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Video games reform rebuffed over violence fears

Date

Melissa Fyfe

A weapon is raised in the first-person shooter  F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin.

A weapon is raised in the first-person shooter F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin.

With censors swamped, Canberra signals it's time for self-regulation

LONG-AWAITED reforms of Australia’s censorship of computer games look set to fail after Victoria declared its strong concern that the move will legalise games with ‘‘high levels of graphic, frequent and gratuitous violence’’.

Backed by a groundswell of support from the gaming community, the Gillard government is determined to fix the classification system for computer games, which allows unsuitable games to be rated for 15-year-olds, yet bans popular games for adults.

But the Baillieu government’s Attorney-General, Robert Clark, has echoed the concerns of the Australian Christian Lobby, putting him on a collision course with Canberra, which requires the backing of all states and territories to change classification laws.

Australia is one of the few developed nations with no R18+, or adults-only, category for computer games, which means many violent games are ‘‘shoehorned’’ into the MA15+ category and made available to children. Some games, such as Grand Theft Auto, are censored in Australia but are still rated for 15-year-olds despite containing prostitution and drug-use themes.

In February, the Classification Board banned from Australia the latest version of the popular and long-running Mortal Kombat franchise — because it decided its realistic depictions of ‘‘brutal forms of slaughter’’ made it unsuitable for an MA15+ rating — angering thousands of players and raising the ire of the $1.7billion computer game industry.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor has told the states and territories that the July meeting of attorneys-general is D-Day for a decision on the reform, which has sat on their agenda for almost a decade. The reform will create an R18+ category for games, providing, Mr O’Connor says, adult gamers with more choice and better parental advice about the suitability of games.

Mr Clark told Fairfax that he welcomed one impact of the reform — that some games  classified MA15+ would move to the higher rating of R18+. But the move, he said, would also mean allowing games to be sold in Australia that are banned because of their high levels of violence.

‘‘[This] needs careful scrutiny and public debate,’’ he said. ‘‘The Coalition government is very concerned that the draft guidelines currently being proposed by the Commonwealth would legalise games with high levels of graphic, frequent and gratuitous violence, including violence against civilians and police.’’

Mr Clark said the community should have a chance to discuss the draft guidelines — which have not been made public — and see what sort of games would be legalised. ‘‘The Victorian government will decide our position based on our assessment of whether the final proposal will adequately protect the community,’’ he said.

Victoria’s position drew a rebuke from the federal government, which for many years has been frustrated by South Australia’s refusal to back change.

‘‘The public has been consulted extensively on this matter and overwhelmingly support the introduction of an adult classification for games,’’ Mr O’Connor told Fairfax.

‘‘About 60,000 submissions were received in the last consultation round, showing huge community support for the introduction of an adult computer game classification,’’ he said. ‘‘I await state and territory governments’ views on the draft guidelines and remain open to sensible suggestions consistent with community expectations and good public policy.’’

South Australia is no longer stridently against the reform and most other states also support change, but the position of the new New South Wales Liberal government is unclear.

The Australian Christian Lobby remains a key opponent to the reform because it does not want games now banned, such as Mortal Kombat 9, available at all.

Rob Ward, the lobby’s Victorian director, accused the Classification Board of being ‘‘asleep at the wheel’’ in rating some of the more violent games MA15+. ‘‘But that’s not a reason to create an R18+ category,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s a reason to clip them behind the ear.’’

Mr O’Connor recently told the ABC that leaving the system in its current form was ‘‘not fair on adults in this country, the tens and tens of thousands who play video games’’.

92 comments

  • cue the usual, predictable avalanche of whingers in 5...4...3...2...1...

    (and the usual monolithic silence that accompanies the pro-ban christian right)

    Commenter
    Dave
    Location
    Brunswick
    Date and time
    April 03, 2011, 8:26AM
    • Well this is what happens when you vote for conservatives! Suck it up. It's got nothing to do with "community concern" and everything to do with the minority Christian lobby being in Clark's ear.

      Since Clark is clearly more ill-informed than that other A-G lunatic Atkinson, it's now time for the federal government to throttle the states and bring in the R-rating some other way.

      Commenter
      Darron
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 03, 2011, 8:33AM
      • Looks like Victoria may now have to deal with it's own version of Michale Atkinson who, as SA Attorney General, ran his own crummy little censorship operation over in South Australia. The key problem in this debate seems to be that baby boomers can't get their head around the fact that computer games have become an artform enjoyed by all age groups. A government that treats its citizens like children is one that needs to go as soon as possible.

