A few days ago, the R18+ rating for videogames was made official in Australia.
An R18+ rating for games is a pretty big deal. Australia does have an R18+ rating (and beyond) for other forms of media, but former Attorney General Michael Atkinson actively opposed and blocked any attempts at having an R18+ rating for games.
Why did he do this? He claims he did so “chiefly because it will greatly increase the risk of children and vulnerable adults being exposed to damaging images and messages.” The problem was that passing this legislation required a unanimous decision among the Attorneys General, and as long as Atkinson opposed it, the legislation couldn’t move forward. Democracy: fuck yeah!
After he retired, the legislation grew some legs. Despite a shaky start, federal legislation was passed, and several states followed soon after with their own complementary legislation. Aussie gamers quietly rejoiced, foreign gamers wondered who would want to live on an island infested with venomous animals, scaremongers reminded us how evil videogames are, and the rest is history.
It took long enough. Several American friends of mine were aghast when I detailed the censored content in the sanitised Australian re-release of Left 4 Dead 2. “What do you mean, there’s no riot cop?” they exclaimed. “And fading corpses? Whuh?” They could relate to games like the Mortal Kombat reboot, what with the tearing of bodies in half and all. Syndicate, however, was a bit harder to comprehend. Marc Ecko’s Getting Up was even more difficult.
Does this mean that my fellow countrymen and I can finally stop importing uncensored Asian localisations of adult games and start supporting local businesses instead? For new releases, quite possibly. There are still certain games that will be refused classification, such as games that feature sexual violence. Games that have already been released will be subject to a two-year waiting period for reclassification, but I doubt many people would be interested in waiting two years for a game that they most likely already purchased. Publishers would be equally unenthusiastic at the thought of going through the whole process again for some meager returns.
So, we’re finally in line with the rest of the world when it comes to classifying interactive media. It probably won’t be rainbows all the way, though. I foresee that kids are still going to find ways to get their parents to purchase adult games for them. I imagine there will be some games in future that the Classification Board will still be unable to stomach. I’m anticipating all those moral crusaders getting ready to shoot down the latest R18+ title corrupting the impressionable minds of Australia’s youth.
But this was long overdue. It’s necessary. Violence, profanity and adult themes are here to stay, so we may as well have a label warning us that it’s coming our way. If you can’t dig it, I’m sure we can at least agree that we can both exercise our freedom to choose whether to consume these products or not.