Michael Atkinson thinks computer games are different.

The South Australian Attorney General presented his arguments against an R18+ classification for video games to the Gamespot video gaming web site. His arguments can be divided into those in favour of censorship generally, and those that argue that computer games are special, and need to have a higher level of censorship than other media. 

His argument for the different status of games as compared to film is essentially that because the experience of playing a computer game is more interactive, it is more harmful to view the same material by virtue of it being a game. He offers no evidence to support this assertion, other than noting that his children sometimes get very involved in games they play. He associates R18+ with perverted sex, criminal activity, and extreme violence, but ignores that many award winning, widely acclaimed and viewed films are rated R18+. Computer games are, as shown by many studies and accepted even by Atkinson, now consumed by more adults than children. And adults have the right to consume material intended for adults. He also ignores that games have been refused classification in Australia for reasons that have nothing to do with sex or violence, and depict only non-violent crime (graffiti tagging, in the case of Mark Ecko's Getting Up, refused classification in 2006), a level of censorship that might rightly be regarded as ridiculous if applied to film in Australia, and certainly is not applied to our most widely available media such as free to air television. Of course, he knows he is being misleading here -- later in his letter he lists the reasons for classification, and among them are coarse language and "(controversial) themes." 

The argument that only a small number of games are affected, because only a small number have been rejected for classification, is no argument at all. What it demonstrates is the chilling effect of censorship laws. Games that are unlikely to be approved in Australia are cut before being presented to the board, or never presented to the board at all. The real danger of censorship is the works that do not get made at all, or that are made but never presented to the Australian public. 

Mr Atkinson states that "In cinemas, the age of moviegoers can be regulated, and at the video store people must provide ID to hire R18+ videos. Once electronic games are in the home, access to them cannot be policed and the games are easily accessible to children." He seems completely oblivious to the existence of R18+ DVDs, which of course can be freely purchased by adults and taken to their homes. And ignoring the obvious idea that, should an R18+ category for games be introduced, stores that sell games can check ID, just as news agents that sell R18+ magazines do, and just as the same video stores that provide most of the game rental market already do. Of course R18+ film material is available within a format that comes into the home — and of course, families do find ways to police such material. It is easier to control the use of computer games (that require a specific console to play, most often) than it is to control the viewing of DVDs. The policing of R18+ games presents far less of an issue than the policing of R18+ DVDs, which is generally unproblematic. And that Atkinson presents something so easily dismissed as a serious argument at all can be explained only by either a deep ignorance of something as basic as DVD purchase, or contempt to voters understanding of the issues. 

A similarly poor argument is Atkinson pointing out that many quality games enjoyed by adults would not merit an R18+ rating. This is of course true, but irrelevant. Simply because I may enjoy a film aimed at a general audience, does not mean I may not also want to view films aimed exclusively at adults, and the same applies to games. The existence of Pixar films, enjoyable by both children and adults, is not a justification to ban the R18+ films of Quentin Tarantino — but Atkinson contends that, when it comes to the computer game equivalents, it should be. 

Atkinson also tries to use the existence of classification for advertising, films, and books as a justification for the classification of computer games, but this is a deceptive argument. He is the one arguing that games are different — if games were classified in the same way as films, they would have an R18+ rating as films do. 

But the most revealing aspect of his argument is that he frequently refers to "children or vulnerable adults". He is using the argument that he is protecting children, by making his poor arguments about access to games in the home, but it is clear that even he does not really swallow this argument as justification for his policy. He knows that to justify his position, he must justify censoring adults. "Vulnerable" adults are as much a target of his censorship efforts as children, and by talking of "vulnerable" adults, he seeks to censor all adults by appeal to a hypothetical weakest among us. And this is how the call to censorship always goes, to justify taking away our rights by claiming to protect the weakest. Atkinson does not even bother to deny that he seeks to restrict adult liberty, he only claims to believe the sacrifice of our rights is justified by the desire to protect these hypothetical weakest of us.

