The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) met on Friday, with the creation of an R-18+ category for computer games a top agenda item. Because changes to the classification code require unanimous agreement by all states and the Commonwealth, this is the body where the games reform is going to live or die.

With the commonwealth government strongly behind the reform, there was almost feverish excitement amongst gamers that the AGs would finally get this over and done with. Michael Atkinson, former South Australian Attorney-General, almost single-handedly stalled reform in this area for years, but his departure at the last S.A. election also raised hopes that the stars had finally aligned and Australia would join the rest of the developed world in allowing adults to play games designed for them.

As you probably know by now, there's been no such luck. Although we haven't been able to find out the exact details, it appears that once again one or two of the state AGs have decided to prevent things moving forward. Comments by the WA Attorney General, Christian Porter, strongly indicate that he at least was not ready to push forward with reform. So the outcome of Friday's meeting was a "no" - but it might still be a "no, not yet."

What SCAG did agree to was to make an inquiry into possible changes to the MA-15+ category that would be necessitated by an R-18+ rating. Some of the recent debate has been around the fact that games that would otherwise be rated R-18+ are slipping into the MA-15+ category to avoid being banned, so this might be the reason for the decision. More likely, in our view, is that was all the committee could agree to do on the day. But it does mean the debate is not over.

Reports from the day indicate that the AGs continued to be lobbied by the Australian Christian Lobby and were shown footage of the most violent games on the market today. It's a shame that the focus of the debate appears to still be on whether violent games are ugly, and not whether they can be better restricted to those who are old enough to decide to play them.

This was a very disappointing result after three years of extensive research, consultation and lobbying. But we know the issue will be back on the agenda in the first half of next year, probably in March. There's still time to ratchet up the pressure and get the states to see the light. We'll be launching a campaign in the new year to help focus this pressure in the places, and on the people, where we think it will be most effective.

In the meantime, there's been a bit of good news. The Western Australian Liberal Party State Council has already passed a motion calling on Porter to support the R-18+ reform in the future. Perhaps there's hope that the recalcitrants really can be brought into line by a bit of gentle pressure from all directions.

On behalf of EFA I had a bit of a debate on-air with the Australian Christian Lobby's Jim Wallace on this subject on Friday night. If you'd like to have a listen, download the audio here.

6 comments

  1. It's a sad reality that our culture seems to actually promote violence. Those against the R classification are sending the message that its ok for kids. Then again the predominance of media violence in general is sending the message to children that violence, whether simulated or real is ok. On the one hand the virtual violence and the 300 racist Hollywood movies stereotyping Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims, ans on the other hand is the real violence, which not so funny , is mostly against the same people. Connect the dots and see where all the virtual violence is leading us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QKxHINgloA

    Comment by Russell Good on 13 December 2010 at 11:27
  2. Thanks Colin, good post, and a well articulated radio interview.

    I’ll never understand how people can’t see why action games are fun.. Im sure Jim Wallace has sat down once or twice and enjoyed a movie like 'Rambo', 'Die Hard', or 'Saving Private Ryan.'

    It’s obvious he’s referring to ‘Modern Warfare 2’ Airport scene in this interview when he discusses “shooting civilian’s in an airport” but that scene was intentionally designed to provoke an uncomfortable emotion. (Gamepro.com interview with Jesse Stern, writer)

    Showing a scene like that out of context is as juvenile an argument as showing a scene from ‘Schindler's List’ and saying that people who watch these films enjoy watching genocide.

    It’s not as simple as "violence as entrainment."

    Comment by Trevor on 13 December 2010 at 13:03
  3. "Perhaps there's hope that the recalcitrants really can be brought into line by a bit of gentle pressure from all directions." let me tell you that the vast majority of those grassroots members involved with the WA Liberal Party support an R18+ classification, that is why the motion in support of it was successful. It was not necessarily due to lobbying from the outside gaming community. You'll be surprised to learn there are lots of gamers within the WA Liberal Party that did the lobbying. There is a minority of 'god squad' parliamentarians who like to push their bible morals onto others - these people are the main opponents. They care more about creating a 'moral' society than protecting kids. WA's AG Christian Porter probably will support R18+ classification on video games, but he needs to be seen to be consulting with his colleagues.

    Comment by Ted on 13 December 2010 at 17:32
  4. @Ted: I'm not surprised that there are so many gamers - even in the 2UE radio interview, the host confessed to being a fan of RTS games. Part of bringing pressure to bear, as I see it, is getting the colleagues and supporters of reluctant politicians to let them know where they stand. Directly lobbying may be less effective, so the challenge is to identify who these people are and spur them to action.

    Comment by efa_oz on 14 December 2010 at 09:03
  5. Are minutes from this meeting available to the public?

    It doesn’t seem very democratic that a small group of people are making anonymous decisions for the nation behind closed doors.. I can tune into ‘Question Time’ on my TV and the positions of parliamentary representatives are abundantly transparent. But this mob can be all cloak and dagger about their decisions?

    Do we have some sort of freedom of information Act that covers this?

    Comment by Trevor on 15 December 2010 at 07:34
  6. The radio interview covered the issue well, good work. Bad argument aside, I really had to shake my head at Wallace's point that '88% of children play games, but only 32% of adults', given the hugely different numbers of people in these groups -- the median age of a gamer (30) had already been mentioned so it sounded a bit silly.

    The ACL were posing arguments against violence in games rather than addressing the R18+ classification, which would do the exact opposite of showing an inappropriate level of violence to young gamers. Disappointing that this is the kind of thing holding back the introduction of a proper rating system. :-/

    Comment by Mike on 12 January 2011 at 12:46