

What I would like to do is pull out a few key points from his letter and explain why I feel they're "not a good enough reason" to deny an R18+ rating - to use the Attorney-General's own words.Here's what I believe are the AG's main concerns, going from his response letter: • Despite classification stickers, parents still make "bad choices" in regards to what content their children view (this is "backed" by IEAA survey data); • Our desire for unedited games shouldn't come ahead of protecting children from inappropriate material; • R18+ content adds nothing to the gaming experience; • Games classification is different to film classification, in that films can be better regulated; and • Children and "vulnerable" adults should not accept violence as a part of everyday life.

One thing I'd like everyone to note is that these are all valid points. Ignoring Atkinson's motivations, I can understand his logic. So, it's not about proving Atkinson wrong, but showing that a compromise between allowing adults to see what they want, and preventing children from seeing what they shouldn't, is possible. After all, this is what the OFLC is all about, if we're to believe the National Classification Code.

Before we start: What the community thinks The other point Atkinson brings up is that it's not just about protecting children, but considering what society feels is inappropriate. In other words, despite what we may think is right and wrong as individuals, and how well we can back up our opinions, it's the community as a whole that should influence the OFLC and Attorney-Generals.

Unfortunately, the community at large doesn't represent the views of gamers, which we can assume are strongly in favour of an R18+ rating for games. This, combined with Atkinson's pessimism regarding parents and their ability to make informed purchasing decisions, is the primary reason he is not in favour of the rating.

I'd like to use an analogy to illustrate the hypocrisy of this position (please ignore any religious/cultist overtones, they're not intended). Let us assume that Michael Atkinson is our parent/guardian, and we his children. Let us also assume the other Attorney-Generals, who must vote unanimously on changes to classification legislation, represent the community.

If you're willing to accept this as a reasonable analogy, then Atkinson, as our parent, is effectively making our purchasing decisions by disallowing the R18+ rating. We can assume he believes he is making the "right choice" based on the information he has. Yet, this decision goes against the feelings of the community. If Atkinson believes parents are, by and large, incapable of making correct and informed decisions for their children, then the decisions he makes for us, against the feelings of the other AGs, cannot also be correct and informed.

• Despite classification stickers, parents still make "bad choices" in regards to what content their children view (this is backed up by IEAA survey data) This is one of Atkinson's stronger points against an R18+ rating. And it's true - parents don't always make correct and informed choices for their children. However, I'm sure this isn't limited to just games. DVDs, toys, chemicals - while there are laws in place to dissuade children from watching inappropriate material, swallowing small parts and consuming household cleaners, it is up to the parent to enforce these preventatives.

Atkinson acknowledges that children are able to get their hands on things they shouldn't, and that his disapproval of an R18+ rating is really just damage control. That's fine, I can understand that. But is suppressing an individual's rights an acceptable compromise? I don't believe so. If parents can learn to not give their three-year olds Lego as a birthday present and to keep ammonia on a high shelf, then they can be educated about games classification. I'm not saying it'll be quick, cheap and painless - not at all - but if we are to reach a compromise, it has to be done.

Atkinson provides statistics from the IEAA to show that a majority of Australians are not influenced by ratings when they make their purchasing decisions. Let us ignore the fact that the average gamer is 28 - so classification, which only truly affects those aged 15 and under, could not possibly affect their decisions - and that the statistics do not say how many of these people are parents, the data only emphasises how poor a job the government has done at educating people on classification. This is hardly a point the AG should be highlighting.

Atkinson might be doing the right thing on the surface, but it's a passive, band-aid fix (and a poor one at that) to a wider problem - a lack of education. If he's so passionate about keeping bad stuff away from minors, he'd be taking a more aggressive stance on not just classification, but toys, drugs and the world's other evils as well. But he doesn't, which makes it hard to believe "protecting the children" is his objective.

