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Jason Picker
20 Mar, 2009

An R rating would protect children

PALGN Feature | Michael Atkinson is right to want to protect children, he's just going about it the wrong way.
Michael Atkinson’s heart is in the right place.

Mr Atkinson, the South Australian Attorney-General who is currently blocking the introduction of an R18+ rating for Australian video games, is not the devil. He’s not crushing your democratic rights just because he hates gamers, and he’s not doing it because his mother didn’t nurse him as a child.

Here at PALGN, we believe that he is genuinely concerned with protecting children from adult material available in some video games. And we agree with him. We just think he’s going about it the wrong way.

There is no doubt that the games industry is maturing and a high proportion of today’s gamers are now adults, leading to the development of more titles suited to an older audience. Improvements in graphics and technology are also allowing the violence level in games to become more realistic every day. We need an R18+ rating to keep up with this growing demand, otherwise many of these games will continue to get into the hands of children through the less restrictive MA15+ rating.

South Australian Attorney General, Michael Atkinson: Not the devil

South Australian Attorney General, Michael Atkinson: Not the devil
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Let’s look first at the current classification system for games in Australia. There are four classifications – G, PG, M15+ and MA15+. It more or less works the same as the film classification system ratings. The MA15+ rating is the only games rating that is legally binding, meaning retailers can be fined for selling or hiring these games to people under 15 unless they are with their parents or guardian.

No R18+ rating causing inconsistencies in classification
The story goes that the MA15+ symbol was introduced in Australia in 1994 largely as a result of then Prime Minister Paul Keating’s confusion as to why a relatively mild movie like Crocodile Dundee was receiving the same classification as a movie with high impact violence and sexual themes like Cape Fear.

The same thing is happening today with computer games because of a lack of an R18+ rating: games that have high impact violence and themes are being lumped in with games that don't. According to the Classification Board’s Guidelines of the Classification of Films and Computer Games, the criteria for violence states that it must be "justified by context”.

Let’s look at a handful popular video games – Grand Theft Auto 4, Call of Duty: World at War, Fallout 3, and MadWorld – and see whether the violence is actually justified by context.

First of all, let’s consider Grand Theft Auto 4. The game has a gritty set of missions and each one has a pretty well established context for some of the violent tasks you are asked to do. However, what about the violence you can perform outside of the mission structure? In this section of the game, you are allowed to hop into a car and run down pedestrians, shoot at old ladies, and kill police officers. So this raises the question: what context is GTA4 giving the player to perform such full-on acts of violence allow it to fit under an MA15+ rating?

Not pictured - dead grannies.

Not pictured - dead grannies.
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And what about MadWorld, the new Sega title that its website excitedly proclaims has “Blood soaked action for the Wii”? You play a former marine with a chainsaw on his arm who competes in a violent television show. So under the MA15+ guidelines there is a context for the killing, that is, surviving the competition. However, the violence is over-the-top and – in our opinion – of a much higher level than most other MA15+ titles. There is really no context given for having the ability to impale enemies on street signs or to rip out their hearts. In fact, the entire gameplay is based around killing people, and the more violent the death, the more points the player gets.

Then there’s Fallout 3 where for the most part its violence is justified through the missions you undertake, and are carried out in the context of a harsh, post-apocalyptic world. In many situations, you can also choose to talk your way out of a fight and there are often consequences for choosing violence as a course of action. So far so good.

However, the game also allows you to walk into a civilised town and wipe out everyone, including defenceless women and old people, targeting body parts and blowing off heads in graphic detail. Thankfully, you can’t kill the children. Again we ask, what is the context that justifies you slaughtering innocent people that makes it fit for an MA15+ rating?

Gamers lose their minds for Fallout 3.

Gamers lose their minds for Fallout 3.
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Don’t get us wrong – we’re not saying adults shouldn’t be allowed to play these games. In fact, the R18+ rating as it applies to films would comfortably accommodate the violence in these three games. Under the R18+ rating for movies, there is no caveat which says that violence has to in any sort of context. There is no mention of any requirements at all, and it merely states: “Violence is permitted.” In our opinion, this makes the R18+ rating a perfect place for the high-impact violence in these games.

Let’s then consider Call of Duty 4: World at War. Sure, this game contain oodles of violence and strong war themes, but the context for why you need to kill people is given to you clearly at the start of every mission. The violence is not overly gratuitous; you can’t use anything other than standard weapons and you can’t kill innocent people. This game clearly justifies its violence and is the sort of game that the MA15+ rating can comfortably accommodate. Other games that fit here comfortably include the Halo and Resistance series.

