Last night, the ABC's flagship current affairs discussion program, Q&A, featured a brief segment on videogame classification. The subject was broached by audience member Joab Gilroy (a staff member for Gamearena), who cited the number of recent videogames refused classification and effectively banned in Australia. Tony Jones then siphoned discussion towards the most recent example: Fallout 3. He described the game as allowing players to "inject intravenous drugs to make them kill more people," in order to give more background to the audience.
Several panel members gave opinions on the topic. First, Heather Ridout, Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group, stated that "as a mother of three kids, two of whom spend an awful lot of time playing these types of games, I mean I just find the whole thing appalling, the sort of minds that come up with this sort of thing. Now Grand Theft Auto was one of the more famous games, that seemed to turn everyone into a car thief." Nick Xenaphon, an incoming independent senator, argued that "I think we have to listen to the psychologists who've looked at these sorts of things, and this is different in the sense that its interactive, people get immersed in these type of games, and I think that there is a real risk, I think as a society we can live without it." He also admitted that censorship, in this case, is necessary, as "we just need to be a bit cautious about it." Xenaphon did not cite any specific studies, though it is worth noting that an Australian government-commissioned report published in 1995 found little evidence to support a claim of correlation between real-life and videogame violence.
Mark Arbib, an incoming Labor Part Senator, disagreed with many of the panel, arguing that "an R-rating, over the age of 18 is fine," because "if you are want to play the game, you are going to get it somehow." Unfortunately, there seemed to be some confusion over the specifics of the debate, with many members of the panel under the impression that there remains no classification system for videogames, despite one being in force since 1995. Host Tony Jones stated that "these things are being banned because there isn't a ratings system for videogames." Arbib, therefore, agreed that there was a "strong argument" for a ratings system. Journalist for The Australian, Christine Jackman also agreed, suggesting we "urgently need a rating system." Perhaps the most surprising comment came from Barnaby Joyce, a Senator for the National Party: "We had the thing with, I think, it was avatars, is that the right term, where people can actually go and rape people. Now, this is not acceptable." As yet, we aren't entirely certain what Joyce was referring to, though the confines of the debate may have meant his meaning was lost.
This debate, though small in scale, remains an important illustration for Australian gamers, as many of those participating hold indirect sway over videogame legislation. Though the current legislation states that the classification system may be changed by consensus of the Standing Committee of Attorney Generals, if the legislation itself were to be changed, it would have to pass through the Senate, where many of the panel members hold power. Indeed, Xenaphon in particular holds the balance of power in the Senate, along with one other independent senator, the Greens, and Steven Fielding of Family First.
To view the a video of the debate, skip forward to 44:20 here. Thanks to forum member Qbert for the tip.