        Commenter
        Martin S
        Location
        Prahran
        Date and time
        April 03, 2011, 8:36AM
        • Victorian Liberal Party take note, this has been extensively debated and the public is clearly in favour of a R18+ rating. Please listen to your voters not a small bunch of noisy religious extremists (ACL)

          Commenter
          Barry
          Location
          Footscray
          Date and time
          April 03, 2011, 8:45AM
          • As a 36 year old gamer i have been waiting too long for an (r) rating classification for games. If the game I want to play is banned for sale, then I am forced to illegally download an international copy; thus depriving the industry of revenue. Something I don't want to do, but my government gives me no choice. & I am not the only one doing this...

            Commenter
            Gamer
            Location
            Melb
            Date and time
            April 03, 2011, 8:46AM
            • Its good to see the "new age" govenment of Victoria, here to lead us into a new era, has a mindset stuck in the last millenium. Maybe it wants to cater to minority groups with backward thinking, but it presents a government set in the pre e-commerce world of days gone by. In order to truly ban R rated games, all the Victorian government needs to do is disable all victorian networks that connect to this thing called the internet, and disable our postal system, and ensure every bag is checked when someone flies into the country.... simple.
              I am a father, and do not want my young son playing R rated games. But having a category to probably rate such games will not mean 5 year olds will be playing Mortal Kombat 9. Not unless their parents go out an buy it for them. Just like their parents can today go out and rent or buy the 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' dvd/blu ray for their toddlers if they considered that good parenting.

              Commenter
              epazero
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              April 03, 2011, 8:47AM
              • Once again, Victoria is showing itself to the rest of Australia (and the world) that we are a complete nanny-state.

                What these people dont seem to understand is that it's the parents responsibility to monitor what their kids are playing, not the Government issuing a blanket-rule to ban all violent games period. Just incase a 15 year old might see violence which is already widely accessible in film, us adults miss out.

                Commenter
                Andrew
                Location
                Altona North
                Date and time
                April 03, 2011, 8:48AM
                • R rating or not, some games should simply be banned for everyone, for the same reason that child porn is.
                  There is no conceivable reason that anyone genuinely needs to play some of these game as they are pure sick fantasy. and I would seriously question the mental state of those who say they need to. Sorry people but freedom of choice simply does not cut it sometimes.

                  Commenter
                  Hans
                  Location
                  Carrum Downs
                  Date and time
                  April 03, 2011, 8:48AM
                  • Why are our politicians listening to right-wing religious fundamentalists?

                    We sadly live in a country where the government at both levels can censor what we can and can't see.

                    Why make matters worse by allowing the "christian lobby" to dictate what we can and can't see like some christian Taliban?

                    Enough is enough.

                    Commenter
                    Lou
                    Location
                    Melbourne
                    Date and time
                    April 03, 2011, 8:49AM
                    • Why can't these people understand that without an R18+ rating, games that are violent and unsuitable for minors under 18 are already being shoehorned into the MA15+ rating here....when they are receiving Mature 17+ and 18+ ratings oversea?

                      Bioshock, Fallout 3, Call of Duty to name 3 high profile games are all rated at 18+ plus ratings in the UK and Europe....you can see the ratings on our own discs here. We already have violent games "legalised"...and more easily available to the people the everyone says they want to protect.

                      The fact that these games are already available in the MA15+ rating should spark concern, because this rating suggests that they are actually suitable for age groups that they aren't.

                      Another example is the game Duke Nukem Forever, where you can take Steroids for an ability boost, in one mission you're in a Strip Club and have to collect Sex Toys, the beginning of the game has implied sexual acts with two girls dressed as school girls.....

                      It was passed through at MA15+ with no edits....how is it suitable for this age group?

                      I've been a gamer my entire life, and we need this rating to ensure the games that are released are kept out of the hands of kids and minors who shouldn't be playing them, but are still available to those of us who are of age and want to play them.

                      The Gaming Industry has matured over the years and is thus exploring more mature concepts and themes. Our rating system needs to reflect this. The fact that all the Attorney's-General need to agree is utter lunacy.

                      Its time Australia joined the rest of the Western world in the 21st Century.

                      Commenter
                      CloneTrooper
                      Location
                      Victoria
                      Date and time
                      April 03, 2011, 8:53AM

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