Wednesday, December 15, 2010

R18+ Rationale

Will Australia ever see this logo on games? I think so.

Last Friday the Attorneys-General for each state and territory of Australia, as well as the federal government met to discuss the possibility of introducing an R18+ rating for videogames in this country. The most prominent hot topic on the Australian gaming scene in recent years, the debate that has surrounded the various issues related to the classification system -- how it is currently and what it could be should it be changed -- has been argued both in favour and against for what seems like countless times now, the issue constantly arising whenever a game is refused classification (see my previous two articles about it here and here for more); an important figure, usually a politician offers their view on the subject; or when a developer or publisher, usually international, decides to edit their own game or not bother submitting it for classification in this country at all. Naturally, as gamers, our wide-ranging and general view is that it should be introduced, our arguments being for the accessibility of content that we -- as adults -- can relate to, as well as the issue concerning younger gamers who, under our current system, find themselves easily able to get their hands on games that are absolutely not intended for them, such as the inevitable (for our main example) Grand Theft Auto series or games such as Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead 2 and Aliens Vs Predator. While my personal view is shared with the majority of gamers, I’m more concerned with the attitudes it has inspired both in those against the introduction of such a rating, and those in favour: the gamers. I am, however, also impressed with how the issue in general has been handled in recent months. Here’s why.

Media Spotlight

The biggest thing to come from the recent SCAG meeting last Friday, I think, was the way in which the issue was handled in the various media outlets that chose to cover it. While it was inevitable that the gaming press would cover it strongly and focus on the angles that would benefit the medium in which they cover, the more mainstream press outlets also handled it, in my opinion, well, approaching the subject from both points of view -- for and against -- and not displaying the bias that coverage just a few years ago so obviously did. While admittedly, certain facets of the media didn’t report the facts accurately (suggesting, for example, that it was only related to PC gaming rather than the entire medium), for the most part the newspapers, TV current affair and news shows and online websites covered it maturely, objectively and even enthusiastically -- something that’s heartening to see as a gamer, clearly desiring the rating’s introduction, after years of biased reports and sensationalist, usually negative, headlines. But personal opinion aside, I think the coverage the recent developments have received is a good thing for gaming generally, as it’s treating the entertainment medium fairly and not treating it -- as it did in the past -- like something only intended for kids. Instead of being an inferior medium to the already established film, television and literature, the media approached the issue and games generally as an equal, (dare I say it) artistic medium who deserves to be considered among the mainstream population, and who deserves the coverage those established mediums already receive. It might be a baby step in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a step that hadn’t been taken previously and most certainly one in the right direction as both the medium of videogames, and we as gamers, move forward. The coverage wasn’t perfect, some outlets still approached it subjectively without realising it, and once Friday had passed very few areas of the media cared anymore, but it was a start and one I’m proud to see after observing the issue from the sidelines for so long. Progress is being made, even if it is just gradual, and that’s an accomplishment that didn’t seem likely just a few short years ago, and one that paints gaming’s overall image in a positive light rather than the negative one it has had for so long.

Just one example of the imagery that may only be seen if an R18 rating was introduced.

Gamer Feedback

Less impressive, however, was the response that gamers -- the very advocates for the introduction of the rating in the first place -- exhibited once the news of yet another delay arose on Friday evening. So intent on seeing an outcome that pleased them on an individual level, the news that no result was to occur until next year didn’t just disappoint them, it infuriated them -- the message of frustration abundantly clear in the various forum posts and website comments that were made that night and over the weekend. Instead of thinking about what the outcome meant and where things could go from here, these people reacted impulsively, slamming the various people involved in the debate’s process immediately with no concern for anything else. While it might be understandable that these people are angry, their irrational actions don’t get their disdain across and highlight their opinions, it demonstrates to those involved -- as well as those observing from afar, unbiased in their views due to not featuring in either camp -- that gamers (and thus, those that support the rating’s introduction) aren’t as mature as their arguments constantly suggest and instead are quite aggressive, juvenile people who probably don’t deserve the rating to begin with. This anger and animosity towards the outcome on Friday was remarkably annoying for me personally, watching their insults and irate behaviour play out as if gamers in general were trying their absolute best to bring the videogame medium down with their tirades. Swearing at politicians and hurling abuse at their opinions, or their desire to seek clarification from their particular constituents -- as was the case with Friday’s outcome -- doesn’t prove anything other than immaturity and it’s these attitudes that conflict poorly with our overall message and lobbying to get the rating introduced in this country. The attitudes were atrocious, the immediacy with which they were demonstrated appalling and, overall, it reflected yet another negative light onto a situation we worked so diligently to bring out of focus and put to bed.

To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement but to say I’m surprised would be lying. While the very people who have ensured this medium’s constant growth in recent years won’t admit it, gamers need to grow up and accept that, from time to time, things aren’t going to go their way. The ironic thing is that Friday’s outcome was positive, the various Attorneys-General approaching the issue with an open mind and, for the most part, agreeing that things needed to be changed -- be that introducing the rating or changing the current system to bring it in line with more modern times.

No doubt the R18+ rating will continue to feature prominently on the Australian gaming scene and, after seeing how the most recent development played out, progress will continue to be made. If gamers don’t get their act together and prove that our arguments were justified and that we do deserve the rating though, then I’m not sure I want the rating after all -- not if we’re going to act like that.

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