The Australian Classification Board announced that it has refused to give an R18+ rating to the fourth installment in the popular Saints Row video game series, meaning that Australian retailers would be unable to sell the game here. Almost predictably, the Australian gaming community responded with its ritual of entitled whining.
“It’s so unfair,” they wail. “What about our rights to play games with interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context? My grandfather died in a war so that I could play video games which include elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards.”
I am an avid gamer and a big fan of freedom, but the argument that my rights are being infringed just because I can’t play a game which simulates sexual violence is indefensible.
The problem is not whether or not video games influence behaviour (although the jury is still out on that one). The problem is not whether or not gamers could find some other way of obtaining the game. The problem is not even – as Slavoj Zizek suspects – whether or not the brutal rapist identity portrayed in the video game reflects the truth about the gamer who is unable to express these urges due to social constraints.
The problem is whether or not we think that women in our society should tolerate having violence against them depicted as entertainment.
On 1 January this year, new classification rules came into force which permitted the Classification Board to give video games an R18+ rating. Prior to this, the maximum available was MA15+. The change was celebrated in the gaming community, with video games now having a classification system similar to films.
What some people did not appreciate was that the “Refused Classification” rating (RC) still exists for both video games and film. According to the National Classification Code, the Board must give an RC rating to computer games which:
a) depict, express or otherwise deal with matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that they should not be classified; or
b) describe or depict in a way that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult, a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 (whether the person is engaged in sexual activity or not); or
c) promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence
The Classification Board rated Saints Row IV under item (a) above, and rightly so. Depicting sexual violence against women for the purposes of entertainment should offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults. Women should not have to live in a society which thinks simulating rape against them is an appropriate form of entertainment. My right to have this simulated for me does not trump the rights of others to feel safe and welcome in society. This is not about censorship.
The debate on censorship is still stuck in the 1950s, bogged down by sloganeering and absolutist rhetoric. Crafted by some of history’s greatest thinkers, we have a litany of phrases which speak truth to power, struggle against oppression, and confront a sexually repressed culture. They’re witty, snipey, and resonate with a chord inside us which rejects the idea that other people should have any sort of authority over us. As a culture, we perceive censorship to be anti-liberal, interfering with our rights to say and do whatever they like without unnecessary interference from others.
Today, we are more likely to hear them deployed devoid of context for the purposes of defending the rights of white guys against the complaints of the less privileged.
GB Shaw, for example, said that:
“All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”
Imagine telling him that we were waging a war against censorship so that a bunch of man-children could simulate raping women for laughs. It would never have occurred to him that his championing of freedom of expression would be used to promote such an anti-progressive agenda.
Far from being a battle about censorship, this is a battle against a gaming community that thinks women should have to pay for their free expression.