Tired of your games being de-bloodied and de-fanged when they hit Australian shores? So am I. So when the R18+ classification for video games was finally introduced at the start of this year I reason to throw my hands in the air and have a real Mario party – until I looked closer at the guidelines and asked myself; “What has really changed?”
Having an R18+ classification for video games in Australia isn’t about being in line with the international standard, it is about prompting video games and gamers to be accepted and respected, and for enlightenment on their place in society and culture. The R18+ rating will be recognition, finally, that the average Australian gamer is a mature adult who should be treated as such. But the problem is that it isn’t, and we’re not. The fact of the matter is that we made enough noise to be heard, but the general consensus is the same. Australian gamers are sitting at the adults table, eating from the children’s menu.
It has been clear for some time that the Australian classification system for video games has been severely out dated and downright broken. The previously highest classification of MA15+ saw games enveloped into that classification they clearly should not have been, let’s take the gory head-stomping adventures of Dead Island for example. But won’t somebody please think of the children! The R18+ classification will mean that minors will not be able to access inappropriate content immediately addressing the ongoing flaw of the last decade where, adolescents have been exposed to gore, sexualisation and high impact violence under the pretence of it being suitable MA15+ content. The introduction of an R18+ rating was designed to combat this enveloping and provide room to move in the classification debate, however, the new guidelines aren’t quite meeting this expectation.
The first and most obvious issue with the classification guidelines is that they are based upon the premise of the gamer being a ‘reasonable adult’. This draws a point controversy when we question who decides upon the definition of a ‘reasonable adult’. The need to include this label clearly confirms my earlier suspicion that gamers are still not recognised as a mature audience, despite data informing that the average gamer is 30 years old. The future of gaming in Australia will never progress if the assumption is that games are a children’s pastime and not an adult hobby, interest or even career. The idea of including ‘reasonable adult’ within the guidelines for an R18+ classification it is simply redundant and downright offensive.
Despite some clumsy wording and awkward phrasing (“virtually no restrictions”?), the rest of the guidelines are relatively straightforward. Or at least I thought. When I reached the section on violence, the guidelines state that violence is permitted but high impact violence is not. Hang on. How is that any different to the MA15+ classification? Wasn’t the point of introducing a higher classification to allow a more intense scope of violence so that video games needn’t be child-proofed when they reach Australian retailer shelves?
Violence has always been the main concern behind the re-classification proposal on both sides. It was the fundamental reason behind the ban of some of the most controversial submissions including; Left for Dead 2, and Mortal Kombat, and yet it receives little more than a shiny, new sticker under new classification guidelines.
What’s more, the ‘new’ guidelines state that games with “violence with a very high degree of impact which are excessively frequent, prolonged, detailed or repetitive” should be refused classification. Under that assumption any game currently banned in Australia on the grounds of being ‘too violent’, such as the aforementioned, that resubmits a classification appeal will refused – for being ‘too violent’.
So, what do these new guidelines really mean for Australian gamers? We know that games currently banned can resubmit classification if their publishers want to pay for it, and games that have been cut and classified under the MA15+ rating can also appeal if they are outside the two-year cooling off period. We also know that publishers can’t be sneaky and re-release an updated ‘uncut’ version of their game such as an anniversary edition without the original game submitting to classification standards, sorry Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition!
It has been a long and arduous battle, but the war isn’t over. Although we now have an R18+ rating, the legislation behind the classification is still a concerning talking point for the gaming community and unless there is ongoing pressure by gamers for a fair classification system, people whose interest lie elsewhere will commandeer the R18+ agenda.
Written by Emily Jansch. Jan 2013