Mr Atkinson claims support from other State Attorneys-General, yet he is the sole one holding back the public release of a paper on the issue, a paper that Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls said made "persuasive arguments" for an adults only game classification. Perhaps he is not the only one, but he certainly does not seem to have the broad support of his colleagues. And the only group that supports him that he is prepared to name is Young Media Australia, an organisation that supports appropriate media for children -- which makes it clear that supporters of Atkinson's view are those that share his contention that adult consumption of computer games should be determined by what is appropriate for children, not what is appropriate for adults. 

Finally, it is worth noting that Mr Atkinson refers to the Office of Film and Literature Classication, a body that no longer exists as such, the Classification Board being incorporated into the Attorney Generals Dept in 2006. There is no excuse for mistakes about the basic details of the system by an Attorney General making decisions about its future.

48 comments

  1. I think that if one really does want to "protect the children" they should support an R18+ rating for games. My thinking is this - given that there is no R18+ rating, I think it's fair to assume that at least some games which would otherwise be rated R18+ are sneaking in as MA15+ rather than being unclassified (ie banned).

    Comment by ephant on 20 February 2009 at 5:25 am
    • Why? So all the people under 18 can download unrestricted versions from Pirate Bay? All you pro R rating idiots are forgetting how easy it is for children to access illicit material these days. What are the game download sites going to say? Please input your date of birth? How could children possible get around that?

      Either way, It's downright embarrassing that the average age of gamers is over 24. People that age are meant to be making something of themselves, not pissing around playing video games.

      Comment by Voice of Reason on 22 February 2011 at 4:28 pm
  2. If the R18+ was introduced parents might feel a little more compelled to not let their young ones play games like grand theft auto.
    When it comes down to it R18+ introduction is probably a double-edged blade that will change little socially, i'd sleep easier with R18+ because it really is the lesser of two evils.

    Comment by Brayden on 22 February 2009 at 1:32 am
  3. thanks !! very helpful post!

    Comment by contractattorney on 28 February 2009 at 7:12 pm
  4. "And the only group that supports him that he is prepared to name is Young Media Australia"

    Little surprise considering where their funding comes from?

    "The Young Media Australia Helpline, web site and small screen are supported by grants from the Government of South Australia, including the Attorney General."

    Source: http://www.youngmedia.org.au/siteinfo/index.htm

    Comment by Rusty on 26 June 2009 at 6:42 pm
  5. I just feel like commenting:) Good stuff!

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    Comment by Gustaws on 3 September 2009 at 7:00 am
  8. Well anyone who's christian just thank christ for this man.....

    the dishonerable michael atkinson.

    most parents dont care about MA15+, they DO care when they see the big R though.

    Oh well at least theres steam

    Comment by John on 19 September 2009 at 4:52 am
  9. Kids have enough crap for there age any way Pokemon, Digimon toys and heaps more they also killed the original Batman movies by Tim Burton when whiny Parents complained and Bitched about Batman Returns to dark and violent so what happend two shitty doumb down joke versions came out and the same with games you get them complaning baout video games on game consoles like Madworld for the wii you hear them complaning thats it to violent for the wii which is supposed to be for the kids and some other rubbish like that heres a soultion dont buy it geez and also use the parental controls that stops games with certain ratings like M and R I hope people start to get some common sense

    Comment by Mitchell on 24 October 2009 at 1:34 am
  10. Once again, Australian regulations slipping to all time lows.

    Michael Atkinson is a remnant of a bygone era which has no place in a modern, civil society.

    If he had even a shred of decency he would resign on this note.

    Comment by David on 30 October 2009 at 5:39 pm
  11. Lets ban Michael Atkinson from ever talking

    Comment by me on 31 October 2009 at 12:43 am
  12. Unfortunately bacteria grows by putting it next to another cultivation.

