In this article James Peter, PALGN's founder and one of the folks behind EveryonePlays explains the thinking behind the message that is driving EveryonePlays - an R18+ rating protects children from mature games.
With today's launch of the EveryonePlays petition in GAME stores, a spotlight has been placed on our message - that an R18+ rating for video games in Australia would protect children. This is something of a step away from traditional arguments that have been used to lobby for an R18+ rating. These arguments include: that games should have the same rating system as films, that adults play games too and the rating system should represent that, that adults should be allowed to play what they want and Australia is the only developed country without an R18+ rating for video games.
While we certainly don't disagree with any of those points, we feel that the argument that an R18+ rating protects children is far more important; partly because it is so visceral, but mostly because recognising it is a consequence of most of the arguments mentioned above. While many opposers of the R18+ rating feel its absence would protect children, we believe the exact opposite.
Today's video game market is split into cultural halves embodied by two countries: Japan and America. These countries dominate the markets, so much so that most development studios generally develop specifically for one of these markets at the expense of any other. Australia and Europe participate in the market that America dominates. This is very important because it means that most of the games on Australian shelves were made for an American audience.
The rating system in America is provided by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The older end of their rating scheme is;
ADULTS ONLY (18+)
Significantly, Walmart and other major department stores refuse to stock Adults Only titles. This means that many mature fighting, shooting and other adult themed games are shoehorned into the MATURE (17+) category as often as possible. The ESRB website lists only 24 games classified as ADULTS ONLY, but 1409 as MATURE.
When we take a look at this impact on the Australian market, we start seeing some very serious consequences. Australia's top end of the rating system for video games consist of only;
This puts Australia's Classification Board in a very hard place. They must either decide that a game is suitable for a 15 year old, or it must be banned for everyone in Australia. While in theory this should protect children from all mature games, the reality is far different. The Classification Board generally avoids banning games. Point 1 (a) of the National Classification Code reads "adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want". This is evidenced by the small number of games refused classification in Australia - only 33 in the last 10 years!
So where do all 1400 games targeted at the 17+ audience in America go? They receive a Mature 15+ rating. As a result Australia has far more mature games available to 15 year olds than any other comparable country. There is a huge difference in the level of maturity between a 15 year old and a 17 year old. This is a disservice to all Australians. It misinforms parents and makes a parody of a system designed to keep adult games out of the hands of children.
However, opening up an R18+ rating solves this problem and keeps mature games out of the hands of 15 year olds. This is evidenced by the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) system used in Europe. Their system is very similar to a proposed Australian system that includes an R18+ rating. PEGI has a 16+ rating and an 18+ rating. Since 2003, 570 games have received the 18+ rating.
Games are not primarily made for 15 year olds. If violent video games are harmful to children, then not having an R18+ rating makes the problem significantly worse. We strongly believe that this is the major fallacy of the argument against the introduction of an R18+ rating.
It is clear that Australia's rating system is far behind the times. It does not account for the market nor the cultural forces present in today's society. While some people believe that not having an R18+ rating keeps mature games out of the hands of children, the above makes it clear that the opposite is true. In order to provide the correct information for parents and in order to protect children from mature games, we must add an R18+ rating to Australia's classification system for video games.
This is why EveryonePlays uses the message that an R18+ rating protects children. It speaks to the audience that need convincing the most and cuts to the heart of the poorly justified arguments against an introduction of an R18+ rating.
Read more at http://everyoneplays.org.au
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