I did not take to analysis so I had to make up my mind… R18+ video games still fail to be justified

There’s quite a good post on ABC’s The Drum about the impact of violent video games on the behaviour of young people. Lo and behold, there isn’t much evidence supporting the ‘but think of the children’ argument. Colour me shocked.

At the same time, advocates of R18+ video game classifications are still refusing to provide any argument in their favour.  Greg Barnes (the same guy who still can’t come up with a model for an Australian Republic) has this to say about the issue.

[N]o censorship regime can hope to ban video games and therefore to refuse to sign off on a national scheme that provides certainty for the video game industry, suppliers and users is simply a case of putting religious fervour before reality. [Source: Greg Barnes, ‘Video game opposition pointless’, The Drum]

I was a bit startled to read that.  As an atheist, I’m fairly sure I don’t have any religious reasons why I think R18+ video games are a bad idea.

Despite this, Barnes drops the word ‘Christian’ as often as he grammatically can to show why R18+ games should be sold in Australia.  Australia should sell the games because Christians are naive.  Riiiiiight.

Every teenager knows how to access violent games. That’s the beauty if you are a libertarian or the curse if you are a prohibitionist, of the Internet. Anything can be downloaded. Not only that, but there is plenty of opportunity to smuggle into the country pirated copies or even burnt copies of violent video games. In other words, the porous borders of the world of technology will find their way with concomitant ease around fulminating censors like Mr Clark and his fellow lobbyists.  [Ibid.]

Because ‘You can already get it on the internet’ is justification for so many things, like weapons manuals and recipes for explosives.  Personally, I think it’s a great thing that I don’t have a local 4Chan vendor in the main street of town.  Just because somebody can download this rubbish doesn’t mean somebody ought to be permitted to sell it.

But this is my favourite part:

Justice Minister Brendan O’Connor wants to use the July meeting of the nation’s Attorneys-General to agree to a proposal which will see an 18+ rating for video games. It is a proposal that has been around for almost a decade. Currently the highest rating is MA 15+.

This means that makers of games edit material to ensure it comes within that rating, even though it might contain extreme violence. As O’Connor said last December, the absence of an adults only 18+ rating means he is “concerned that there are dozens and dozens of games in this country that are currently accessible to 15-year-olds that are not accessible to minors in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.”  [Ibid.]

Imagine the game is ‘Spot’s First Blood Bath‘.  It is, in every way shape and form, identical to Spot’s Big Red Ball except the final page is Spot massacring his neighbourhood in a gorefest.  The Australian government says, ‘You can sell that here but you have to remove the final page.’  According to the reasoning of the above quote, the restricted material is available to minors even though it’s been censored.  Does that make sense to anybody who can read without moving their lips?  What part of the word ‘edit’ doesn’t he understand?  The restricted material has been removed, now 15-year olds can’t access it.  They’re not accessing restricted material.

To me, the argument comes down to whether we want to live in a society where torture-porn is easily accessible.  It’s rarely noted by advocates that it’s not uncommon for the material to be extremely misogynistic in its violence.  If there were some artistic or cultural reason for allowing the material, I’d could even bring myself to support it.

But nobody’s raising these arguments.  Personally, I can’t think of any arguments for it and so I think we’re better off without them.

Instead, advocates are just claiming the opposition is ‘pointless’ and assuming that the pointlessness entails legality.  The debate remains adolescent.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

4 thoughts on “I did not take to analysis so I had to make up my mind… R18+ video games still fail to be justified”

  1. I’d like to point out that there is a long list of games that are either not modified or only superficially modified to fit into the MA15+ rating.

    A recent example is AVP, or Aliens Versus Predators, which was initially refused classification in Australia. The OFLC told SEGA (the publishing company) to edit the game and resubmit it, they refused to edit the game saying that the game was intended to be true to the source material (the movies) and resubmit the game unchanged. It was granted an MA15+ rating.

    Similarly, Borderlands, a game in which the character can explode the heads of their enemies in a burst of blood (which actually had to be legally censored for all advertising in Australia) is rated 18 by the PEGI (UK ratings board) but was given an MA15+ rating in Australia.

    I don’t mean to imply that this alone is an argument for an R18+ rating, but it does need to be pointed out that you’ve been slightly misinformed about the editing that occurs in some of these games.

    The major argument for an R18+ rating coming out of the gaming community (beyond the endless rebuttals of all points raised by the opposing group) is that games that should be restricted from minors are not being restricted. The list of games that have been banned in Australia (not including games that have been edited) is only 14 long. The list of games that have been refused classification and then granted an MA15+ rating with no editing is 11 long.

    Including games that have edited their content only 24 games have been refused classification in Australia. The introduction of an R18+ rating does not mean we have to grant classification to games involving incest, rape, sex as a reward for success, etc. It means we can grant adult ratings for adult games that include such topics as genocide (similarly to how Shindler’s List was given an R18+ rating).

    On the subject of artistic merit, this unfortunately falls to a matter of opinion, I don’t think some paintings are art. I think they’re trash, the same applies to some abstract art (like for example a bed that’s been slept in for a year: http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/artists/tracey_emin.htm) however I do think that LIMBO and Bioshock are art.
    There are plenty of people who believe that games are an art form, not that all games are art, that’s silly, but that games *can* be art.

  2. Here’s a link that makes a very similar point to your argument, but on the other side of the fence:


    You seem to be under the impression that allowing an R18+ rating will open the floodgates of horribleness. I disagree. Games will still be banned if they’re unsuitable, there’ll just be a few more that are unavailable to minors.

    The latest is the new Mortal Kombat. After 15 years, I wouldn’t say that today’s new hi-def graphics are any more realistic than what my 11 year-old brain saw in the digitised sprites of the first game. I played it with my friends and we laughed at the gratuitous blood and stupid fatalities. And we never got in fights. Why can’t I now, as a 26-year old, do the same with the new one?

    1. I had only been able to find a few pieces from the ‘pro-censorship’ side. Reading through the Kotaku post, I totally concede that our side of the fence isn’t pulling its weight either.

      I’ll post a more thorough piece tomorrow.

      Thanks for pointing that article out to me.

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