    To remove a malignant sample like Mr Atkinson we need to remove the core of the problem. Christian splinter cells where fiddlers are allowed tryannical positions.

    Comment by David on 31 October 2009 at 4:04 am
  13. .......if anyone has taken a look at the Wii it has games where you litreally have to slice and cut with your actual controller for the game...the Wii was recomended for children it has worse and more violent games..... that CHILDREN PLAY......

    Comment by Daniel on 4 November 2009 at 11:04 pm
  14. Whats the point of the game now if it dosen't have any FREAKING VIOLENTS WHAT SO EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by Daniel on 4 November 2009 at 11:07 pm
  15. LET'S TAKE ACTION. Join this facebook group dedicated to getting an R18+ for video games. http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1121139621...

    Comment by Craig on 5 November 2009 at 6:34 am
  16. I really do not think that a facebook group will help. what we need is the freedom of information act. Do we not have the right to see this document? to have it freely available to us? I will be sending an email to Mr Atkinson. Expalining to him in simple terms that we are a country of freedom. Most gamers are at an age where they can decide what kind of material thay view. Considering that the average age of aussie gamers is 24. I think that if enough people do they same (Not just sending him emails saying he's a dong, but serious real arguments towards our cause) we may just get our freedom of rights.

    Comment by Matt on 9 November 2009 at 10:14 pm
  17. Sure Matt, the facebook group alone won't get the laws change. But it's about awareness. The more people that join, the more people are likely to take action against the current situation. There is a group at the moment with over 10,000 members. Now Mr Atkinson may like to rethink his policies if he sees such a high demand for the rating. Anything helps.

    Comment by Craig on 9 November 2009 at 10:39 pm
  18. @Matt - Correction. The average age of gamers in Australia is 28. I think the best thing to do would be to write to him directly so that he can physically see that the majority of Australians are unhappy with his backwards thinking and stubborness. Personally, I would like to see R18+ rating because parents can be more aware of what they are buying for their kids. I don't think it's the government's responsibility to mother other people's children.

    Comment by Anne on 11 November 2009 at 10:55 pm
  19. Great post. Thanks for this really. I am not a blog reglar blog reader but this blog is truly amazing indeed.

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  20. @ Anne, correction, the average gamer age in Australia is roughly 33.

    I hope this man changes his freaking mind soon. Or gets voted out.

    Comment by Tom on 20 November 2009 at 7:09 am
  21. Seriously who cares...

    Its a game its not like 15 yr olds that play COD modern Warfare 2 will acually go to an airport and shoot people, or go taking cars like in GTA 4. All the people that want R18 proberly just want a reason to stop younger people owning them because they cant play...

    And most parents probably dont care if there son/daughter is playing a MA15+ or a R18 because its "just a game" and once people acknowledge the fact that it is "just a game" the sooner they will understand we dont need an R18 classification

    Comment by Ryan on 25 November 2009 at 5:21 am
  22. well this is a breach of democracy,

    but argument over because theres already a gore work around :)

    intellect prevails! =p

    Comment by david on 25 November 2009 at 9:51 pm
  23. This guy needs to get a grip and realize that even if we cant get R rated games here, we will still import them. He can never stop anyone from playing a video game. It's like the war on drugs... the police can arrest as many drug dealers as they like but its never going to stop the problem. It's a battle this guy can win to a certain extent but deep down he isn't winning at all. I say this guy should give up and start learning to live in our time... its the 2000's not the 50's. I seriously hope that the Australian government will wake up and fire this moron so we can stop this nonsense of no R rated games.

    Comment by Tom on 28 November 2009 at 1:54 pm
  24. Keep working ,great job!!

    Comment by Ewan on 30 November 2009 at 3:01 pm
  25. There's a vote coming up next year and I assure you I will be trying to vote him out.

