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Video game classification? It’s time we all grew up

The average Australian gamer is now more than 30 years old. RodrigoFavera

After many years of debate and deliberation Australia might finally be about to receive an R18+ rating for video games.

On July 21 and 22 the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) meeting will review draft guidelines for the adults-only classification proposed in May by Federal Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor.

The proposed guidelines are loosely-worded but do give an indication of what an R18+ classification might allow:

  • So-called “themes” (such as suicide) would face no restriction
  • “Sexual violence” would be allowed when justified by context (e.g. being part of the game’s plot)
  • Sex, nudity and drug use would be permitted
  • Violence would be allowed as long as it doesn’t offend “morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults”

Apart from these antiquarian (and subjective) restrictions, the proposed R18+ category would bring Australia into line with global classification systems.

Beyond the realms of decency

Even under the new guidelines, certain games could still be “refused classification” making their sale illegal in Australia.

Any of the following could consign a game to the sin bin:

  • Instructing players in matters of crime or paedophile activity, or promoting these
  • Sexual violence linked to incentives and rewards
  • Depictions of bestiality, incest fantasies or offensive fetishes
  • Detailed, realistic drug use or drug use linked to incentives and rewards

Overall, the draft guidelines give the impression of the establishment attempting to come to terms with the games culture of the late 1990s, but certainly not of the contemporary gaming situation.

SCAG will debate the merits of the guidelines and if a unanimous agreement is reached, we might see the revisions taken to the Classification Board by September.

Even then, it would likely take a few months before the new ratings come into effect, meaning we wouldn’t see R18+ games on Australian shelves until early 2012.

Taming the beast

But even the long-awaited introduction of an R18+ classification for games is unlikely to ease anti-video game hysteria in the media today.

A few days after the release of the R18+ draft guidelines, Fairfax journalist Asher Moses stoked a degree of controversy by suggesting that fighting game Dead or Alive Dimensions – a launch title for the Nintendo 3DS hand-held console – contained child pornography.

Moses was quickly assailed on Twitter by numerous people calling him out for the “wowserist” piece designed to generate cheap hits.

The ABC’s Cassie White followed suit with a similarly alarmist piece Talk radio soon began its predictable festival of idiocy as callers were prompted to decry the game without even knowing a thing about it.

But while headlines such as “‘Child porn’ Nintendo game gets PG rating” were being thrown around, the truth was far less sensational.

Dead or Alive Dimensions – as with other games in the Dead or Alive franchise – features anime-styled, large-breasted women, some of which appear (but are not listed as being) younger than 18 years old.

The game allows the player to take photographs of various characters (including the apparently-underage characters) from a range of angles including the possibility of “up-skirt” photos.

While it could be argued that giving players this ability is both tasteless and inappropriate for the game’s PG rating, it is hardly child pornography.

Arguably as a result of alarmist reports (such as those of Moses and White), Dead or Alive Dimensions was pulled from shelves and has since been resubmitted for classification by Nintendo.

With any luck, we’re not far away from bringing Australia’s video game classification scheme in line with the rest of the developed world. If it goes through, it will be a recognition, finally, that the average Australian gamer is, in fact, a mature adult.

Whether an adults-only classification will lead to maturity on the part of the media remains to be seen.

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