• R18+ content adds nothing to the gaming experience; and our desire for unedited games shouldn't come ahead of protecting children from inappropriate material; On the surface, this first point seems a good one - why have explicit content if it adds nothing to the material? The answer to this question, however, is simple: it doesn't matter. The "experience" is entirely subjective - what Atkinson believes is nothing, someone else might find poignant, groundbreaking or artistic. Freedom of expression is all about pushing boundaries. What would The Diving Bell and the Butterfly be without the scene where Jean-Do floats naked and crippled in a bath tub, or the moment in the elevator in the US version of The Departed? To some, these scenes are confronting, maybe even disgusting. To others, they are powerful and emotive. For adults, they don't promote aggression - they promote thought.

You can't make decisions on what's a good or bad "experience" for adults, and to do so must surely go against society's expectations of individual freedoms. How can we know what's "too explicit" if we never have the chance to experience it? How can a classifications board made up of members of the community make informed decisions on censorship if they don't know where the lines should be drawn? How can the Attorneys-General make legislation on what is and isn't "inappropriate material" for the entire community, if their ideas of sex and violence are diluted, or even distorted? How can we protect children, while allowing adults to see and hear what they want, if we don't have a mature idea of where the boundaries are?

I don't want to speculate, but could the OFLC's inconsistent application of the classification guidelines be a sign that things have become too protected and insular?

• Games classification is different to film classification, in that films can be better regulated Atkinson says that children can be protected from films as they're shown in public locations, as opposed to games, which are taken home and played. Let's pretend Atkinson isn't suggesting the 16 to 24-year olds who man ticket booths are in a better position to make classification choices than parents (even though he does). What Atkinson doesn't acknowledge is that film classification applies to DVD and VHS movies as well, which, like games, can be taken home and viewed. Why do we have an R18+ rating for movies if this is the case? If Atkinson is willing to accept the average gamer isn't a child, it makes no sense to disallow an R18+ rating on this basis.

• Child and "vulnerable" adults should not accept violence as a part of everyday life I'm not sure what constitutes a "vulnerable" adult, but the sad truth is that violence is a part of everyday life. The thing is - it has little to do with video games. September 11. The Bali bombings. The invasion of Iraq. Violence is real, it's scary, and it's important adults and children understand why it's wrong. Games are definitely not the way to educate - that's not what I'm saying - but to stop adults from playing violent games because it will somehow protect them from the realities of life is naive. I don't know about you, but after a game of C&C: Generals I don't get the urge to build an army of tanks and declare war on the US or China. After putting down the controller in Grand Theft Auto, I don't at all feel like driving my car off the edge of an on-ramp. Again, it comes back to education - we should be educating kids about why violence is bad, not trying to hide it from them. Giving games an R18+ rating won't stop kids from experiencing violence, sex, etc from other sources. If forced, I'd rather a child ask about violence, sex, etc after seeing it in a simulated environment, like a game, rather than the real world.

Okay, so I did end up writing an absolutely massive chunk. My apologies.

If you decide to email the AG to voice your concerns, please do it in an intelligent and considerate manner. We're all angry and disappointed about the state of classification, but crudeness and vulgarity are not going to win us the day.

Hon Michael Atkinson MP Responds [Australian Gamer]


    *Games classification is different to film classification, in that films can be better regulated

    I have a difficult time taking this on as a valid point. It is currently illegal to sell all other forms of recreational products designated "adults only" to minors. Cigarettes and Alchohol require an ID check for Anyone looking close to or under the legal age. If a retailer is found breaching these laws heavy fines are enforced. From a regulatory stand point there is no reason why the same law's couldnt apply to R 18+ content.

    One argument might be "but kids are alowed into AUS retail stores and as such might have easier access" but last time I checked Beer and Smokes are sold at Woolworths and you dont see kids throwing in a 6 pack with their packet of chewing gum... let alone getting away with it.

    Theres no reason why adult content stuff cant be held behind the counter. I mean hey its not like you dont see R18+ DVD's on the shelf at video stores. Shit my local news agent has Penthouse sitting directly across from the Atomic's and PC Powerplay mags.

