In Australia, it's been a long-running joke that if you'd like to buy adult products
or fireworks, you should head to Canberra, in the ACT. Now, that joke might be extended, as the Territory becomes the first place in Australia to announce that it will sell R18+ rated video games from January 2013.
Australian Federal parliament passed laws in June to create the new ratings category, which comes into effect on January 1st. It is now up to each of the seven states and territories to legislate just how they will enforce the new classifications.
South Australia has announced plans to scrap MA15+ ratings altogether, lumping both legally restricted categories under the greater R18+ umbrella.
Simon Corbell, the Attorney-General for the ACT, explained that the R18+ rating will give adult gamers more choice:
By having a regulated and closely monitored R18+ industry for computer games, we can better protect those vulnerable members of our community by placing appropriate safeguards on the sale and distribution of adult-only gaming material.
While the Canberra Liberals did try to boost the penalty for "inappropriate display or distribution" of R18+ material, the bill to introduce the R18+ sales went through with tri-partisan support.
The Australian ratings debate has been drawn-out, political and heated. Previously, with MA15+ the highest rating available (restricted to gamers 15 years and over), any game considered inappropriate for a 15-year old was refused classification or effectively banned from sale or display.
That decision lead to two major outcomes, neither of which were ideal. Games were either "snuck in" to a lower classification, meaning Australian children were effectively able to play games that were restricted to adults in other regions. Other games, which were Refused Classification were often easily imported from overseas via online retailers.
Recent games on the refused list include: Mortal Kombat (and the Vita version) and Syndicate, as well as The House of the Dead: Overkill Extended Cut, The Witcher 2, Aliens vs. Predator and Left 4 Dead 2, all of which were either granted MA15+ on appeal, or modified for Australian audiences.
The new laws will finally bring Australian video game ratings in line with the systems in place for films and other content. They will also make Australia more consistent with international standards - the country was previously the only Western region without an adult rating for video games.
UPDATED: ...proving just how long the joke has been running, it's been pointed out that fireworks have been banned in the Australian Capital Territory since 2009. If you want to legally buy some pretty explosives Down Under, you'll have to go to the Northern Territory, instead. Explicit "adult movies" on the other hand are still completely legal in Canberra.
I like video games, fishing, Depeche Mode, long walks on the beach, writing discussion papers and cups of tea. Not necessarily in that order.
Jimmy the Geek