Objection! Should We Just Ignore The ACL Altogether?

Welcome to Objection! This is where we take the time to go on-depth on current gaming issues, and let you guys continue the discussion in the comments section. This time, in the wake of our extensive feature on the Australian Christian Lobby, we decided to ask ourselves a question – do we, as gamers, pay too much attention to the ACL? Is this a healthy course of action? To discuss we brought in Jeremy ‘Junglist’ Ray, a Christian gamer, and the current host of the 5 Inch Floppy.

MARK: So Junglist, this is a suggestion you’ve mentioned to me on more than one occasion, something that’s especially relevant given Kotaku’s recent feature on the Australian Christian Lobby. At times the gaming press, including Kotaku, has been quick to jump on any comment the ACL make about video games and, in particular, the R18+ debate – writing about it, discussing it.

Am I right in saying that you think the best policy is to simply ignore the ACL altogether?

JUNGLIST: Well, let’s be honest here Mark. They’re easy. It’s easy as a journalist to ring up the ol’ “dial-a-quote” ACL, get an express soundbite from the naively conservative, and plop it into our (now) objective feature. They might as well have a 1-300 number.

I think they’ve had their run in the media, and they aren’t contributing anything to the debate. We’re past the point of ignoring them – we’ve basically made them the go-to people for the other side of this issue. Perhaps the mainstream media is a little more guilty of treating them as experts, but the gaming enthusiast press knows better. We’ve heard what they have to say. We should seek other opinions on the matter, and take the ACL more seriously when they decide to stop quoting debunked studies and sticking to a message (that the R18+ rating will result in more violent and sexual games, and therefore cause us to be more violent and sexual) we know to be false.

MARK: Mainstream media has frequently used them because, as you mentioned, they are an easy touch point in the far right, conservative view of the R18+ debate. Yet as much as that may frustrate gamers that’s just how media works – two talking heads, on either side of the spectrum, waffling on. Now – you decide.

It makes sense for the media to utilise those that exist on the fringes of the debate, those with more extreme views – presentable, but extreme. Sadly that’s precisely what the ACL provide to media outlets.

But you’re right – it’s frustrating for us, mainly because they bring nothing new to the debate and, worse, seem to be misinformed, reinforcing the same (mostly debunked) stereotypes to an audience who doesn’t have the time, or the inclination, to fact check. That, by far, is the most frustrating thing about the ACL’s participation in the R18+ debate.

That’s the mainstream media – what do you think about the ways in which more niche, tech/gaming outlets present the ACL?

JUNGLIST: We tech and gaming outlets do better when it comes to tempering what the ACL says with facts. But I disagree with giving ACL figureheads an op-ed piece, when some readers might interpret that article (by association) as having the same level of credibility as the site. When we know what they say is factually wrong, giving them the means to say it louder is false objectivity. It makes us look good, and smart, when we analyse the story. But is this the best we can do?

It comes back to what I said earlier: they’re easy. Not only to contact, but to disprove.

Even if we do a good job of objectively tempering their opinions with facts, what if the ACL’s view isn’t actually the other side of the story? What if there are people out there opposed to the R18+ rating who feel misrepresented by not only the ACL’s stance, but methods?

What if there are people out there with better arguments against an 18+ rating, but we aren’t hearing them because we aren’t seeking them out?

A while ago, GameArena spoke to WA MP Nick Goiran, who had a few statistics from the same studies we quote that weren’t so favourable for our argument, claimed that comparing classifications countries was misleading, and stated that he had no confidence the gaming press’ main motive for lobbying this issue so hard was to protect children.

Of course, protecting children is a main concern for us. But he does have a small point. Somewhere along the line, we switched our main message from “Adults should be able to play what they want” to the more sellable “Children will be better protected with this new rating.” Most importantly, he was an anti-R18+ voice that had taken the time to familiarise himself with the issue, and come up with his own argument backed by facts, rather than sensationalism.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the argument for an R18+ rating is as solid as a rock. But can we honestly say we’ve exhausted all avenues in the search for the other point of view, now that rebutting the ACL is a routine cog in our R18+ feature machine?

MARK: I completely agree – there are people out there who oppose an R18+ rating for games, people I completely respect. Nick Goiran is one of them, and I rate Elizabeth Handsley as a pretty tough opponent. The ACL however have not changed or evolved in the face of overwhelming evidence.

I’d be perfectly happy to allow the ACL to talk themselves to death, but the issue is this: there are people who believe what they’re saying, who rate the ACL as a trusted source on this issue. That’s the problem.

I’ve struggled with the ACL, I’ve struggled with how to report their contributions to the R18+ debate. At times I ask myself if we should bother to discuss them at all. Would it be best to ignore their arguments, or is it better to engage with them?

My belief is that dealing with their arguments, and placing them in a public forum, allows people to get a feel for the other end of the spectrum in this debate, and become more aware of how people will attempt to debunk pro-R18+ rhetoric.

I think the afore-mentioned “children will be better protected” argument has sprung from that awareness, and regardless of what Goiron claims – that argument is correct, and it’s a strong one. Anti-R18+ campaigners can get sour grapes about the change in direction, but those sour grapes are the direct result of having their own leaky argument countered intelligently. And that comes from engaging and hearing what the opposition has to say.

JUNGLIST: We definitely haven’t shied away from taking their position on, and I think we’ve won on that point. A big problem, as I see it, is their willingness to act as if that rebuttal never happened. I think you hit on the real question: in our search for objectivity, are we doing damage by quoting the ACL? Are we exposing more people to their way of thinking? Are we in any way legitimising their point of view by publishing it on our sites, for which we strive to maintain credibility?

It has a lot to do with how it’s presented. If they must be given space, they shouldn’t be allowed to ignore the progress the debate has made.

There’ve been many studies on the effects of interactivity, with a massive range in credibility. But any study that concludes there may be a correlation between violent children and violent game playing, cannot equate correlation to causation. The term “Violent game playing” could be replaced with “violent habits” and still make sense. Who is to say that violent children don’t seek out these games? Who is to say these games don’t act as an outlet for aggression, similar to violent music?

The real truth is, despite our assumptions, we don’t know. We’ll never know. We can’t scientifically test it because such a study involves subjecting children to something that could possibly be harmful, and is therefore unethical. Any soundbites on the matter are just opinions.

What isn’t a matter of opinion is the false notion of more violent and sexual games coming into Australia. Working in this field, we know what games are refused classification, and we know what games are already here as MA15+. We know that any assertion that more violent & sexual games will be allowed into this country because of an R18+ rating is provably false.

I’m not worried about the gaming faithful being turned, by this point we’re preaching to the choir on our own sites. But these are important points that the ACL ignores when they address the media. We’ve countered their argument yet they stay on message. For the section of the population they reach that aren’t so educated on this issue, is the ACL actually regressing this debate? Similar to the climate change naysayers?

Some people I respect quite a bit in this industry disagree with me on this, some calling it censorship, but I still keep coming back to the feeling that the ACL not only misrepresents Christians, but possibly the anti-R18+ opinion as well.

Everyone deserves a voice. Not everyone deserves a microphone. Let’s remember they’re a Lobby, and as some interviewees pointed out in your last ACL feature, it’s their job to be heard, and answer to those who fund them. Regardless of what I feel about how their very media tactics misrepresent Christianity, any group that ignores facts and relies on scare tactics when trying to influence people should be made to sit at the kiddie table.

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