Games can have this naughty little label and we’re fine
So today we woke on the first day of a new dawn. Yesterday the first video game with an adult rating went on sale in Australia, marking the end of a ten year campaign with its fair share of rigorous discussion, moral panic, teeth gnashing, head banging, hand wringing and a healthy dose of histrionics.
Yet today we wake, still relatively safe and secure; the world hasn’t descended into a moral vacuum. Australians were warned by those opposing the classification that the granting of an R18+ for video games would open the ‘floodgates of depraved sex and violence’. Nope, no floodgates, just a weary sigh of relief from those involved in securing the adult rating for whom it’s been a long and frustrating road.
The reality is that while R18+ as an issue has had extensive coverage across the media and fuelled the chatter on countless forums for many years, in itself it’s a pretty pedestrian argument.
Extend the classification system to account for the millions of adults that play video games who are currently trusted with age appropriate material in other forms of media? Uh, ok. Now that this is agreed and is being implemented across Australia’s states and territories it’s time to focus on the more complex, much needed and interesting discussions that arise from seismic shifts that have, and will continue to take place, in the delivery and diversity of interactive entertainment.
For example, how do we classify (or even bother to classify) content online? Or in the case of user generated content, how do we classify events or language in a game that hasn’t happened yet? And with the proliferation of mobile games and apps, how do we ensure a system that is pragmatic and frictionless enough to cope with the sheer volume of games that are now made available every day?
These, and other issues, are something that the Australian Law Reform Commission has considered at length in its first comprehensive review of censorship and classification since 1991. Roughly about the time that the Nintendo Gameboy and 16-bit Super Nintendo system was launched and developers were just starting to experiment with 3D graphics on video games.
In its review, the ALRC made 57 recommendations and underlying those recommendations is a call for a new system that is sufficiently flexible and nimble enough to adapt to rapid technological change. Notice they didn’t suggest more band-aids and patch overs? Like the video games industry they acknowledge that the current system is broken and unfit for purpose…..whatever that purpose is supposed to be though still remains a mystery.
A significant recommendation of the Commission was that the interactive entertainment industry should play a greater role in, and take more responsibility for, classifying the unmanageable number of games coming into the market. Adopting this principle would leave Government to rightly stay more ‘directly focused on content of higher community concern’, focussing on the checks and balances. A similar model works quite effectively for television in Australia where the industry body works in conjunction with ACMA to regulate the classification of television content
The same approach is widely used in other parts of the world including Europe, the UK and Singapore and it’s working well. For example, PEGI (an industry led classification scheme) manages to operate in over 30 European countries with a high level of success and acceptance.
Conversely, in Australia, the idea that industry could work in conjunction with Government to help regulate content has already caused an upset with some organisations who believe that the industry can’t both adequately support its members (whose business it is to sell games), and act in a socially responsible manner. A bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time?
Since the ALRC first published its report and recommendations over a year ago, all has gone quiet, but we can’t afford to let these recommendations sit on the backburner. The current system is failing to serve any of its stakeholders in a meaningful way. It continues to let down consumers, industry and the very notion of the system itself
There is plenty more to discuss and now that R18+ is a reality, we can turn our attention to the things that will ultimately make the most difference in the lives of anyone who looks for guidance to make choices on what they, or their children, play and watch.
So while today we take a minute to celebrate the new rating and a classification system that is a step closer towards being workable, informative and relevant, it really was just a step. It’s time to finish the job.
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