Tonight, make it magnificent… R18+ video games debate might be impoverished on both sides

In response to my last post, Penmonicus pointed me in the direction of this post by Mark Serrels on Kotaku.  I’d previously argued that Serrels doesn’t provide a reason in favour of the games, only a complaint that it’s somehow unfair that the games aren’t available for sale.  In the article linked by Penmonicus, Serrels again doesn’t make an argument in favour of the games, but makes a much more worrying claim:

When someone, in the face of overwhelming evidence, refuses to adjust his or her opinions, you have to ask yourself – is this really a discussion? Or is it something else entirely – something far more insidious. A discussion involves both sides listening to one another, and responding in kind. From what I’ve seen, those on the other side of this ‘discussion’ have done a whole lot of talking, but they clearly haven’t been listening to a word we’ve been saying. How could they be?  [Source: Mark Serrels, ‘R18+: Rationality is Dead’]

I agree with him entirely, but he’s not talking about the R18+ advocates: he’s talking about the ‘pro-censorship’ side.  He’s talking about my side.

Hunting around the more prominent advocates of the status quo, I find it difficult to disagree with him.  Looking through the various arguments for introducing the new classification, his comments also seem to hold true (one forum I found even claimed I was part of the Christian lobby.  Just so we’re all clear: I’m an atheist.  Atheists sometimes disagree with each other.  It happens).

From the looks of it, it appears that we’ve got two sides of a debate where neither of the participants are saying anything intellectually interesting.

For the record, I think most of the arguments put up by the pro-censorship crowd are rubbish.  ShootStraight, for example, takes out most of the low-hanging fruit here.  Take out most of the pundits pleading with us to think of the children, to look at all this evidence they’ve cherry-picked about violent video games turning children into psychopaths, &c., &c., and the pro-censorship side hasn’t said very much.  To be fair, I haven’t put up much of a positive case for censorship either.

At the same time, if you ignore the ‘How dare anybody tell me I can’t do something?!  HULK SMASH!’ posts from the pro-R18+ side, you’ve effectively ignored 99.99% of their arguments.  The 0.01% remaining is confusing guff.

For example, in the above-linked post by Serrels, he says:

There are claims that “vested commercial interests” are attempting to force an R18+ rating through with “propaganda”. There is next to no commercial gain here – Australia is a tiny market, and a miniscule amount of games are refused classification. In the grand scheme of things video game publishers couldn’t really care less whether an R18+ rating is passed or not – in fact, before the matter was raised again last December, publishers had informally agreed to stop pushing for one. Why? Because it doesn’t affect their business in any significant way.  [Ibid.]

Because, of course, publishers are the only ones with a commercial interest.  On The Drum, Greg Barnes pleads with us not to ‘potentially limit [the] economic potential [of R18+ games] if [they] cannot be classified in a particular jurisdiction‘.

There’s nothing rational about the R18+ advocates’ case.  If ShootStraight believes my argument reduces to merely ‘I feel’ statements (and I agree but don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing), then R18+ advocates’ arguments reduce to an unsubstantiated ‘I have a right to access everything’.  As Sherrel says: ‘This is not a discussion, this is not a debate – if it was it would have ended years ago, rationally.’

[Note: As I said to Penmonicus, I’ll compose a positive argument in favour of censorship and post it here tomorrow.]

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

2 thoughts on “Tonight, make it magnificent… R18+ video games debate might be impoverished on both sides”

  1. The major argument I’d see for the R18+ rating for games is that it exists for other media and we shouldn’t act like games are special. I’ve seen R-rated films that were great stories, etc etc, some with great artistic merit and while there aren’t a lot of games in the same category, it’s a much newer medium and there are some companies (like Bioware and Blizzard) that do produce work of that sort of quality. Neither of those companies really need the R18+ rating for any of what they’re currently doing, but if they wanted to tackle something in that area I’d be willing to see how they handled it.

  2. I don’t think any pro-R18+ pundits favour unrestricted access to everything. Even the most utterly libertarian of advocates draw the line at material that violates the rights of others. Many will draw the line at material that can be shown to cause harm. Still more are happy to bring the banhammer down on material that would be considered Refused Classification as those standards currently apply to film and the internet. It’s a diverse group, with diverse beliefs on content accessibility. I think about the only thing that you could get everyone to agree on is that there should be an R18+ category for games, and that there should be penalties for selling them to minors.

    As for ‘I have a right to access’ being unsubstantiated… Freedom of expression is considered to be a fundamental human right internationally. Indeed, Australia itself is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states (article 19) that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. We’ve also affirmed our commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes:
    “Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”

    I’m honestly very interested to see your pro-censorship article; it’s rare to see one that doesn’t come from a religious perspective or rely on increasingly challenged research.

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