PAX Australia is back in a big way this year, and with a new console generation and games like Cyberpunk 2077, Final Fantasy 7 and Hollow Knight: Silksong, there's plenty of big drawcards vying for your attention. But if you're around PAX tomorrow, there's one panel that should be mandatory viewing — so much so that it's worth skipping a public presentation for Cyberpunk 2077.
The panel's not a completely family friendly affair, and it's running at the same possible time as CD Projekt Red's first public Cyberpunk 2077 walkthrough and a fun battle royale take on Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
And initially, if you saw the words "Games and Moral Panic: Why Are We Here Again?", you'd probably wonder why such a panel might be so important. But the answer is because of the panellists, specifically one person who the gaming community has never had the chance to interact with face-to-face.
That person is Margaret Anderson, and if the name rings a bell, then it's because you're pretty across the problem we have with banning games in this country. Anderson is the current director of the Classification Board, and the panel will be the first opportunity the general gaming public will get a face-to-face opportunity to get the perspective of the person behind the releases and classification ratings.
Just having the Classification Board explain how Australia's system got to where it was, however, isn't what makes the panel so important. What's critical is the fact that we're facing a review of the classification guidelines, the fine print around ratings like MA15, R18 and the clauses that are the reason why games like DayZ can't have weed as an incentive, or why nudity can still get your game banned in the country.
The Classification Board has gone on the record a lot more over the last few years, but their biggest role is yet to come. Their overarching bureaucratic leaders, the Department of Communications and the Arts, have kicked off a process to review the guidelines around the classification around video games. As Anderson explained to me in a brief meeting at the launch of PwC's Australian entertainment and media outlook, this is a once in a decade opportunity. Once the new guidelines are locked in, the powers that be will let them stay in place.
Like the lead-up to the introduction of the R18 rating, the review process has a public consultation period. That's the opportunity for gamers from all across the country to tell the government and the Department of Communications precisely what games means to them, what kind of content they want to see, and how they feel about the current regime.
But as is the case with any government, there's a way to put forward your feedback and there's a way to cock it up completely. Luckily, tomorrow everyone will have the chance to hear from the person who knows it best: the director of the Classification Board.
We've been in this spot before. Everyone had to band together — and I mean everyone, from gamers to content creators to media personalities and media brands like Kotaku Australia, Gamespot and IGN — to help make the R18 classification a reality. That was a long, arduous fight, and it could have been lost at many points.
Now it's time to band together again.
If you're at PAX tomorrow, and you're only at PAX for the Friday, I'm sorry. There's a ton of good panels all at 1.30pm, although if you really love Cyberpunk you can take some solace in the fact that the gameplay footage will be shown off at the Microsoft booth on a giant 98-inch 8K TV the whole time.
But if you're sick of the ridiculous hoops games and game creators have had to jump through in the past, and you're worried about genuine mature content for mature Australians being compromised or banned — like Cyberpunk 2077 — then you owe it to yourself and everyone else to contribute to the public process once it begins. And even if you don't want to take part in that public debate, it's still worth listening to the chief censor to understand how this situation came about, and what it'll take to change it.
And that's the real honest truth, and why tomorrow's panel should be mandatory viewing. It's not just that the guidelines need changing. It's that the people enforcing the guidelines want change too. One of the biggest advocates in this country for video games ironically receives the most hate over this country's archaic classification system — and tomorrow everyone else will get the chance to realise just what a strong supporter we have in the wheels of government.
If you can, get your arse to the Kookaburra Theatre before 1.30pm tomorrow.
The author's accommodation throughout Melbourne International Games Week and PAX Australia was provided courtesy of Airbnb for Work.