Smooth the lines on the face of an old enemy… A sane case against R18+

As promised…

First, I’m mid-twenties, an atheist, and a fairly avid gamer.  Apart from being conservative (and I sincerely apologise for basically everything the conservatives have said and done since Reagan; we haven’t had a good 20 years due to libertarianism and the Christian Right), I fit the same demographic as most of the people advocating for R18+ video games classification.

Instead of bringing the argument for censorship down to ‘Think of the Children!’ or tenuous appeals to dodgy science, I think the case for censorship can be adequately justified by asking whether Australian society has a legitimate interest in protecting itself from extremely violent games.

Some theory is needed to get there.  Basically all of government action (or passive action, in the case of R18+ classification) comes down to balancing the rights of the individual against the interests of society.  Only libertarians and anarchists disagree with this, but they’re hardly the most rational groups of people.

Richard Dagger writes extremely eloquently about this balancing act.

The challenge is to bring the claims of the individual and community into balance.  To meet this challenge is to find and support forms of community that promote not simply individuality, but the kind of public-spirited individuality that recognizes how much it owes to others and strives to discharge this debt.  [Source: Richard Dagger, ‘Individualism and the Claims of Community’, in Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy ed. Christiano and Christman]

This balancing act is made more difficult by popular notions of entitlement.  Censorship, for example, is invariably seen as, prima facie, a violation of individual rights (usually right to free speech).  This notion of entitlement ignores that we necessary have limitations on individual rights.

Those who support the slippery slope argument warn that the consequence of limiting speech is the inevitable slide into censorship and tyranny. Such arguments assume that we can be on or off the slope. In fact, no such choice exists: we are necessarily on the slope whether we like it or not, and the task is always to decide how far up or down we choose to go, not whether we should step off the slope altogether. [Source: ‘Freedom of Speech‘, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

The question at play here is whether society has an interest in protecting itself against simulations of extreme violence (especially simulations of extreme violence against women).  With a video game, you’re not merely an audience to the simulation of violence; the gamer is an active participant.  It becomes easier to justify censorship when its noted that this simulation is for enjoyment.  Of course society has an interest in discouraging violence.  Making the same violence that we’re trying to discourage into the subject matter of entertainment is not consistent with that interest.  It’s not a case of whether or not the simulations encourage people to act out in real life; it’s that, as a society, we do not condone gratuitous violence and do not think that it is appropriate to simulate.

That’s legitimate and rational.  It doesn’t require any appeal to religious authority and doesn’t require moral panic.  It’s derived from and, as such, is consistent with other values we have as a society.  It is therefore up to the advocates to show why an exception to our values should be made to permit retailers to sell these games.

‘But!’ you might cry, ‘The games are already available due to the internet or due to the inconsistent way the classifications are used at the moment!’

Neither of these are reasons to allow retailers to sell them.  The difficulties posed by the Internet relating to extremely problematic material is a much broader issue.  ‘I can launder money really easily over the internet; therefore, money laundry should be legalised’ isn’t a rational argument.

The inconsistencies in the way classifications are applied is similarly not a reason in favour of the new classification.  As part of the review, I hope the application process will be analysed to make it more consistent.  That some games are getting weird classifications is not, in itself, a reason to introduce a new classification.

The best argument in favour of R18+ classification has been the analogy to films: ‘We have lots of films which are R18+; why can’t we have R18+ games?’

I think it comes back to the role the consumer plays.  When you’re watching a film, you are not an active participant of the violence being represented.  In other words, the representation in the film is not really a simulation of inflicting violence.

Where I think R18+ advocates might have a better case is the simulation of sex in games.  There are certain forms of sexuality which, in films, causes an R18+ rating but, due to the lack of classification, gets released as an MA15+ game.  This, I think, has more to do with our almost toxic cultural narrative about sex and less to do with video game classification.  It’s one place where I think my fellow conservatives are 100% incorrect: we have a society which considers the expression of intimacy more taboo than violence.  Children’s movies can now have characters touch each other in anger but not in affection.  Go Team Conservative.

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3 thoughts on “Smooth the lines on the face of an old enemy… A sane case against R18+

  1. “The inconsistencies in the way classifications are applied is similarly not a reason in favour of the new classification. As part of the review, I hope the application process will be analysed to make it more consistent. That some games are getting weird classifications is not, in itself, a reason to introduce a new classification.”

    If anything, it’s an argument for more games being banned.

    “I think it comes back to the role the consumer plays. When you’re watching a film, you are not an active participant of the violence being represented. In other words, the representation in the film is not really a simulation of inflicting violence.”

    I’m not sure this distinction is all that strong. There are films that intentionally bring the audience into the violence as a form of complicity and the hyper-realism of (some) film means that there of isn’t the same distance you get in a lot of games, which have a far greater sense of artificiality.

    “Where I think R18+ advocates might have a better case is the simulation of sex in games. There are certain forms of sexuality which, in films, causes an R18+ rating but, due to the lack of classification, gets released as an MA15+ game. This, I think, has more to do with our almost toxic cultural narrative about sex and less to do with video game classification.”

    It would be nice if the anti-censorship people would spend as much time engaging with discussions of public attitudes to sex as they do whinging about not being able to play the unedited version of Duke Nukem.

  2. “The inconsistencies in the way classifications are applied is similarly not a reason in favour of the new classification. As part of the review, I hope the application process will be analysed to make it more consistent. That some games are getting weird classifications is not, in itself, a reason to introduce a new classification.”

    I agree that the application process should be reviewed. I find the argument for introducing R18+ due to ‘games that should be R18+ ending up in MA15+’ quite odd, as that points to a problem with the review process. However, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to me to say that there is adult content, whether it be violent, sexual or thematic in nature, that is inappropriate for 15 year olds but acceptable for adults.

    “I think it comes back to the role the consumer plays. When you’re watching a film, you are not an active participant of the violence being represented. In other words, the representation in the film is not really a simulation of inflicting violence.”

    If this is an issue, then it should be taken into account during the rating process, and to some degree I believe that it already is, in that participating and being rewarded for violence will increase its impact. To get a better understanding of the Classifcation Board’s RC decisions, you can find most if not all of them on http://www.refused-classification.com/ for games as well as films.

    “The question at play here is whether society has an interest in protecting itself against simulations of extreme violence (especially simulations of extreme violence against women).”

    I don’t think that is the question necessarily. As you point out, there is a problem in our society with portrayal of sexuality, and a high proportion of RC games are banned for reasons of sexual behaviour or drug use, rather than violence. I don’t think you’re correct that “(t)here are certain forms of sexuality which, in films, causes an R18+ rating but, due to the lack of classification, gets released as an MA15+ game” – from what I have seen, at least, the Classification Board is very conservative on both sexuality and drug use, and understandably given the language of the Classification Act and National Classification Code.

    Introducing R18+ will not prevent games from being RC. For instance, New Zealand has an R18+ rating, and classified Reservoir Dogs as “objectionable”, their RC equivalent. Reservoir Dogs was also RC in Australia. Similarly, New Zealand banned Manhunt, which was actually originally rated MA15+ in Australia, though later re-rated RC.

    I’m curious as well concerning your mention of “especially simulations of extreme violence against women” – is there a particular title that you are thinking of? Nothing comes to mind for me at the moment. To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been any controversy relating to this.

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