    Comment by Marc on 4 December 2009 at 11:27 am
  26. How is it that we can watch movies like 'Saw' where we are allowed to watch real people slowly
    getting tortured (people that we are made to relate to through their real life situations and personalities)
    to extreme measures? So how come we are not allowed a few colour pixels representing gore or a breast?
    eg: saints row 2 where you could walk around naked but with the
    blurred pixels on the parts of the body that are considered "sexual" but are allowed to
    buy drugs and smoke joints while using extreme profanity.This sends mixed messages about what is 'ok'
    and in fact by covering up what you think is inappropriate to see, you are drawing excess attention
    and unnaturally emphasizing a natural state. If you don't want to see it, don't make it an option
    in the first place. But don't kid yourself that blurring or beeping things out is an effective strategy.
    You are worried about children at home getting their hands on a R18+ content game?,well what about movies?
    If you are really worried about under aged children getting their hands on a game that is R18+
    then get retailers to start asking for id. Beyond that it is the responsibility of parents to monitor
    their children's viewing.
    Intstead of banning R18+ games why not have parental locks in the options of the game so even
    if children did get a copy of the game they still would still need access to a code to unlock the R18+
    content like soldier of fortune 2 wich is really voilent and has extreme gore but has a parental
    lock option when you install the game. Why cant we just add that to all the other games?
    It just seems silly to me that we allow every other form of R18+ rating content but not games.
    Where is the consistency and what are you really trying to achieve?

    Comment by tenc on 4 December 2009 at 11:20 pm
  27. Censorship is bad.

    He's also screwing with our economy, because instead of buying second-rate censored games from Australian companies (at already over-inflated prices), I would be forced to download their uncensored counterparts.

    Diapers and politicians need to be changed regularly - for the same reason.

    Comment by Paul on 5 December 2009 at 9:36 am
  28. It appears he has double standards and is swayed by deeply religious views. http://www.news.com.au/perthnow/story/0,21598,207...

    Comment by Jessica on 8 December 2009 at 6:25 pm
  29. I cant say anything that hasnt been said above, Other then when it comes time to vote, All gamers who live in the croydon electorate.. do the right thing!

    Comment by Chris on 8 December 2009 at 10:13 pm
  30. All current consoles can or have the ability to lock out media of a certain rating(user defined) by asking for a pin when attempting to use said media, which is very similar to Foxtel and Austar which both have accesss to R18+ content. How about you start punishing the people who knowingly allow children to access and use adult media ie; games, movies, literture etc instead of restricting all people from access to their choice of media.

    I am not ignorant enough to say children wont see or use adult material but is not up to the parents to monitor their child? Why is the community being punished for a lack of supervision?

    To all parents who oppose the R18+ rating on video games please understand the following:

    1 - If this rating was introduced retailers would have to request i.d. for purchase of restricted product.

    2 - By using the parent control system on your console at home your child would not be able to use the products.

    3 - Just because gaming does not intrest you does not mean you should not take an intrest in your childs games. Ask questions when purchasing the products and if the products are not suitable for your child or are a restricted game (this includes MA15+) dont purchase it!!!!!

    I personally am sick of this debate on an R18+ rating. Stop chastising the broader community for the lack of action by some. We have control mechanisms in place to stop minors from accessing harmful material so now its time for the adults to make sure they are used.

    Comment by Adam on 13 December 2009 at 5:21 pm
  31. It is great to see that there is a growing rowl over this seemingly straight forward ordeal. The more posts, groups and petitions sent and created, the better! We should all have the freedom of choice. Bring on the R18+ rating!! (This is in response to seeing what the censors have had done to L4D2, they might as well make a recall on the original!)

    Comment by James Allen on 18 December 2009 at 7:50 pm
  32. I for one welcome our chinese overlords

    Comment by Dr Breen on 19 December 2009 at 1:37 am
  33. well i think its fkd up that we cant see gore and thats wat all these zombie games are about lfd2 eg with out it there just another game he should retire lol and let him open his eyes with a games point of veiw

    Comment by leigh on 20 December 2009 at 6:08 am
  34. I am an adult and I should have the RIGHT to buy whatever content I WANT. It is not up to you Mr. Atkinson what the Australian populace watches or play's via Movies or Video Games. He states he is trying to "protect children", should it not be up the the parents of said children to police what their child does? Not the Australian Government.