    Australia really is quite politically progressive in some areas but almost shamefully backwards in others.

    • R18+ content adds nothing to the gaming experience

    Whether it does or not is irrelevant.

    What companies are willing to revise their game for our small market? How much longer does it take us to get the game anyway.

    I seriously doubt fallout are going to cut out the drugs and submit a revised version for us.

    I doubt this idealistic idiot has any idea thats how it works anyway, im sure he sees games as a group rather than singular titles and blockbusters. One being as good as another.

    The result is no game at all. And thats not much of a result anyway, since everyone who wants it, finds a way to get it (illegally) on the import.

    Someone should break into this guys house and steal any M+ rated media he has, see what he has to say about that.

    The real solution is education to parents. How hard is an ad campaign? Were going backwards instead of Forwards here.

    Well I sent Michael an email... Doubt he will read it:

    Hi Michael!

    Something you might like to know... 10% of Australia's gamers are under the age of 18. What makes you think you know what's right and wrong for the remaining 90%?

    Now you may be thinking "Games do not require 18+ content to make them interesting or any more enjoyable than respectable content". That statement would be fine if game developers seen it that way. The fact is that highly entertaining games are being developed with 18+ content in them, whether it be mainly 18+ content or minimal, and these games are being sent back to be edited and later resubmitted. You must remember that these are games that are being developed for years, and the development is monitored by fans and critics to the point of release, at which point they plan to play the game that they have been following the progress of.

    To be honest Michael, the majority of the games that have been refused classification due to our lack of 18+ rating, have been terrible. Manhunt and Manhunt 2, while both displaying extreme amounts of unjustified violence, are poor quiality games. Not due to low graphics quality or what have you, but because the context of the story is poor. If the same violence was justified and portrayed in a storyline similar to the likes of the film Braveheart, it would make the content justified and bearable.

    The fact that one of the biggest titles in years has been refused classification saddens me. I refer to Fallout 3. It would be the same as refusing classification for movie titles such as the latest Rambo title or any recent war film. What the concerning part of this is that the objecting content was that the protagonist could use drugs to effect his status, he could heal himself with morphine administered by syringe, and I believe was also able to smoke and also take drugs in a pill form, much like in the real world. The only part that would bother me if this content was removed from the game would be that I never had a choice to view or not view this content. Now the concerning part is that the game was refused classification for this. Not that you are able to shoot an enemy in the head or other body part, resulting in that part basically exploding in blood and body matter once the bullet connects. So once this game is edited and the drug content is changed, players will still be able to inflict much violence upon ingame characters.

    I find it hard believe you think that people under the age of 18 will be getting their hands on content such as this, any more so then cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. What stops this? Their parents. You are basically suggesting that parents aren't doing their job.
    Now... Michael, I'm an easy going person, I enjoy confrontation but I also am a fairly safe individual. I abide by the law. However, I and any other person who would like material refused classification and not released in Australia, will more than likely import the title from overseas or obtain it by other means.

    Of those gamers that are under 18, and I'll remind you it's 10% of the total gamers Australia wide; what percentage of those do you think are likely to obtain an 18+ game without there parents consent? Now answer me what percentage of the remaining portion of gamers will import the game from overseas or obtain a pirated copy? I'll let you think about that.

    Trent Gore

    The problem as I see it is one of education.
    Because games have become part of the mainstream so relatively quickly the current generation of parents and really the general public (other than generation y)is scrambling to keep up.
    The idea that all games are for kids is sadly still lingering around.
    Those of you old enough to remember will recall the same attitude to anime when it first started to appear on our shores. I remember seeing 'Urotsukidoji', 'devil man' and other R rated or mature anime in the kids section of the local video store due to the ignorance of people assuming because it was an animation it was for children.

    So, how are we to illuminate the unenlightened? I doubt the government will spend money on TV campaigns and pamphlets like the drug education fiasco of years past.
    Perhaps it is up to the retailers to inform the customers when they purchase such games , maybe they should be behind the counter and wrapped in opaque plastic bags like porno mags!

