Established in the wake of the controversial banning - and subsequent censorship - of Left 4 Dead 2, the Gamers 4 Croydon party plans to run against South Australian Attorney-General and R18+ videogame opponent Michael Atkinson in next year's state election. I caught up with party founder David Doe to discuss those plans.
Doe grew up in Adelaide and currently lives in Melbourne where he works at games development studio Firemint. He's a passionate gamer and, perhaps soon, an officially political gamer, too.
As mentioned earlier this morning, Doe will be in Adelaide's Rundle Mall this evening to collect the 150 membership signatures he requires to officially register Gamers 4 Croydon as a political party.
I spoke with him yesterday to find out why he founded Gamers 4 Croydon and what he hopes to achieve.
Tell me about your reasons for starting this campaign. Was there one particular incident that triggered the idea? As it happens, it was reading [on Kotaku]that Michael Atkinson had thrown down the gauntlet in a letter to The Advertiser: "I welcome a challenge in my electorate of Croydon at the next general election on this issue." That initially gave me the seed of an idea to run a candidate against him. But when Left 4 Dead 2 was Refused Classification, I decided that enough was enough. Here, finally, was a game I was just absolutely not prepared to play in a watered-down condition.
Last year we had the same kind of issue with Fallout 3 being initially Refused Classification, although that, laughably, was over the use of the word 'morphine', and not the intensely graphic (and inappropriately rated MA15+ in my opinion) violence that Fallout 3 offered players. I'd seen enough "Down with Atkinson" threads over the past few years, typically every time an anticipated game gets the dreaded RC from the Classification Board, but as a community we weren't getting any traction on the issue.
I'm 30 years old now, and I'm more than a little sick and tired of being moralised at by people that don't understand, nor want to understand, the culture and community that plays a huge part in my life. I thought it was time to actively DO something, so for better or worse, here I am doing something.
What do you feel is the biggest problem with the current classification scheme? There is just no consistency. On one hand we have television and film being given a free pass with all types of content being made available (and rightly) to those who want to (and are legally able to) view R18+ (or even x18+) content, but for some reason, the idea that "videogames are just for kids" has stuck around.
The current scheme without an R18+ rating for videogames is fundamentally flawed, as you see all types of content, which by television and film standards would garner a rating of R18+, being literally shoved into the MA15+ rating. As a result, we have content in the MA15+ rating that is inappropriate, and this is a potential source of confusion for parents and caregivers. Let's just a consistent message across the board for our national Classification guidelines.
What do you hope to achieve - just an R18+ rating or do you feel the system needs a more thorough overhaul? I think it's fair to make the argument that the Classification Board's processes aren't very transparent. After all, who is making these decisions for the country? Who are the people that work for the Classification Board? What is their background? Why can't we know more about them?
That said (and I'm not going to be Mr Popular after this), I think that the Classification Board does an outstanding job. I agree with their decision to Refuse Classification for Left 4 Dead 2 on the grounds that it is graphically violent. This isn't about the board, it's about the lack of an R18+ rating that effectively hamstrings what the Board can and can't classify.
If we give them the ability to classify videogame content as R18+, we wouldn't be having this discussion as they would have rubber-stamped an R18+ on the L4D2 application and it would have saved Valve a bunch of money and dev-time re-tooling the game just for the (small) Australian market, and the rest of us undue heartache and misery. It's important to remember that the Classification Board is not the enemy, the guidelines it adheres to are.
Why did you feel the need to state your party's policies on issues beyond videogames classification? While I, and no doubt many others, feel that the issue of an R18+ rating for videogames is pretty important, it's not something I think can win, in an election against a 20-year incumbent who is hugely popular within his electorate, as a standalone issue. We're not going to get 10,000 votes on what is essentially a civil rights issue that many people just don't care enough about. We might, however, get 10,000 votes for other issues that play a lot closer to home for a lot of South Australians.
Have you had any contact with Michael Atkinson? Do you know if he's aware of your campaign? Yes and no. I have sent him an email asking for his thoughts on the matter at hand, and I did receive a reply via email. I'm really looking forward to opening the letter that his office has said they are sending, let me tell you!
I don't know if he's aware of the campaign. I have no doubt that in the fullness of time he will become aware of it, but whether or not he decides to take it seriously will of course be entirely up to him. Make no mistake, we're playing to win.
Mr Atkinson claims an 18+ rating would allow "children and vulnerable adults" access to such material. What's your response to this argument? I think it's completely specious. He is claiming that children, already legally restricted from purchasing content given the MA15+ rating, will somehow have easier access to R18+ rated material. It's a typical "won't somebody think of the children" argument, and it does not do well under any scrutiny. To take that kind of argument to its logical end-point, once we have an R18+ rating for videogames, parents will cease being responsible for the welfare of their children, and Michael Atkinson is saving us all from ourselves. The R18+ rating is specifically designed to restrict children's access to inappropriate content. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous.
As for "vulnerable adults", how would we know? We're all being treated like vulnerable adults at the moment. It's fair (and completely bloody obvious) to say that the overwhelming majority of adults in this country (and around the world) are not suddenly going to go on wild rampages because they are allowed to play an R-rated game. Given that the rest of the developed world already has the equivalent of an R18+ rating, I don't seem to recall too many occasions where the fabric of society has completely broken down in those areas after any particular videogame was released. Studies have even shown that as videogame sales go up, violent crime goes down.
His position is not backed by any supporting facts or evidence. He's either Australia's best troll, getting a massive rise out of our community in particular, or he just likes being a moral crusader. Either is sad.
What can Kotaku readers do to support your campaign? A lot of things. They can hit up the site and become a member (s this is a one-man-band at the moment, all new members keep me motivated to keep working on the issue), or they can donate to the cause (anything I don't use in the campaign will be donated to Child's Play), they can help me canvass support by linking the site to their friends and family, or by joining the Steam or Facebook groups.
But if they really want to do me a solid, and they're over 18 and live in South Australia and are enrolled to vote; they can come down to Rundle Mall's balls on Friday the 6th of November between 5.30pm and 6.30pm, as I'll be signing people up for the party so we can get the 150 members we require to get officially registered as a political party by the South Australian Electoral Commission. I'm doing a road-trip from Melbourne to get over there and get names on paper for this party to get off the ground. Anybody else they can bring that fits that criteria (over 18, enrolled to vote, lives in SA) and who also wants to see the introduction of an R18+ rating for videogames - friends, sisters, brothers, parents, workmates - make sure to bring them!
Right now you're just looking at one seat, but do you have plans to take this campaign further and contest other seats in other elections? At this stage, our primary focus is Croydon. I have had a few requests to run a candidate for the Legislative Council. If we get enough popular support in South Australia, and a forthcoming caucus approves a candidate, it's definitely something we'll look into.
I'd like to thank David for taking the time to answer our questions and also wish him well in his campaign. And I'd urge any Kotaku readers able to make it to Rundle Mall today to do so and pledge their support. Hands up who wants to help?