Earlier this week, iGEA made public their submission to the Attorney-General's Department discussion paper on classification reform. We're digging a lot deeper into their submission to find more choice comments on the history and the future of R18+.
The 44-page document, available here, is a well presented exploration of the pros and cons, with well researched responses to all the typical arguments against the introduction of R18+. Which is as it should be. Being the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association, this document should be pretty much the best the industry can muster.
Up front there is a tight bullet list that speaks to the core issues of the pro R18+ argument:
An R18+ classification is needed to:
- Ensure that the computer and video games industry is properly positioned to respond responsibly to changes in consumer usage and demand in the same way as other media providers;
- Cater to the rising age of computer and video game players in Australia, allowing adult gamers to be treated as such and have broad choice in the types of games they play;
- Provide parents with a complete toolkit to manage children‟s game playing; and
- Bring Australia into alignment with the rest of the world.
An R18+ classification for computer games will provide Australians with the ability to make educated and informed decisions on their entertainment choices, regardless of the medium or delivery method.
Pages 8-15 offer an excellent history of the classification system from 1993 through to our current position. Recommendations were made in 1993 based on the typical age of gamers, the concerns over interactivity, and parental inability to guide their children's gaming behaviour. There was a lack of supporting research, and while an R rating was considered inappropriate for games at the time there was a request from the controlling Senate Select Committee at the time to have the OFLC commission research into what evidence may lie behind these concerns.
It's interesting to note that in 1993, a public consultation into the classification scheme for games received only "six written submissions and four attendances at a public meeting."
The OFLC research into games was completed in 1999. The authors of the study concluded that:
Adults are now regular users of computer games. There is no known psychological peculiarity of the computer game experience which indicates that a differential classification system should be applied to this medium. In an environment of rapid changes in the media, parity among classification systems for different cultural products is desirable in the interests of consumers and the industry.
The following year, 2000, the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games were due for review. Five years previous the Censorship Ministers (as known at the time) had agreed that there should be regular review to ensure guidelines reflected community standards.
Over the following two years drafts and discussion papers were undertaken. As part of a combined review of classification guidelines that reached their conclusion in 2002, an independent expert, Dr Jeffrey Brand from Bond University (in recent years known as the lead author on the Interactive Australia studies), analysed submissions on the topic and found a central theme that classification guidelines should be clear, simple, and run under a single standard for all media.
In spite of this, the Ministers announced there would be no change to the R18+ classification scheme for games. In an article from 25 August, 2002, the South Australian Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson, "vowed to block national plans to import sexually explicit or excessively violent video games into the country."
He repeated his intention to "veto" any proposal for R18+ for games on radio one week later.
After no change was made in 2002, we arrive at today.
Plenty more detail on this period is available in the document.
Pages 23-30 are a detailed response to particular concerns raised against the introduction of an R18+ rating. From "increase the risk of children and vulnerable adults being exposed to damaging images and messages" to the impact of interactivity and the suggestion that many kinds of depravity would enter the Australian games market should R18+ be introduced. Plus solid pointers to that fact that no game presenting sexual violence would ever be granted an R18+ rating, as it would still be given an RC based on those standards across other media. Good responses all, and as mentioned on Monday, this includes a solid reference to the fact that 'adult themed' games are entering the local market at an MA15+ rating. Is that better than having them restricted to an 18+ adult audience?
There is also a solid dissection of Craig Anderson's studies on the impact of violence in the media. As for his argument that violent activities on screen heightening the player's aggression, iGEA responds with a lengthy analysis worth repeating here.
Anderson began his research interested in social psychology and aggression. He is a scholar who publishes with colleagues and has consistently focused on factors that affect aggressive behaviour including hot temperatures, competition and more recently video games. In the mid-1990s, he discovered video games in a study on hot temperatures, hostility and video game playing. The focus of that research was on temperature effects on aggressive behaviour (which he was exploring in the 1980s).
Since then, Anderson has increasingly focused on video games and aggression and has developed the GAAM (General Affective Aggression Model). It is not a simple model and he has been criticised by some academics for it, mainly because they believe that he has not demonstrated the GAAM with his empirical research (that is, the evidence from his research does not demonstrate the model).
His big push into games came in 1999 and 2000 when he and Brad Bushman, and he and Karen Dill published their studies on video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.
According to University of Toronto psychologist Jonathan Freedman, author of Media Violence and Its Effect on Aggression, the major criticism of effects research is that it explores artificial stimuli in artificial lab settings on university students (mainly) using the stimulus- response model of psychological research. Furthermore, Karen Sternheimer from the University of Southern California and author of Connecting Popular Culture and Social Problems, opines research like that of Anderson and his colleagues lacks external validity.
There has been a strong attachment by Barbara Biggins of Young Media Australia and South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson to Anderson. He is all they can draw upon in their arguments which, in themselves, are convoluted. Their dependence on this single source demonstrates there is not a widespread scientific support for their position.
This is an excellent all round insight into the nature of the current classification system, it's history, and the best arguments we have in support of introducing R18+. I can't recommend highly enough reading this document for yourselves to have the firmest possible understanding of this debate and the evidence that exists around the arguments involved.
And do not forget! Submissions close end of next week! Be part of the solution and make your own well reasoned, rational, and positive contribution to the discussion via the Attorney-General's Department submissions process.