    As I said this issue will eventually dissolve as the gamer educated gains more power over these decisions, however in the meantime I have to work out how I will play Fallout 3 and I shouldn't have to wait a generation to do it...

    I completely agree with the arguments you've posted here against the SA AG. Even when ignoring the gross technophobic bias that he holds against gaming, his arguments are still heavily flawed. I don't believe he should have a say in whether or not adults have to right to experience R18+ rated material in any form.

    Michael Atkinson is such a twat. I agree with you entirely, Logan.


    That was extremely well written and though out. Hat's off to you good sir.

    I can not help but feel that nothing will change.

    Logan, as always your essays on the subject are informative and interesting to read, and spot on the money. I really have nothing to add. We've been going around this same topic for months, and it just feels like until we get a new SA-AG then we'll get nowhere. It's sad, really.

    I've read the previously posted disection of Atkinson's hot air (really that's all it is). There's one point that I noticed in reading all this that I really have to make a point about:

    "• Despite classification stickers, parents still make "bad choices" in regards to what content their children view."

    Well then that's the parents' choice/failure on their part as a parent. Why should the rest of Australians suffer due to the lack of a correct, fair and balanced rating system just because some moron chooses to be a crappy parent?

    i didn't read all the way through i already made up my mind that this guy is a wanker.
    I believe as a free nation we deserve the right to make the choices ourselfs not some pencil pusher.

    I don't mean to offend the guy, but it kinda feels like Atkinson needs some educating himself on the current society's trends. I'm sure people have said it again and again to everyone but the important guys: This is just adding to the vicious cycle of the previous generation disapproving of the newer trends being adopted by their next of kin.

    First it was books becoming widespread, then the movies, then the talkies, then the radio, then television, then modern music, then the internet.. now it's video games. We're oblivious.

    i hope that retailers will vest their frustrations with Atkinson because of the huge amount of people that have and will be importing the games. Games can be altered easily to accommodate the MA15+ rating. Movies, on the other hand, can not. It is a blessing and a shame that we even get our "australian" versions of these games. I would like to think that if these games companies such as rockstar and bethesda would REFUSE to release these games in an altered state, then there would be huge pressure to get them released here in their original glory.

    This is utterly ridiculous. Atkinson must have never seen a video rental store before.

    I don't understand what gamers over the age of 18 think they gain with R18 content.

    Is a man being dissected graphically going to make a game like Halo better?

    How does graphic violence or sexual content make a game better? Or, is it rather about the 'ego' behind it all, knowing that you must be a good gamer to be able to play horrible, graphic games?

    Can someone please give me a valid reason as to why people should be permitted to play horrible things, when they obviously serve no purpose?

    I await your response.

    Great write up Logon, enjoyed reading it.
    off note: I didn't notice your weekly home made game this week, did you suddenly bail on us?

    @Jordan Mitchell: Firstly, thank you for your comment.

    However, it is important to understand that whether "R18" content makes a game worse, better or the same, is not the point. It's entirely subjective. The point is that games are not treated on the same level as movies or books. It's about equality and consistency. Atkinson himself has admitted that the average gamer is not a child. Why then are gamers treated like children?

    We have two choices when it comes to classification - we can either censor anything remotely offensive, or we can find a compromise between ratings, education and content.

    As adults, how can we keep what is offensive in perspective if the government makes the choice for us? Are you comfortable with the government telling you what you can and cannot experience? Sure, children should be protected, but the government is not allowing us as parents, guardians and people to do that. Instead of educating the public on classification, it bans any game it deems offensive. A fairly draconian reaction, if you ask me.

    You may be comfortable with the government making these kinds of choices for you, but myself, and many others, are not. By doing nothing about games classification, you're basically saying "Yes, government, restrict what I can see. Don't give me freedom of choice. You must know what's right for me".

    The US, UK, Europe, NZ - they all have an R18+ rating for games. Australia is mature enough to have one as well, surely?

