There have been some very interesting developments in the last week in the push to finally reform the classification system to create an R-18+ rating for computer games. It's an issue that has languished for years despite overwhelming public support. Finally, it seems to be gaining some momentum thanks to actions by the Commonwealth Government.
Currently, any game that does not fit into the MA-15+ ratings category is banned for sale or importation into Australia. Given how popular games have become, and the average age of the Australian gamer (over 30), this is nothing if not an anachronism. Reform has been in the works for years, but due to the complexities of the censorship system, it requires the unanimous agreement of all the states to make a change to the classification code. The attorneys-general are meeting this Friday and will discuss the issue. In the past, South Australia in particular have blocked any action for years, but with a new Attorney General in the portfolio, we're optimistic an agreement might be reached. Here's why.
Firstly, we saw the Attorney General conduct a public consultation into the introduction of an R-18+ rating. (You can read EFA's joint submission with Ausgamers here.) With 58,000 submissions, 98% of them in favour of reform, the Government had no choice but to listen.
Then last week, the government released a literature review which debunks a lot of the myths about computer games and children. While those opposed to the change usually cite the dangers of violent video games and the concerns that it will harm children, the Government's research shows that these links are extremely tenuous at best. Furthermore, they noted that there doesn't seem to be a significant difference between playing a game and watching a movie.
Then yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor released a statement detailing the Government's unequivocal support for change, and citing survey data showing that even 81% of Australians over 50 support an adults-only classification. It's clear, now, that the Commonwealth is actively pushing this reform. Given that, we're optimistic that the states will see fit to hop on board, especially given the data prepared by the Government to justify the change.
A couple more things are worth noting. Firstly, it has been Home Affairs minister Brendan O'Connor who has been most active in pushing the issue, with little heard from the A-G. One might wonder if the Minister personally sees this as an important issue, given the Attorney General, Robert McClelland, hasn't been as vocal.
There's also been a shift in the debate, which is both deliberate and clever. The language coming from the Home Affairs Minister has avoided any discussion of liberalising the system to allow adults to play games oriented for adults, but has instead focused on games that would be "banned" to children. To the media - see below - this sounds like a tightening of the classification scheme to keep games out of the hands of kids. See this report from Channel 10 news, or this one from the ABC. That's certainly true, but is a very shrewd way to frame the debate, and leaves the Australian Christian Lobby out by themselves in the cold on this one.
I also did an interview on behalf of EFA on the subject with the ABC yesterday. You can watch it below.
If this is successful, does this mean we're only 14 years away from having X-18+ games? Time will tell.