The introduction of an R18+ rating would lower the number of high impact games being allowed through the classification process with an MA15+ rating.

The R18+ rating offers additional protection
Currently, the MA15+ classification is the only legally enforceable one for games in Australia. Each state and territory has its own legislation in regards to penalties for selling MA15+ and R18+ rated material to minors. However, penalties are generally greater for the sale of R18+ rated material to minors than for MA15+ material.

For example, in NSW the maximum penalty for selling an MA15+ rated game to a minor is up to $5,500 for a person and $11,000 for a corporation. For an R18+ rated film the maximum penalty is double that. In Tasmania, the sale of a MA15+ game to a minor can attract up to a $2,200 fine, but for an R18+ rated film, it is up to $5,500 and/or a 12 month jail term.

Is the violence in MadWorld worth getting cut up about?

Is the violence in MadWorld worth getting cut up about?
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It makes sense that an R rating for games would offer the same punishments that the R rating for films currently offers, providing a greater deterrent against retailers doing the wrong thing and keeping potentially damaging content away from minors.

More parents understand the R18+ rating
The only survey we could find on the level of recognition and comprehension of the classification system was a 2002 report from the Office of Film and Literature Classification titled Australian Consumers’ Understanding of Classification Information. The report found that the MA15+ symbol is not well recognised or understood in either movie or film classification. The report found that:

There is obvious confusion with regard to the MA15+ symbol. It is most commonly interpreted (40%) to indicate a film is for mature audiences. Consumers are failing to distinguish the “accompanied” and legally restrictive elements of MA15+ from that of the M15+ classification.

While the recognition and understanding of the MA15+ rating has probably improved over the past seven years since this report was issued, it still would not be as recognisable as the R18+ rating which has been around since 1971.

War is hell in Call of Duty.

War is hell in Call of Duty.
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With regard to the R18+ classification, the majority (65%) of people recognised it and understood it according to the survey. A further 23% gave responses that indicated they knew the symbol meant that the material was for adults, and not children. The Classification Board concluded that there seems to be "little confusion with this symbol".

So if an R18+ rating was put on games with high impact content, such as those just scraping in under the MA15+ classification, parents would better understand it and know that they shouldn't be letting their young children play it.

Change will not happen overnight
Let’s be honest here. Game classification is not a high priority for politicians at the best of times, least of all in the current economic climate. However, we need to band together as a gaming community. Too many of us are playing right into the hands of conservative politicians by writing defamatory letters and emails to people such as Mr Atkinson, and even sending death threats. This only helps to strengthen their perception that gamers are immature and that playing violent games causes people to be violent.

The fact is, Mr Atkinson was voted in by the public so it’s not just his opinion we need to change. The issue needs to be raised at every level of government and at every level of the community. Write to your local member for parliament, write to your state’s Attorney General, talk to your friends and family about the issue and make some noise. But do it sensibly!

If there is enough pressure from the South Australian people and from other politician, Mr Atkinson will be forced to listen and put the issue back into the public arena where it belongs. Show him that the gaming community is intelligent, can handle adult material, and is a strong-knit group that will vote against him if he ignores us.

Dangle a carrot, don’t throw a hand grenade.


As part of the push for an R rating, PALGN has helped create a new website specifically aimed at raising awareness of the issue - http://everyoneplays.org.au.

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45 Comments
5 years ago
Awesome. I was wondering when the "everyone plays" initiative was going to kick off.

I'll sure as hell be doing my bit!
5 years ago
Excellent arguments, Jason. Your reasoning is very well thought out and clearly expressed- essentially it's a bulletproof editorial that should be brought to the attention of everyone concerned with this issue.

If more people take heed of Jason's example in the way they express their arguments, then we'll have a much more respected and valid position from which to challenge the archaic stereotypes that these ministers rely upon. Essentially, as gamers, our biggest challenge is being taken seriously.

We need to band together and take affirmative action to draw our local representatives' attentions to this topic if we really give a damn about effecting change in our ratings system.
5 years ago
Thanks for the post, Jason icon_smile.gif Could you link us to all of Atkinson's statements on the issue? I see quite a few responses but not much of Atkinson's opinion.

I may have some opportunities to discuss the issue with Atkinson over the next few months - I met him recently.

If I can put the R18+ Games Classification case to him in person, it'd be good to know what I'm talking about icon_smile.gif At the very least I hope to find out what makes the anti-R18+ force strong enough to warrant SA standing out of line with every other state on the issue, when it seems like the public is broadly supportive of an R18+ rating for games.
5 years ago
If Madworld gets banned it will sell a lot of copies.
5 years ago
Great article, and your heart is in the right place, unfortunately you are giving Atkinson too much credit.