    Who cares what the classification is here in Australia and what the overzealous AG's decide. I purchase my games digitally from overseas and any rating here in Australia will not affect my purchase of 18+ rated games from overseas.

    Import those few games banned in Australia. Problem solved (sorta :p).

    @ Rick

    yes but that is for you, unlike most people in Australia, alot of them do not import or download their games. Though not having an R rating doesn't affect you, It affects the rest of us

    @Jordan Mitchell: A thought, not about the content itself, but about how lack of content can affect the very gameplay itself regardless of how 'offensive' the content actually is.

    I remember when GTAIII first came out here. I was living in Alice Springs at the time, so I was going to wait to pick up a PC copy when our local shops actually got one in. Then the game got pulled, remade and rereleased, censored. I beleive I was 19 at the time (Wikipedia tells me it was 2001). This was my first experience with outright content removal and censorship, and I still don't own a copy of the game to this day, swearing I could not support this.

    Now: Friends of mine didn't care, and they did buy the game. I remember at a LAN party shortly after, hearing them complaining about how difficult the game was. Then they mentioned that they consulted a strategy guide which said "Pick up a hooker to regain health at this point." Now, with this option removed (the so called "sexual violence" being objectionable) this made the game that much harder for Australian gamers.

    Fallout 3: Our latest controversy. A game I have been waiting for with anticipation for 10 years (Fallout 2 being released in 1998). Now, in this game, I was able to choose if I wished, to use stimulants; at the risk of becoming addicted. Quite a moral dilemma, and one which I feel was very mature to enable. This was part of the very moral structure of the game: Your choices would directly affect your world and gameplay experience. Now, this option is being taken out for Australian gamers (one can only assume they will remove the content and resubmit). Here is another core gameplay element being removed in the guise of obscenity.

    Now, I'm 25 at this point in time. I have never taken drugs, smoked, commited any violent acts, robbed banks, killed prostitutes or cheated on my taxes. You'll note in the above content, which has been deemed R18+ there was no mention of your "graphic violence" or "sexual content".

    If you consider implied sex such as in GTAIII (picking up the hookers shows a bouncing car) to be sexual content (implied sex being allowed in M15+ movies and some PG if it's contextual) then I suggest you are in the minority.

    If you consider complex moral choices regarding substance use to be mature...you'd be right! I wouldn't want kids making those choices, they're not equipped psychologically to do so. WE as adults ARE. Hence why they would come under R18+. I'm not suggesting every game should have this content. Fallout 3 presents this in a mature and not at all gratuitous light... the way it should.

    I actually happen to agree with Atkinson's argument behind "Blitz: The League" that kind of drug content is just stupid, much like the sexual content we've seen previously. But just because I don't like it doesn't mean consenting adults shouldn't have access to it.

    My sincere apologies for the length of this diatribe, I got myself on a roll and couldn't quite stop.

    I've got no legal know-how at all, so please excuse me but...I know it's a very American approach, but can we sue them somehow?

    Get a Judge to make them change it? Or perhaps more realistically, bring up the topic with the National Bar Association?

    Perhaps, instead of lobbying the SA Attorney General since he is clearly not going to change his mind about this issue, we should be lobbying his bosses the South Australian Labor government ministers; especially the Premier Mike Rann.

    Tell them that we take the issue seriously; and that we will use our vote to record our displeasure at the situation. If they receive enough of this sort of feedback, something may be done about it.

    For the record, I voted Labor at the last few elections. I'm seriously considering voting for the opposition the next time around, partly because of the censorship issue.

    This guy is a son of a bitch and an attention seeker. How the fuck does some1 who thinks he is living in the 1920s in Adelaide which in itself is a city 20 years behind. fucking get to dictate my life in Sydney that old motherfucker. THis is a fucking joke.

    Fuck u Michael Atkinson u ass fuck. GTFO of Australia u product of 1000 previous whores.

    Ok. some one just bust both his kneecaps with a 12 gauge and that will be the end of it.

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