January 1, 2013, will be ushered in by more than a pounding hangover and embarrassing memories vaguely relating to a fireworks mishap the night before. It will mark the moment Australian gamers are finally treated as adults after half a decade of excruciatingly slow progress.
But it isn’t going to go well.
It’s taken so long to make it this far, that I’m not surprised adult gamers are showing scarce signs of excitement, at best. We’ve been disappointed on countless occasions as conservative non-gamers wield the power to make what appears to be, to most of us, the clear decision.
We need an R18+ rating for games if we’re to have one for film and every other facet of entertainment media. It’s obvious, isn’t it?
With little over two months until our classification revolution, the whole debacle is still fraught with incompetence.
With little over two months until our classification revolution, the whole debacle is still fraught with incompetence. Each of the states and territories agreed to the changes months ago, after years of negotiations, yet only NSW and the ACT have passed the legalisation. The others are leaving it perilously close to the deadline.
But, alas, we’ve been reassured that each state and territory has a time frame to ensure the paperwork goes through. However, that doesn’t seem to account for the inevitable flip-flopping that occurred in WA. Instead of passing the legislation -- which was agreed to in principle -- the state government sent an amendment to a committee consisting of two Liberal MPs, a Greens MP and a Labor MP for further investigation.
What’s the bet no gamers were involved in making that decision? The same decision that has plagued the whole progress for half-a-dozen years.
Taking a step back, the classification guidelines didn’t fill us with confidence when they went public last month. Effectively, most of the games that have been banned because of drug use or sexual content will still be refused classification under the revision.
R18+ isn’t really freedom for adults to access content they, as adults, should be entitled to choose to consume. It’s more of a tweak to the existing system that makes it harder for children to get their hands on violent games which are currently restricted to 15-year-olds. The R18+ guidelines, as they currently stand, are about protecting children from violence, not allowing adults to access games designed for players over 18 years of age.
Today we’ve heard that upwards of 50 games currently rated MA15+ could become R18+ if they are reclassified under the new ratings system. NSW MP Greg Donnelly says appropriate measures will be taken to make that happen, but I don’t see how it’s possible.
Reclassifying a game isn’t easy, and we’ve previously heard that games already refused classification will not be given a chance to be classified R18+. Unless those comments were a ruse -- and that could be the case -- how can MA15+ games be reclassified? That’s before we even begin to consider the logistical nightmare of changing the ratings of up to 50 games that are currently flying off store shelves around the nation.
Has the 18-year-old uni student working at Kmart ever asked a consumer buying a game or movie for proof of age?
Speaking of retailers, JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, Dick Smith Electronics, Big W, eBay Australia, Kmart and Target have all been involved in meetings pertaining to staff training about the impending changes to the classification system. In extreme cases, jail time could be dished out if stores are caught selling R18+ games to minors, but that’s rarely been enforced in the past.
I believe an R18+ logo is more daunting to parents of underage children than MA15+. Buying a 13 or 14-year-old an MA game seems less inappropriate than giving a 15-year-old an R18+ game. That’s where the new rating can protect children. It’s not about stopping 17-year-olds from playing games they are currently entitled to, although it’s a necessary side effect, it’s more about stopping these really violent games getting into the hands of 13-year-olds that are able to coerce their parents into believing that MA15+ isn’t that bad.
However, that all hinges on retailers enforcing the new standard. Has the 18-year-old uni student working at Kmart ever asked a consumer buying a game or movie for proof of age? I easily bought GTA: San Andreas when I was 14 and nobody took a second glance. It’s a big change of mindset, especially when most of the sales staff making the call on who appears to be a minor won’t be much older themselves and working casually during the school and university holidays for some beer money.
Furthermore, with only NSW and the ACT to get their act together in a timely fashion, what happens if one or two states don’t make the deadline? Will they still operate under the old classification system? Will Black Ops 2 or Hitman: Absolution be rated MA15+ in some states, and as of January 1, bump up to R18+ in others?
We thought that couldn’t happen, as they would have been classified under the existing system, but if reclassification is on the agenda, that becomes a more likely scenario, complicated further by the possibility that we mightn’t have a blanket classification system across the country if the introduction of legalisation continues to needlessly drag on.
As we painfully awake from a post-New Years slumber, adult gamers should be quietly celebrating that they are no longer being treated as children. However, I doubt the process will go smoothly enough to get our hopes up.
By Ben Salter