Public consultation: computer game classification

The Attorney-General’s Department is currently undertaking a public consultation process in relation to the lack of an R18+ classification rating for computer games. A discussion paper [PDF] has been released, and the government is also inviting public submissions until 28th February 2010. Unfortunately in some ways it would seem the government is conducting more of a survey than an public consultation; the submission template provided provides for a series of multiple choice questions, with limited scope provided for people to actually tell the government what they think about the issue and why.

It is nevertheless a good thing that the government is undertaking the consultation process; in my view, the lack of an R18+ classification rating for computer games does not make much sense. Currently, if a game is classified by the National Classification Board as R18+, it is refused classification and effectively banned from the country. In this situation, game developers are either forced not to release their product in Australia, or to revise the product so that it is receives an MA15+ classification. Someone who wishes to purchase the game is forced to (illegally) purchase the game online or to obtain a pirated version, with neither outcome being particularly favorable for the local software industry.

The substance of my submission to the consultation is over the fold.


THE QUESTION

Should the Australian National Classification Scheme include an R18+ classification category for computer games?

YES

ARGUMENTS

To help us understand your reasons for your answer, please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following arguments:

Adults should not be prevented from playing R 18+ level computer games simply because they are unsuitable for minors

5) strongly agree

The R 18+ classification category sends a clear, unambiguous message to parents that the game material is unsuitable for minors

4) agree

Consistent classification categories for films and computer games are easier to understand

5) strongly agree

A new classification will supplement technological controls on minors’ access to age-inappropriate computer games

4) agree

Comparable classification systems internationally have an adult rating for computer games – international parity is desirable

4) agree

Consumers access games which would be R 18+ illegally – it would be better if they were legally available with appropriate restrictions

5) strongly agree

Computer games should be treated differently from films given the specific, negative effects of interactivity on players, particularly their participation in violent and aggressive content.

2) disagree

It would be difficult for parents to enforce age restrictions for computer games.

1) strongly disagree

Minors would be more likely to be exposed to computer games that are unsuitable for them.

2) disagree

An R 18+ for computer games would exacerbate problems associated with access to high level material in Indigenous communities and by other non-English speaking people

1) strongly disagree

There is no demonstrated need to change existing restrictions.

1) strongly disagree

Comments (Optional – up to 250 words)

The primary reason why I believe that there should be a R18+ classification category for computer games is that the current situation is fundamentally anachronistic and inconsistent. With the average age of “gamers” in Australia now having increased to an adult age, there is no single clear and compelling reason why computer games should be treated differently to other restricted products with respect to control and classification.

Film in some respects is not the best restricted product that should be considered as a point of comparison; it is worth considering how society today treats alcoholic beverages. It is widely accepted that exposing children to alcohol is both in a medical and developmental sense undesirable. Public relations campaigns from governments and industry reinforce this point. Similarly, although the science is not entirely conclusive, I think the broader community would accept that some games fit for adult consumption are not fit to be accessed by children. Some products are acceptable for consumption by adults but not by children; this is the nature of the modern consumer cornucopia writ large.

Australian consumers of alcohol – despite its almost certainly much greater potential negative impacts for children – would certainly not stand for its prohibition. Simply put, it’s an absurd proposition.

Is it not also absurd that adults who wish to play R18+ computer games are effectively prohibited from doing so?

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