His heart is not in the right place, I for one do not believe for a single second that Atkinson cares about the children. He personally doesn't like these games so he will keep them banned if possible, the "if I don't like it you cant have it" mentality of the social conservative.

Do not forget for a second that Atkinson is a politician and this move hives him power and puts his name in the papers... no publicity is bad publicity. His arguments have been openly refuted time and time again and he keeps on making the same ones dismissing any refutations as propaganda from the publishers (despite it comes more from the consumers) and accusing Bond University of being bought off when it conducted its survey, when it went over Atkinson's head and asked the public what it thinks.

He uses strawmen and tautologies and has no interest in rational arguments.
Atkinson: The new Jack Thompson
5 years ago
Have to agree with that, he tells massive exaggerations for political gain, he has even admitted that his own kids play these games, so if he can't control his own household, then why the fuck does he think he can control the rest of us.
5 years ago
Agree completely. A woman at my work bought GTA4 for her 12 year old son last christmas; when we asked her why she thought it'd be ok for him to play such a violent game, she said "he's mature for his age" (so a game for 15 year olds is fine).

My bet is all the Little Timmys of the world with MA15+ games sitting next to their consoles fall into the same category. Every parent thinks their child is grown up enough to handle an MA15+ title. But maybe some would think twice about an R18+ title...

(Though frankly I doubt Atkinson will ever change his mind; he seems hell-bent on standing his ground, with his only real response being 'if you don't like it, fight me for my job '...)
5 years ago
Good read.

Though I have to disagree with you completely renegadesx, and I will type something up later in reply.
5 years ago
Very well written, Jason... the most mature article or letter I've read so far besides the 55 year old grandpa gamer. We need more respectable opinions like this coming from younger gamers in the community, to set a better example for each other, and leave a better impression on parents and non-gaming communities. Assuming you are under 55...
5 years ago
http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,25205567-2682,00.html

From the above link :
"Ms Nelson also lashed out at laws governing mentally ill offenders subject to supervision orders, saying she had warned Attorney-General Michael Atkinson of a looming "disaster".

Wyatt, 24, killed his son, 2, and stabbed his partner, 21, and baby daughter before fatally stabbing himself in the family's Charlson St home at Davoren Park at 2am on Monday.

"I was just horrified because I think they are two deaths that needn't have happened and one of them is a child and I think that is appalling," Ms Nelson said."

All I can say is that by wasting time refusing to get the classification system reworked, you could have concentrated on more important things which could have prevented this.

My point is that once the R18+ was approved and done with, your time and energy could be used on more imporant matters. I think that death would negate any exposure to inappropriate material wouldn't it?
5 years ago
An R rating would protect children: "Well duh"
5 years ago
More and more gamers are already tired of the R18 issue. And as long as games like AAA titles like RE5 , MadWorld are being classified, many more won't care.

I mean, kids are becoming more and more smarter and techservy these days. So by the time they are 13 or 14 they know how and where to get porn and violent stuff.

Infact there are more harmful things on TV than violent games.

12 year old girls are already throwing up and becoming bulimic because they want the kind of bodies they see on America's Next Top Model.

You have so much sex, drugs violence in shows like Underbelly that come in the evening, so even without games kids have access to so much filth that violent games are mild stuff to what they see on a daily basis on the net and TV.

By the time kids are 13 they know that stuff in games is fake. So many will not act out that stuff.

Toy guns are some of the most popular toys. So kids are already being fed violent stuff from other means besides games.

I would like an R18 yes, but violent games are only a drop in the ocean in terms of filth kids see everyday.
5 years ago
I just wish he'd stop holding up the public consultation on the matter. It's sad that the minority can slow things down like this in a democracy =/
5 years ago
Brilliant article, and the EveryonePlays site is good too.

Here's hoping we can get an R18 classification by the time Heavy Rain comes out. I don't even know if even the preview tech demo would be allowed here - being chased and potentially gruesomly killed by a disturbing taxidermist who keeps stuffed dead women in his house for amusement.. might be a bit too much for an MA15?
5 years ago
The Genius wrote
I mean, kids are becoming more and more smarter
...


Have you sent this to Atkinson? Cause it's a great argument that he really should read.

