Gamers around the country celebrated on December 31, 2012 when the clock struck midnight. It meant that it was not only the new year, but a new era for gaming in Australia: R18+ games were finally a reality. The victory was bittersweet, however, with Queensland unable to enjoy the spoils because of a slow parliament. Now gamers are being told to take matters into their own hands. This is the story of the Queensland gamers who are now being told to cross state lines to import contraband games, and the stores that told them it was a good idea.
The reason Queensland gamers can't buy R18+ games in their home state is because of the Newman-led state government, which failed to pass the relevant legislation to allow R18+ games to be sold in Queensland before a January 1 deadline which the rest of the nation managed to comply with.
Queensland Parliament seemed just a bit too busy in the back end of 2012 to actually get the legislation through, and instead resolved to reconvene last week to discuss and eventually vote on the bill for adult video games in their fine state. That vote still hasn't happened, but all signs point to it passing as early as this afternoon or even before the end of the week.
In the meantime, the sale, advertisement or display of any R18+ game is illegal under state law, and punishable by criminal penalty. One of Australia's largest states has became an island unto itself, where R18+ games still don't exist.
On the border of Queensland and New South Wales lies the twin towns of Coolangatta (on the Queensland side) and Tweed Heads (on the New South Wales side). These two towns have straddled the border between the two states since Federation in 1901, and have burgeoned out since then to accommodate a joint population of around 55,000. Residents of the Twin Towns garner benefits from their proximity, including time zone shifts which let you have New Year's Eve celebrations twice within one hour just by wandering down the road. It really is a unique place in Australia, and thanks to a slow political system, the twins have become a flashpoint for R18+ games in Australia.
This border town is a place where Queensland gamers can wander across state lines to purchase a game legally in New South Wales that retailers would be prosecuted for displaying just kilometres away in their home state, and it's not just the gamers that are catching to this.
The first AAA title to go on sale bearing the R18+ rating in Australia will be in March when God Of War: Ascension hits the shelves. it's a highly anticipated title where Kratos returns to whip up a storm with his chain and his now famous face-paint, but Queensland gamers will miss out until the relevant laws are passed.
Between the Twin Towns, there are actually four stores where gamers can buy new titles. Two EB Games stores in Queensland (The Pines and Burleigh Heads) and two stores in New South Wales (Tweed City and Tweed Mall). The four stores are within cooee of each other, but half of them are unable to sell the first AAA R18+ game the country has to offer. Queensland gamers shouldn't give up hope, however.
When a gamer looks to pre-order an R18+ title like God Of War: Ascension right now, they are given the stock standard response from a store staffer: "Because of the R18+ regulations in Queensland, we are currently unable to sell you a copy of that game".
Even if you go to buy an R18+ game online from EB Games with a Queensland-based shipping address, there's a good chance that your order will be blocked. Why? Because EB Games is based in Brisbane, Queensland, and selling you that game would equal them breaking the law.
"But," store staffers tell a hopeful gamers, "there is one way you can get it".
As the two lean in for what shouldn't have to be a clandestine conversation, gamers are told that all of Queensland's R18+ stock is being shipped across the border to the Tweed City stores. Stores and stores worth of stock is now landing in just two outlets, ready for the gamers of the North to descend, pre-order and smuggle back to their homes.
Taking R18+ games from New South Wales stores into Queensland isn't able to be policed. There aren't any border checks, nobody is going to confiscate it from you if you buy it, but broadcasting the game to a group is a legal grey area, while on-selling the game is still completely outlawed until the law is passed.
The limbo that the Queensland Parliament has forced onto gamers is an awkward one, but the bar isn't so low that they can't shimmy right under it and bring the adult-gaming goodness back to the North. Hushed conversations in stores, the shifting of stock back and forth between jurisdictions and the general legal grey area that gamers have been dropped into might just make them feel worse than they did when R18+ games were imported from overseas.
Hold tight, Queensland. Your games are coming.