Yesterday, South Australian Attorney-General and R18+ opponent Michael Atkinson wrote to the Adelaide Advertiser about his favourite topic. A Kotaku reader contacted me earlier today with his own response. Read them both beyond the jump.
Here's Atkinson's letter to the Advertiser:
Face the real world
A Queensland letter writer (The Advertiser, 7/3/09) claims that democracy is at an end because I, as Attorney-General, will not agree to an R18+ category for interactive computer games; that "every other state AG is against him"; and the only way to bring back democracy is to vote me out at the next election. It is true that I am opposed to an R18+ category for interactive games, but I am one of at least four Attorneys so opposed.
I welcome a challenge in my electorate of Croydon at the next general election on this issue.
Among my constituents are hundreds of refugees who are trying to find lodgings for the family, gain employment and sponsor relatives from the old country.
Their vote is hardly likely to hinge on the "right" to score gamer points on the computer screen by running down and killing pedestrians on the pavement, raping a mother and her two daughters, blowing onself up in a market, cutting people in half with large calibre shells, injecting drugs to win an athletics event or killing a prostitute to recover the fee one just paid her (Welcome to the world of R18+ computer games).
Those of my constituents who are refugees have been subjected to the practical instead of the virtual suffering that R18+ nerds seek to inflict for their gratification on the computer screen.MICHAEL ATKINSON,Attorney-General, Adelaide.
And here's a response from Kotaku reader - and 57-year-old grandparent - Terry O'Shanassy:
Face the real world yourself, Mr. Atkinson!
Recently S.A. Attorney-General Michael Atkinson wrote a diatribe of misinformation in support of his stance against the extension of the R18+ Classification category to video games. It was published as a "Letter to the Editor" in the Adelaide Advertiser on 10th March, 2009, under the title "Face the Real World".
Firstly, Mr. Atkinson claims that there are four other Attorneys-General who endorse his opposition to the measure. In the past, Mr. Atkinson has even gone so far as to claim that he's been asked by other Attorneys-General to be the 'spokesman' in relation to the matter. Not so, Mr. Atkinson. Fact of the matter is that, currently, both the Victorian and the A.C.T. Attorneys-General have publicly expressed 'in principle' support for the measure, and no other Attorney-General apart from yourself has publicly stated any position whatsoever in this matter.
Next, Mr. Atkinson goes on to suggest that the matter is one which is unimportant to the 'refugee' voters within his constituency, and that he is happy to face an election on the matter to have his stance judged by his constituents. Excuse me, Mr. Atkinson, but I'd have thought your responsibility in your role as Attorney-General was to ALL the people in your State, not just to your supporters amongst your own constituency.
Worst of all, though, Mr. Atkinson utterly misrepresents the entire debate regarding the extension of R18+ classification to video games. He describes the supporters of such a move as 'R18+ nerds' who "seek to inflict their gratification on the computer screen" by "running down and killing pedestrians on the pavement, raping a mother and her two daughters, blowing oneself up in a market, cutting people in half with large calibre shells, injecting drugs to win an athletic event, or killing a prostitute to recover the fee one just paid her." Mr. Atkinson justifies his stance, and has done so for a long time now, with the contention that he is concerned with "protecting the children".
There are some serious flaws with Mr. Atkinson's line of argument. For starters, of the examples of offensive content he has mentioned, most would fall within the allowable scope of our current classification system for the 'MA15+' classification rating. One would be "Refused Classification" even if the R18+ rating was applied to video games as well as to movies and other media. His mention of a game in which the objective is (in his words) "raping a mother and her two daughters" relates to a videogame title made only for the Japanese marketplace, not intended for distribution anywhere in the world other than Japan, and of a nature which would be 'Refused Classification' under our classification system no matter what classification rating it was submitted to occupy. Mention of it in Mr. Atkinson's missive is an exercise in outright deceit!
Another major flaw in Mr. Atkinson's line of argument is that 'video gamers' aren't nowadays simply children who are 'seeking gratification' by accumulating points in a video game. A third is his continued contention that the 'interactivity' of video games makes them a more 'high risk' form of media than others.
