When I wrote that Australia probably wasn’t going to be seeing an R18+ classification for games soon at the end of last year, I hadn’t considered that perhaps one Attorney-General (basically: head government advisor about State / Territory law) might try to go it alone. For the rating to apply Australia-wide, all the Attorney-Generals need to agree… which hasn’t happened yet.
South Australian Attorney-General John Rau has stepped up, suggesting that South Australia may go it alone in implementing an R18+ rating, even if the other Attorney-Generals don’t agree.
How will this work in practise? That’s not clear. Within Australia there are some classification discrepancies, such as Canberra and the Northern Territory being the only localities where it is legal to sell X-rated movies (which is 99% hardcore porn; and not that it stops black market sales in all other states) but that is a historical quirk. Rau / SA going it alone would be a new wrinkle that would require the Australian Classification Board to start implementing some kind of dual rating system, or for SA games retailers to re-sticker classification messages on the boxes of video games. So it might get the job done for SA, but it would be messy.
Never The Easy Way
… especially when Rau’s plans are remove the MA15+ classification when adding in the R18+. In his words:
“At the moment there is an unbroken continuum from G to PG to M to MA15+ which includes some pretty violent games. What we want to do is make sure there is a clear gap between material for adult and material for children and empower responsible parents by making sure game classifications are helpful. No adult would be any worse off [with the abolition of MA15+ for games]; in fact, adults would be better off because there would be more games available in the R18+ category.”
Personally, I disagree. If all MA15+ games suddenly become R18+, then yes there would be more games in the R18+ category, but it is starting from a base of zero. It doesn’t automatically follow that more games will become available if the R18+ classification is opened up because that Refused Classification option still exists and it depends on how that R18+ rating is determined. It’s actually a rare game that is refused classification in Australia, especially when censored versions are often released.
Stripping out the MA15+ rating will end up limiting the Classification Board in a new way and means some games will face increased restrictions. Here’s a list of games that are classified MA15+ in Australia currently. If they were flipped to R18+ tomorrow, then:
- Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2
- Dragon Age: Origins
- Red Dead Redemption
- BioShock and BioShock 2
- Assassin’s Creed 2 and follow-ups
all become available for only 18 and over to buy. I’m certainly not advocating any of those games as titles for pre-schoolers, but having to be 18 before you can legally buy Mass Effect seems off to me.
R18+ titles can also have particular restrictions put on how they are advertised / displayed (such as in South Australia, which did have a law on the books that R18+ movies could only be displayed by title only – no pictures – or face fines). I’ve seen in some retailers that the R18+ material is kept behind the counter, or restricted to special areas, or even not carried because it isn’t worth the effort of having to deal with the associated problems. I’m not going to pretend I’m up with every state’s R18+ display laws, but it can vary from state to state.
On top of which, if video games lose the MA15+ rating, but it is retained for other media classification, it kind of reinforces the point that video games are somehow more dangerous than books or movies. Apparently video games are so potentially corrupting that they can’t have get the intermediate step between ‘mature audiences’ and ‘extreme content that only adults can see’.
By directly swapping MA15+ and R18+ for video games, it is very possible that the resulting system would end up being more restrictive than the current one. Why can’t Australia / SA keep the MA15+ rating and expand it up to the R18+ classification, rather than going for some weird switch?