    It's fair enough that the Government tries to do the right thing, but when you try to restrict what people want to do, that is wrong, just plain wrong, and you are taking away out own free will.

    Freedom: Freedom is the right or ability to act according to ones will without being held up by the power of others.

    In part, restricting what we view or play is kind of like a dictatorship is it not? Only a small part, ofcourse, but the same nonetheless.

    We deserve an R18+ Classification for Video Games because WE decide what we want to watch, not YOU. Parents WILL take responsibility for what their children watch, it is ALREADY BEING DONE with R18+ movies etc.

    Mr. Atkinson, wake up, and smell what you are shoveling, you may have had some sort of bad experience that has made you dislike video games, but that does not mean in any way, that you have the RIGHT to say what we Australian's can or can not play.

    Comment by Mark on 24 December 2009 at 4:38 am
  35. I'm not a gamer but I can't believe that there is no R18+ classification for video games. Instead, it seems to be an easier fix for the governing body to just to ban any games with high violence levels which is absolutely ridiculous. My husband is an avid gamer and enjoys these games while being a responsible parent by playing them when our children cannot view them. Why is there such a vast difference between movies and games, especially taking into consideration that a large part of the gaming community are adults. We deserve the right to make our own choices. Stop treating the adults in this country like children (as adults we are able to distinguish the difference between a game and reality!!!) and give us credit for making the right decisions for our children. The R18+ classification for video games is the only fair solution.

    Comment by Lorraine on 5 January 2010 at 8:42 pm
  36. Let's face the actual facts Mr. Atkinson, most of the games you claim are destroying childrens lives are on xbox 360 and ps3 both of which have a parental lock system incorporated so a password can be implemented by parents to prevent children from accessing content.

    Shouldn't someone who actually understands the technology be in charge of these things.

    Atkinson is not a reasonable man, he will rely on his church going constituate to get reelected and pose as the "god fearing local man protecting your childrens future".

    Something must be done about this problem.

    People like Atkinson within the government are pushing to censor ALL forms of media.

    Videogames are just the first target because it's easy to call out "PLEASE SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN" and thousands of conservative parents will jump.

    He's just banned r rated movies in his local state of SA, and the federal government is pushing to censor the internet.

    HOW LONG UNTILL ALL MEDIA IS RESTRICTED AND ALL YOU HAVE ACCESS TO IS CAREBEARS?

    Parents DO have the ability to protect their own children.

    He can claim he is more concerned with "more important issues" all he wants.

    But, why then is censorship constantly the main agenda of politicians these days?

    And you'll also note, he doesn't specify what these "more important issues" are.

    He's a clasic example of the blind leading the blind using a guise of religion and good family values.

    No doubt Mr Atkinson has skeletons burried deep down within his closet.

    Also, he sports the clasic pedo-smile.

    Is there a deeper reason for your consern with the welfare of children when it comes to sex and violence Mr. Atkinson?
    I think so.

    Comment by Xee on 21 January 2010 at 1:42 am
  37. I don't see how he is protecting children when all he really is doing is making content that is made for adults and then getting that content a fraction down just a bit so children can get there hands on it. Wheres the logic in that? Doesn't he know by banning games that should be R18+ will be changed so a younger audience can view it while it's in the M15 rating. Its still the same game with the same violence and same objectives and goals just less blood.
    So let me get this right.. its OK for children to play games (The games you are protecting them from)where they can gun people down if there's no blood.