I would love to see a public debate about this with him.
He keeps saying he is prepared to defend his stance, someone should challenge him.
5 years ago
You can only exercise choice by knowing all the facts.
Without R18 we are consistently misinformed and make enforced ingnorant decisions.
This is the case of the OFLC as well as the public.
Let's hope that constructed argument and evidence prevails and conservative misinformed opinions are changed through education.
5 years ago
Benza wrote
He keeps saying he is prepared to defend his stance, someone should challenge him.
Unfortunately Atkinson is an Utlra-Conservative.

Yeah he is prepared to debate, but nothing can change his stance.

An R18 rating will come in the future, but that's when Atkinson has left politics.
5 years ago
The Genius wrote
Benza wrote
He keeps saying he is prepared to defend his stance, someone should challenge him.
Unfortunately Atkinson is an Utlra-Conservative.

Yeah he is prepared to debate, but nothing can change his stance.

An R18 rating will come in the future, but that's when Atkinson has left politics.
The purpose of a public debate isn't so much to change the other persons oppinos, it's to inform the public of the debate and give a fair coverage to both sides of the arguments.

At the moment the only place the alternative is being presented is on game websites, lots of preaching to the converted. A public debate with someone from the Australian Gaming community, so say one of the writers from here, or Yug or Matt from Australian Gamers or something would present the argument to a greater amount of people.
5 years ago
Mr Waffle wrote
(Though frankly I doubt Atkinson will ever change his mind; he seems hell-bent on standing his ground, with his only real response being 'if you don't like it, fight me for my job '...)
his job is representation of the people....change the minds of the people and he will have to submit to their ideologies or face losing his seat.

the other thing is this, and this is the only valid point Atkinson makes, kids will get their pudgy little fingers on it anyway, and there's several reasons for this.

there is more fear from retailers of fines for selling a game before a certain date than there is of a fine for selling a game to a minor. There are systems in supermarkets that monitor the sales of cigarettes. Start asking people for ID in games stores when they bring up a MA15+ game and they look under 25.

the big key is making parents more aware of what they child is doing. there has been government campaign asking parents "what is your child looking at on the internet?", but nothing with regards to what their kid might be playing in the middle of the lounge room.

greater awareness in parents AND better methods of sales in video games might actually change the minds of the people who the politicians represent
5 years ago
Benza wrote
I would love to see a public debate about this with him.
He keeps saying he is prepared to defend his stance, someone should challenge him.
But he doesn't. He wants to stick to his same arguments and when people put figures infront of him he dismisses them as business interests and plays the faith over facts card.

He has been killing the public consultation process because he knows the public disagrees with him, he doesn't like that because he like Jack truly believes he is right and everyone else is wrong and facts wont change that... the old George Bush "gut" feeling.

He doesnt want public opinion, otherwise he would let the public consultation go ahead, letting it go ahead doesn't mean a commitment or imply an intention to go ahead with the rating change, its simply censoring the masses from having a say.

His style is very predictable for a conservative, the self-righteous "I'm better than you, I'm wiser than you, I'm more moral than you so I'm right no matter what the facts say, its for your own good" mentality that so many aristocrats have adopted over many millenia.

With that and the net censorship and phone call screening and threatening fines to people that want their legit web sites to be taken off the AMCA blacklist... and this is only the small stuff.

Not to mention the UK openly slapping down free speech, the US Patriot Act and similar copycats... George Orwell must be turning in his grave.


lapzod wrote
Though I have to disagree with you completely renegadesx, and I will type something up later in reply.
Cant wait icon_smile.gif
5 years ago
I issue a challenge to Atkinson - Provide me with proof that censorship ever curtailed one of societies ills or stopped even one person from going out and committing a crime.
5 years ago
Nice article. Though I believe gamers in Australia have made plenty of noise about banning our favourite games due to material not fit for our rating systems.

If politicians did go out there and talked to genuine gamers instead of parents who have no idea about gaming, they would have come up with a solution a long time ago.

It's like asking a beer drinker to test try wine.

Violence was around way before video games. But now they have something to blame it on.
5 years ago
izzzbo wrote
If politicians did go out there and talked to genuine gamers instead of parents who have no idea about gaming, they would have come up with a solution a long time ago.

It's like asking a beer drinker to test try wine.
Actually, ~90% of Australia Adults (including non-gamers) polled believe that introducing an R18+ rating to games is a good idea (to paraphrase previous articles, Everyoneplays.org.au, etc.). There is only one person in government holding this back. It is ridiculous.
5 years ago
renegadesx wrote
Not to mention the UK openly slapping down free speech, the US Patriot Act and similar copycats... George Orwell must be turning in his grave.
No, just screaming "I told you so!"
(and only 25 years behind schedule)
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