Gamers around Australia are crying into their consoles this afternoon, with the news that they will not be getting an R18+ adult rating for video games any time soon.
In today’s debate, the Standing Committee of Attorneys General could not come to a unanimous decision, meaning that the motion could not be passed and Australia is left the only Western country in the world which does not award games an ‘adults-only’ rating.
The Attorney-General from Western Australia, Christian Porter, apparently told the committee earlier in the day that he would have to meet with his cabinet before making a decision on the matter, but this was not confirmed as the reason for the delay.
Instead, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor explained that the committee put in a “genuine effort” when considering the potential introduction of an R18+ rating, but requested more information on the matter. For the R18+ proposal to work effectively, the details need to be “fleshed out” more – defining what makes an MA15+ game, what makes an R18+ game, and what would still be refused classification.
Hopefully they will have this information by the next SCAG meeting in early 2011 – when O’Connor explained the Committee will have drafted some new guidelines to show how the existing ratings will be impacted by the change. He explains there is a “lot of goodwill” among the ministers, as long as they can reach agreement on the finer details.
So where did the whole drama start?
Back in 1993, Australia had no video games classification at all. Then, a little Sega CD game called Night Trap was released. An Australian politician discovered the game (or was told about it), and, from all accounts, was a little bit upset. She started a Senate committee looking into video games, which decided (with no real evidence) that violence in video games has more impact than films, so they should be rated accordingly. They also decided that only children play video games, so didn’t need to add any preparations for adult ratings at the time. This was written into law, acted upon by the Classification Board (then the OFLC), and thus, the problem began.
Now, the Classification Board guidelines are able to be reviewed twice a year, at a meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG). Each state has their own local censorship laws, which can be changed by the local Attorney-General – but in order to change the federal Classification Board guidelines, all seven As-G must agree, with the decision approved by the federal Attorney-General.
For many years, this was where any protests fell down. Even when the Classification Board themselves recommended an R18+ rating for games be introduced back in 2011, one man refused to discuss the matter, scuttling the deal for the whole country.
This man was Mick Atkinson, the South Australian Attorney-General. He has some very strong moral views, and also happens to be the member in one of the safest Labor seats in the country. Any hope for an Australian R18+ rating for video games rested on his (very Christian, very conservative) shoulders – and he wasn’t having a bar of it.
The topic was raised at several SCAG meetings over the past decade, and each time it was squashed, with no real hope for improvement.
…then! In 2010, following the South Australian state election, despite winning his seat of Croydon, Mick Atkinson resigned from his position as Attorney-General, and gamers saw a faint glimmer of hope.
Back-step a little bit – in late 2009, the Australian public were given a chance to speak out about the situation, as the Commonwealth Government released a discussion paper and called for responses. In May, we were told about the reaction to that paper, which saw a significant majority of the Australian public supporting an adult rating (including people from unusual backgrounds, such as a group of Australian Catholic Bishops).
However, it seems we may have been a little too excited about the matter, with SCAG calling for the “silent majority” to step forward with their thoughts. It seems that they felt the nearly 60,000 repondents to the survey had been swayed by overly-vocal gamers with a vested interest in the outcome, while people who didn’t play games, or didn’t feel as passionately about the issue were being ignored.
The committee also requested a review of research into “whether violent computer games and violent behaviour are linked”. These results were released in December, showing no conclusive link. A Galaxy national telephone poll held in the same month showed 80% of Australians – across all States and Territories – supported an R18+ rating for video games.
Even with the research supporting gamers, it was still a surprise that the Australian federal Labor Government threw their support being the R18+ ratings campaign – something they had traditionally argued against (or simply avoided discussing). Various state Attorney-Generals, including the new South Australian representative started speaking about their stance on the matter. Everything was shaping up in a very positive way, and gamers spoke positively about the impending political changes.
But, alas. Despite very strong lobbying, mainstream media attention and an awful lot of crossed fingers, the decision has been put on the backburner yet again. The SCAG will meet again in early 2011, when – hopefully – we’ll have a different story to report.
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