Let's counter those claims. To begin with, research has demonstrated that the 'average gamer' in this country is not a kid playing arcade-style shoot-em-ups to accumulate 'points'. It has been conclusively demonstrated that the 'average gamer' is an adult in his or her late 20s. The video gaming community has matured. 8% or more of that community is 60+ yrs of age. We're really talking about an activity which is predominately engaged in by mature adults. Those mature adults are not, I might add, simply playing computer games which are simplistic arcade-style shoot-em-ups. Mr. Atkinson is erroneous if he thinks so. Computers and game consoles alike have become quite sophisticated technologically, allowing the production of game titles which are genuinely 'literary' in style. Which allow the exploration of themes, and which can be (and sometimes are) used as the basis of literary appreciation and education. Come to grips with it, please Mr. Atkinson. It's a new world out there, and you don't seem to be aware of it!
The contention that the 'interactivity' of video games makes them 'trainers' for anti-social behaviour and even causes anti-social behaviour is an unsupportable one. No study whatsoever has demonstrated this contention to be a correct one. Please don't insult our intelligence by making claims which simply aren't true. It might be a 'popular' misconception, but its popularity doesn't lend it any credence nevertheless.
Most alarming of all, however, is the erroneous contention that the absence of an R18+ classification for video games somehow "protects children" by removing their potential exposure to adult material. The classification system and mechanisms we currently have in place and in effect DOES NOT protect children by placing strongly adult-oriented materials into an R18+ classification. Treatment of those strongly adult-oriented themes currently gets placed into the MA15+ classification rating. It does so for ALL forms of media. It is fundamentally and profoundly WRONG to suggest that not having an R18+ classification for games 'protects' children.
The truth is that our current systems and mechanisms of content classification are flawed, and they have not been reviewed for some years now. Rather than being a genuinely informative 'guide' for parents to follow when assessing content which is suitable or otherwise for their children, our content classification system places "strongly adult themed" content into a classification ranking which parents all too often miscomprehend as meaning "suitable for 15 and over age group". The only content we deem to be "adults only" is the extreme. The most explicit of sexual depictions. The explicit and extended treatment of gory and/or ghoulish content.
It's also true that the mature-minded video gaming community is well aware of just how flawed our system of classification is. Rather than simply calling for "more titties and blood" in video games our gaming community is really calling for a revamp of the ratings classification system in this country. For a system which genuinely informs parents of the content their children gain access to. For an 'adult' classification which is used and reflects truly 'adult' content.
The next meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General is due to be held next month sometime. The matter of video game censorship classification is scheduled to be raised again at that meeting. The previous such meeting called for a 'Discussion paper' to be tabled for consideration. We can only hope that Discussion paper treats the matter with the mature consideration it deserves, and that Mr. Atkinson will adopt a 'mature' approach to it. Any alteration to the Classifications system requires the unanimous support of all Attorneys-General.
It's difficult to hold out hope though. In a recent missive to Gamespot Australia, Mr. Atkinson not only betrayed his utter misunderstanding of the call for a genuine R18+ classification rating for video games here in Australia. He also bewailed his own children's video gaming activities as a "physical and emotional obsession". Goodness me, Mr. Atkinson. I've seen a lot of video gaming over a lifetime, but I've not often seen it become such an alarming pastime for people. Is there perhaps something amiss in your household, and you're projecting your floundering ability to deal with it onto me? How about attend to your own hearth. Mine's fine!
Like many other 'video gamers' I deplore the current situation, whereby parents are misled into thinking that "strongly adult" content is somehow suitable for all persons 15 and over. It doesn't really matter to me if the interaction with the media is active or passive. If strongly adult themes are explored in an adult-oriented mature fashion then the content should be denoted as such. The labelling of it with an 'MA15+' rating does not have that impact and Mr. Atkinson has, on numerous occasions in the past, acknowledged the fact.
By continuing his rather obstinate opposition to change, Mr. Atkinson is not, in actuality, "protecting the children". He is endorsing the very system which lends itself to making adult content already available to them!
(Terry is a 57 year old grandparent of 8, a number of whom are young video gamers. He lists video gaming as one of his leisure activities alongside fishing, camping, and cycling.)
So, readers, what are your thoughts on the debate? Has Terry got everything covered or is there some validity to Atkinson's argument?