Exclusive Interview With Australia's First Gamer Rights Political Party

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?


Comments

    Wow. My hat goes off to your David Doe. Your view on this issue has to be the most level-headed, sensible and potentially hopeful platform any one single person has stated in years.

    If I were in Adelaide, I would come to Rundle Mall and shake your hand.

    Instead, I'll sign up as a member on your website.

    Good luck to you sir.

    If I lived in SA, I'd be there with bells on. Thankgod someone finally got off their backside and did what was needed. All I can say is I wish best of luck to you, I hope the mainstream media can get on board with you. Maybe you could lobby for a chance to be on that ABC panel type show, which totally screwed up the last debate they had on games.

    Also, I played the Left 4 Dead the other night and shocked at how censored it was for Australia. The zombies' bodies start disappearing before they even hit the ground. It was like I was playing a C64 game or something.

    I couldn't even finish the demo I was so disgusted.

    I signed up as a member on the site but I'm just not going to be able to get to rundle today. Sorry! One signature can't make a difference can it!?!?

      If you ask them, they could probably send you a form to sign.

    Awesome, kudos and well done and if I was anywhere in SOuth AUstralia I would be on my way to Adelaide right now.

    Though a heads up, instead of just having "click here to become a member!" on your website, perhaps you should have the actual email address written somewhere for the masses who use webmail and not outlook express.

    Which is just a little annoying thing ad not in anyway diminishes how excited I am that someone is finally taking this seriously instead of just making another complaining facebook group. Best of luck to your party!

    Well what do you know

    A person who is actually not afraid to step up to the plate and actually do something about this besides staying at home and complaining.

    He made some really good and concise points in that interview, hopefully the general public is willing to listen.

    I hope you get well over 150 signatures, best of luck to you.

    You sir are my hero!

    I'm not entirely convinced that this is a great idea. I'm not really sure who Atkinson is up against in Croydon, but it seems to me that a better option would be to examine the other majorcandidates and garner support for the one most likely to disagree with Atkinson's stance on gaming. Otherwise there's a danger of splitting the vote, and Atkinson getting a majority.

    That said, I have no idea who he is running against really, so if he was more or less unopposed, then good luck to Gamers 4 Croydon.

      Atkinson took 76% of the two-party-preferred vote against the Liberal candidate in 2006. It's an extremely safe ALP seat.

        I've heard as much - I don't know how strong the liberal candidate is this time around, either, or even what their stance on the R18 issue is. But my concern is that in an election, if you want someone out of office it's better to have one strong candidate rather than two (otherwise votes 'against' Atkinson get split between them), and I don't think the gaming angle is going to win over anyone other than those who already wouldn't have supported Atkinson.

        I'm not really educated enough on the subject to contribute much to any serious discussion on the issue, though.

          Preferential voting is designed to alleviate that problem.

        Being a safe ALP seat also suggests that the people living there are not conservatives which may help Doe seeing as Atkinson's stance on this is very right wing. This is on the proviso that the people there are willing to vote for a non-major party (which is unlikely in electorates like that unfortunately). He's going to have to sell himself big if he's going to get anywhere.

          As a member of the Labor party (though not in SA and definately not one which supports Michael Atkinson) and someone who knows a fair bit about Australian electoral politics, I have to tell you that it doesn't work this way. Typically in safe labor seats people aren't conservative, but they also have much bigger things to care about than video games (public housing, crime, etc.). I wouldn't completely write off Gamers 4 Croydon, but sadly I find it unlikely that enough votes will shift to deseat Atkinson.

          I would reccomend some level of communication with the Greens in Croydon (who probably have a moderate proportion of the vote), who would probably be willing to cooperate. Simply running against an incumbent and eating into their vote is enough to worry them, and could well do the trick for a minor party in influencing policy.

          As for the question about running in other elections; it's worth remembering that Atkinson is the one and only thing blocking us from an R18 rating. ;)

            "As for the question about running in other elections; it’s worth remembering that Atkinson is the one and only thing blocking us from an R18 rating."
            Not according to the MA interview done here (I think) last year..
            MA is just the most vocal Attorney General against R18+..
            And his opposition seemed to be that he thinks the R18+ classification system is too lenient.

        Wow, 76%.. That's even higher than Kevin Rudd.

    Hah, he actually knows how to construct an argument it seems.

    Damn... You're definitely the man with the plan. Good luck on your quest. Shame I'm nowhere near where you guys are. I'll just make do by donating some money on the site though. Godspeed Mr Doe. If you pull this off, you will be applauded as the hero of Australian gaming.

