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Australia Opens R18 Debate, Invites Public Submissions
Australia Opens R18 Debate, Invites Public Submissions
December 14, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

December 14, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC

Australia Attorney General Michael Atkinson's assertion that only "a small number of very zealous gamers" want an over-18 classification for video games in the region may soon be tested, as the Australian government has opened the issue to public debate.

A government internet portal presents the arguments in favor and against an R 18+ classification for video games, and asks citizens to submit their feedback.

The discussion paper accompanying the submission form notes opposition to the R 18+ rating based on fears that games at a certain level of violence can affect viewers: "Concerns are frequently raised that playing violent computer games has a greater negative effect on people than viewing the same degree of violence in films," it says.

"There is research that indicates at least a correlation between exposure to violent computer games and an increased likelihood of aggression," the paper continues.

But the argument in favor suggests it's necessary to have that classification to address the needs of adult gamers as well as to "[send] a clear, unambiguous message to parents that the game material is unsuitable for minors."

The rating is also necessary to help Australia's approximately 50 studios and 1500 developers -- who generate $140 million in annual revenues -- remain competitive, argues the statement: "The lack of an adult classification for computer games in Australia may affect the competitiveness of this industry internationally and could be resolved through the introduction of an adult category."

Users of the site are encouraged to fill in the submission template and either mail, fax or submit it online, and they have until February 28, 2010 to do so.

Games without a rating cannot be released in Australia, so titles that would have been classified for mature content simply don't see store shelves in the region without content edits. Aliens vs. Predator is just the most recent game to come up against this roadblock; major titles like Left 4 Dead and Fallout 3 are other examples.

Industry figures such as Tom Crago, head of the Game Developers Association of Australia, have criticized Australia's approach to ratings as "antiquated" and "a joke". The Attorney General firmly opposes the classification, however, stating: "You donít need to be playing a game in which you impale, decapitate and dismember people."

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Nathan Hill
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Awesome but it doesn't change anything as it must be a unanimous vote by the attorney generals to take effect and Atkinson is clearly going to vote no and veto the whole thing like usual.

Ben Droste
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That's a very pessimistic attitude to take. What you say it true: no matter the outcome of this consultation Atkinson still has the power to veto the vote. However this is the Australian public's chance to to show just how much support there is for an adult rating. If it turns out there is overwhelming support and he still opposes it, then it becomes clear he's acting on a personal bias and not in the interest of the people he's supposedly representing.

If that happens, where we go from there I don't know, perhaps we start writing to the Prime Minister himself to complain about the insult to democracy.

Mat Bettinson
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Nathan Hill is right that it only takes the South Australian attorney general to stand firm to scupper any action. However if it transpires that the rest of government thought otherwise then this would be rather a lot of pressure - possibly even calling into question the need for constitutional reform.

Either way, there is at least a process now.

Matt Ross
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Oh Adam, if only you knew...

As Ben and Nathan say, it requires a UNANIMOUS decition from all state attorney generals in order for the rating to get passed. all agree to pass it except ONE of them. the South Australian one. So one man can impose his personal view on the entire Country, and only people in his electorate in SA have any direct power over whether he remains or not. They don't even get to vote for him to be AG, only MP, and then someone just picks him to be AG, no one outside the state has the power to vote for his position or the position of anyone who leads to his election as AG, This is something that he personally has actually taunted us with!

If this was a real democracy, this issue would have been resolved years ago, and the paper would never have been necessary.

Why do STATE AGs get together to decide national issues when we have a Federal Government? I don't know.

Why do things like going to war and plunging the country into debt require only a majority decision and something as simple as this requires a unanimous one? I don't know...

This is just my understanding of the situation, please correct me if i'm wrong.

Saul Alexander
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It's a very positive step. The fact that they have even released this discussion paper is evidence that public pressure is mounting to get this changed. It has been all over the mainstream media over the last couple of months (and particularly this week), and as such is gaining much more popular awareness. It's true that Atkinson will still be able to scupper this based on his own prejudices, but even he may be forced to fall into line if the public pressure becomes widespread enough.

On top of that, there's no guarantee that Atkinson will remain the South Australian Attorney-General for much longer. While the current government is likely to win again at the March election, and he is likely to retain his seat, there is nothing to say that there won't be a cabinet reshuffle after the election. Atkinson is currently being probed on unrelated corruption allegations, which is not a good look for an AG. If this games rating story becomes big enough, and more people start to notice the idiocy of his position, it could add to the argument for pushing him off to a different position in the government.

Every Australian gamer and developer owes it to themselves to make a submission.

Leigh Browne
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"Australia Attorney General Michael Atkinson..." Still burning the midnight oil on thorough and in-depth research i see.

Matt Cramp
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So what you're saying is that the American government would never do anything like this because the American government wouldn't do anything?

(The unanimous decision on making classification changes comes about because the Federal government took over control of what was previously a state responsibility.)

But anyway, this is very positive, and it's our best shot, short of invading the SA elections, of redressing (at least one of) the problems with the classification scheme.

Doug Poston
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@Adam: The US government has plenty of faults, but they do listen to feedback (especially when it comes from organized groups of people).

If you a really interested in an issue, there are more ways to get involved in changing things than just sitting back and voting every 2-4 years for the lesser of two evils.

Doug Poston
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@Adam: As game developers and players, the people on this website are a 'special interest group'. And there are organizations we can belong to, like the ESA (, that influence policy.

Like I said, the US government has plenty of faults, but its not hopeless. At least we're free to buy mature rated titles.