    Comment by tenc on 21 January 2010 at 7:28 pm
  38. I just import my games from the U.K. if they have been banned or censored in Australia. There's some games that have an 18+ rating from the U.K. that are out over here with an MA15+ rating that might surprise ppl. Such as, Fallout 3. Then there's Rouge Warrior, which I'd be very interested to see the Australian release, as the U.K. 18+ version has got so much bad language in it, it would be like the time they aired Hear No Evil, See No Evil on TV (it took them 8hrs to edit out Richard Prior's foul language).

    Comment by Troy Hill on 21 January 2010 at 10:10 pm
  39. Not to jump to extremes here, but Adolf Hitler was a great believer in censorship.

    Comment by Toby on 24 January 2010 at 7:39 am
  40. I think we need a non-biased person in Atkinson's place. Religious? No thank you.

    Comment by Sam from not-so-rade on 30 January 2010 at 8:20 am
  41. I look forward to seeing you lose your seat in Croydon Mr Atkinson. The room for bigots and liars are diminishing in parliament, and you are one of many that will be kicked out for your biased self conformed stupidity.

    Welcome to the digital age.

    Comment by Dalibor on 31 January 2010 at 8:25 pm
  42. Atkinson has today been forced to repeal a law that forced all people leaving comment about political discussion (such as this one) to state their full name and post code... I hope people keep pressuring him about a rating for games. We are adults and politicians are servants NOT dictators. If , as adults, we want to play a R rated game we should be allowed to. Not all of us have children anyway, we are mostly all tax payers employing this man so he should start listening to what we want. If you live in Croydon I urge you to write to Atkinson and do not fear being intimidated.. He may use the electoral roll to find out exactly who you are but your still entitled to an opinion. thank you

    Comment by Sarah M on 4 February 2010 at 12:11 am
  43. This fool makes me ashamed to be a south australian. Please people who live in croydon, vote this fool out in the upcoming election. Surely youve realized your mistake by now?!?!

    This idiot should have been born 200 years ago when he could have been sent off on a nice crusade. I cant believe that in this day and age, we are forced to conform to such an individual and his "santa claus" like christian views.

    Then again christians have never really been known for their tolerance of other ideas, so why the heck are people still voting for them? :O

    Comment by Nail him to a cross on 12 February 2010 at 9:33 pm
  44. also his actions as described in comment 42 by sarah m, seem to be leaning pretty far towards Nazi-ism.... Kind of reminds me of a christian GF I once had who cheated on me but was still a better person than me because she was one of "Gods children". I see no difference between her stance and his, apart from the fact that hes been given a ridiculously large amount of power to apply this flawed "im better than you" jucgement too.

    Mr Atkinson will now forever be referred to as "The Fourth Reich" in this South Aussie household. I look forward to reading the bible (after he finishes with games, movies and even our civul rights and then censors every other book) LOL

    Comment by Nail him to a cross on 12 February 2010 at 9:51 pm
  45. banning r18+ games does not help to protect children at all any one with half a brain will either import the game or they will download it illegally all this is going to do is make people want the game more and make them resort to downloading it illegally or importing it from another country where it will possibly be cheaper

    Comment by his an idiot on 13 February 2010 at 8:39 pm
  46. If the R18+ rating is there or not, kids will still manage to downlod the game anyway? - Thus if the R18+ rating is there parents will most likely see the games in the shops and then if they see it on the home computer, they'll ban their kids, it's mainly up to the parents.

    Comment by David P on 15 February 2010 at 2:08 am
  47. 44 year old gamer, Assistant manager, Responsible adult interested in history of World War two. The "COD" series of games have helped me understand better the history of World War 2 & anyone playing these "violent" games soon realizes that these wars can never be let happen again!
    Mr Atkinson is obviously living in some deluded world of his own & can only be I imagine using his stand on this to try & further his career.
    He was probably deprived of playing cops & robbers as a child & clearly has no understanding of how the human mind works.
    It saddens me when I think about how much of our money goes towards supporting nearsighted people like this who no nothing about the healthy social network that us gamers enjoy.

    Comment by Mr Paul A Smith on 17 February 2010 at 7:44 am