    Good luck mate, its good to see someone take a mature and thoughtful stance on this situation. I think an important thing to remember is that with an MA15+ rating, someone over the age of 15 is required to purchase the game (so someone who is 15 can buy an MA15+ game, and hand it to a 12 year old with no legal consequence) whereas an R18+ is RESTRICTED to those under the age of 18 (meaning that its illegal to even supply it to anyone under that age, regardless who buys it). So an R18+ rating would be better for keeping things out of the hands of children.

    I do think its a little naive thinking that nobody under the age of 18 will have access to it, but at least you could definately charge them with the offense.

    First off I'm raise a glass in your honour, it's great to see someone taking a stand. And if there's ever anything a poor student living in Melbourne can do to help I'll be first in line.

    Second to all of you negative nancies saying that maybe we should support a different candidate to show a stronger front that might get us a better chance of getting rid of Atkinson. But if we did then our message that there are a large majority of voters who are concerned about Gamers Rights will get watered down amongst his other votes. Where as by having a Gamers Rights party no one is going to dispute where his votes are coming from, even if we don't get enough to get rid of Atkinson we should get enough to give most politicians pause and begin to take this topic seriously.

    Atkinson is exceeding his mandate. It's a pity the SA opposition is such a sorry group.

    As a South Aussie, long time gamer, turning 18 next week... you have my vote! :)

    If I wasnt studying for Yr 12 exams, I woulda made it down to Rundle Mall for sure.

    If only i was able to get to Rundle Mall today to sign that form!!

    I don't actually know how my own States electoral stuff works. I'm old enough now to vote - i wish i could move to Croydon just to vote for you!

    However, i hope this isn't just a case of - Oh we won, vote yes for R18. Great we got R18 now i can play all these video games, goodbye Croydon seat.

    Atkinson like it is mentioned, is a veteran in this field. I don't follow politics and minus this one topic that he is against, i would believe he is good at his job if his own district is so avid of him.

    I think the name "gamers 4 croydon" is quite detrimental to their cause.
    It doesn't sound very much like a serious political party, which will cause it to lose votes on that alone.
    This would be a monumental effort to pull off.
    The only saving grace will be the fact that Atkinson's party probably wouldn't take it very seriously either. Might just give you enough room to land a few low blows and not much more.

    At the very least, this party's attempt to do ANYTHING may go some way to highlight this issue more in the general public's mind. God knows, we need it. Most of the awareness of this problem is still only limited to Australian video game websites. Which 99% of Australians never look at.

    I would fly to Adelaide to sign your petition thing, if i knew earlier I would have bugged the guys I know in Adelaide to wag work or something just to go to that!!! Would be even better if it spread through rest of Aus. then I can feel like I'm really doing something for the gaming community. Really the children are being filtered what they can play because parents have to buy it for them anyway so don't blame the games blame the parents, I just put my 2.5yr old on Banjo Kazoui and the N64 has had it so it's upside down keeping pressure on the cartridge =P

    Hope you go far and they fix up the ratings of games (and TV)

    I can't offer enough support to these chaps – a fantastically reasoned response to a truly unreasonable man. By dealing with him in this fashion, we show that the gaming community at large are a collected and articulate group worthy of being considered seriously.

    A couple of things to really applaud here:

    1) Referring to the Classification Board, not the defunct OFLC.
    2) "...the Classification Board is not the enemy"

    I was scared in seeing this that, like some other "efforts" on the issue, it would be a half-baked plan that would only make things worse. While I agree with some previous sentiment that the party name is partially in that territory, Mr Doe is well-spoken and well-informed. I think he and his party stand a real chance of making some change here, even if only through their existence.

    I really hope alot of people show up and you get the numbers you need to register your political party. Although what some have said above may be true about splitting the votes, I don't think that is the real (realistic) goal. It is very unlikely that Atkinson will be ousted by this gamer party but the point is it is publicity. Publicity in the name and in the cause. General public awareness of the issue is the main problem so this is a great way to get the issue seen and in the mainstream. Enough awareness can cause enough pressure to finally create change in this area.

    Best of luck David. Its great to see someone with valid, articulate arguments get up and do something about the issue.

    P.S It may take some time to ever see your mailed reply from Atkinson. I was told mine was ready for signature and to be sent weeks ago.

    Great stuff, someone who plays games but it also clearly literate and intelligent enough to construct an argument in a non-troll-like manner :)

    I'm hugely impressed that someone is willing to stand up and do this, and I wish David all the best in his campaign.

    My only worry is that if they lose (which is more than likely really), is that Atkinson will take it as justification for his position against R18+, and be even more stubborn in his stance against them.

    This is really good. The guy sounds really smart and level headed. He just needs to get rid of the name of the party and find a new one.

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