Friday the 10th of December had an air of expectancy about it. At Kotaku we had been building towards it for weeks, but suddenly it was an issue out of our hands. Democracy be damned, a group of politicians would sit in a room, and natter about a topic we’d been obsessing over for months: should Australia have an R18+ rating video games?
We sat, we waited. With the outcome now completely out of our control, Twitter imploded into a nonsensical blast of Oprah jokes and nervous fervour. Mutterings from Canberra stated that the decision would be delayed, after the WA AG’s Media Advisor let slip that Christian Porter wanted more time to consult with his Cabinet regarding the situation.
The news spread quickly, and instantly deflated the momentum we had gathered. And then Brendan O’ Connor emerged with the final disappointing result: any decision on an R18+ rating would have to wait on a new set of drafted guidelines, and be integrated into what is increasingly looking like a reboot of the entire classification system. Any declarations of victory would have to wait.
But there were silver linings – several in fact. Immediately after the press conference Brendan O’ Connor called us, giving an impromptu interview, and he seemed positive.
“It could’ve gone better,” he claimed, echoing the response of all in favour of an R18+ rating, “but there was a lot of goodwill in the room, and everyone agreed that things need to be changed with the rating system. We need to protect children from unsuitable games and we need to make sure that adults are allowed to play the games they want to play.”
“It’s all about the guidelines,” he continued. “We need to have a clear consensus on the guidelines and we’re on the right track.”
And while commenters seemed quick to judge Christian Porter as being ‘to blame’, O’Connor was quick to dispel such rumours.
“Christian has a really open mind about the subject,” claimed O’Connor, “and he is genuinely worried about the way games are currently falling into children’s hands under MA15+. Like I said there was a real consensus in the room, and this is a good first step. Changes will be made and the way we adjust the guidelines are a very important part of that process. We have to work out what’s in and what’s out.”
Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics
Incredibly, yet somewhat predictably, the Australian Christian Lobby began pushing this decision as a moral victory. Under the ludicrous headline ‘ACL welcomes refusal of R18+ classification for games’, Managing Director Jim Wallace claimed that“It was very clear to me that the great majority of AsG were in a state of bemusement that anyone could want to make or play many of these games and particularly those proposed for an R18+ rating.”
Jim Wallace, alongside other such as Ron Curry from the iGEA, made presentations during the SCAG meeting, so we can only assume that it was blind ignorance or self promotion that resulted in his dramatic misjudgement of the Attorneys-General’s intentions – because almost immediately after the SCAG meeting John Rau, who replaced Michael Atkinson as the Attorney General for South Australia, spoke in support of an R18+ rating for games.
“The proposition I put forward,” he began, “was that I would like the other ministers to think about putting in an R18 classification for games, but removing the MA classification altogether.”
This was compounded by the fact that the WA State Council passed a motion stating their support for an R18+ rating shortly after the SCAG meeting. Considering one of the supposed sticky points during the SCAG meeting was the fact that the WA AG needed more time to consult, this is a massively positive sign. Based on what we know of other Attorneys-General and their stance on the issue, it seems like the only obstacle towards an R18+ rating is time, and the clunky bureaucracy involved in creating a new set of deadlines.
There was an incredible burst of optimism in the final lead up to December’s SCAG meeting. What was initially driven by enthusiasm and a zest for common sense has been tempered by the realities of political process, but that does not mean that the case for an R18+ rating has lost steam.
On the contrary it is gathering steam. After spending weeks in the public eye, those involved in the process are now well aware of the R18+ issue and are formulating plans to change the rating system, not just with regards to gaming, but across all media.
But as gamers we’re probably going to have to wake up to the fact that an R18+ rating for videogames won’t happen overnight.
Another problem area in December’s SCAG meeting was the presence of a new Attorney-General (Victoria’s Robert Clark) and by March next year there is a good chance that NSW will have a new AG, which could cause further delays.
For now we’ll just have be content in the fact that progress has been made. The right people are aware of the issue; they’re aware that it matters and recognise that changes must be made. We remain optimistic that those changes will include an adult rating for video games, but for now all we can do is wait. And hope.
A summary of decisions from the SCAG meeting has just been released and it stated that the Attorneys-General “will consider draft guidelines to be developed for classification of games at their next meeting, including a possible R18+ classification, taking into account concerns raised by Ministers relating to the difference in nature of film and games; and the interactivity of games.”
Considering where we were on the issue, even as close as two months ago, that is a huge positive step. We just have to keep on moving forward.