Thursday, November 11, 2010

18+ game classification in Australia

So, the argument has come up yet again about R18+ ratings on video games in Australia. In case you aren't aware, MA15+ is currently the highest rating you can give to a game in Australia, refering to "strong" impact, while anything with a "high" impact is rated RC- refused classification or banned.
Also, Australia is the ONLY first world country with NO adult rating on video games.
So, here is my argument.

I do not see why video games are any different to other forms of media: films, magazines, etc. We have many things in our society which you can not purchase if you are under 18, and it is illegal to purchase these on the behalf of minors; for instance alcohol, cigarettes, nudie mags. Why is it not possible to ban advertisements on these higher rated games, to keep them in plain cases (like nudie mags) so theres no cover art and keep them behind the counter like cigarettes, with just a list of games avaliable. And why cant we ask for ID to purchase?

People have argued that games, being interactive, have a greater impact on a person's ability to judge what is and isn't appropriate behaviour in the real world, like being exposed to extreme violence will make you think taking chainsaws to hookers is the cool thing to do(GTA reference, btw.). But here is my issue: game developers WANT their games to be sold in Australia, so currently they are tweaking their games to fit into the MA15+ rating.

For instance, Fallout 3 (2008) is an adult rated game in the US and UK, but was originally banned in Australia because the "drug" you took to regain health was called "extasy". The fact is that this game is set post WWII, after a nuclear disaster has left much of the US destroyed, and full of flesh eating zombies (radiation caused deformities in living people, not the undead. this seems very important for the rating board). The music, first of all, is cheerful wartime music, which is disturbing. The graphics are good, the concepts disturbing, and I am not sure the graphic nature of the game is appropraite for people under 18 (or 21, in some US states.) There is a video below of gameplay from Fallout 3, for your viewing. (Note how the innards and bones are visible when the first enemy is headshotted.)

There is also the problem of parental leniency. I was allowed to watch M15 and MA15 films when I was 12, because I was "practically there anyway" and "mature for my age". This seems to be the opinion of many parents. Taking Fallout3 above, for instance, which remember, is rated ADULT in the US, (and in some states, this means OVER 21!!!) and the only thing changed is a WORD. (For the record, it was changed from "extasy" to "drug X") So now it is avaliable for purchas in Australia, and the ratings board ASSUMES that under 15s arent playing it - but they are. The fact is that parents do not think MA15 is as serious as R18. No parent in their right mind would let a 12 year old watch and R18 movie, but MA15 is different.

The Argument that "allowing these games into Australia will allow children to access them" is inherantly flawed. First of all, they are already here, under the guise of a slightly watered down MA15 version, (it might not be straight vodka, but its still alcoholic!) ALSO, the controversy around the games re-rating gets more people interested, and they seek to access it illegally over the internet. Now, I'm going to let you in on a secret. Many games are avaliable to purchase legally online over a gaming engine called Steam. If you have an Australian ID, you can only purchase the MA15 version. BUT, if you have a US ID, you can purchase the adult version and "gift" it to anyone around the world, Australia included. There is no regulation on this: so Australians are paying Americans to purchase a game which is illegal here: and you only have to be over 13 to have a Steam account.

Are you starting to see now?
Some people say "games are for children, so these adult games are just masquerading in order to sell to children" and I think we all know this is wrong. Most game players, and purchasers in Austrlia are between the ages of 18 and 25. Mainly because children need thier parent's permission and money to buy games, and we (as adult gamers) don't. I think it is condisending to think that I have to play games like Super Mario Galaxy because games are "for children".
Also, if any parent buys these games for their children it is currently their choise. Under the MA15 rating there can be no penalty for supplying to minors. I think the government needs to regulate this immediately. I think people who buy MA15 games for their tweens need to be aware of what they are buying for their kids!

If you are still of the opinion that these games arent so bad, here's some clips of other games that were originally rated "RC" but then altered to be "MA15"

Now onto a gamer's perspective. Having a different rating from other countries ruins the online experience. The fact that Australians get booted off online games because a banned scene is coming up is not only annoying, but the rest of the world's gamers think of us as pussys. They dont want to play with us.

A scene fro Hitman where you poison some agents. Hitman also includes assasinations.

A scene fro Left for Dead 2 (a zombie game). The violence was toned down for Autralian audiences because the zombies were living people infected with a virus and not the undead, thus making the whole game a survivalist massacre.