July 20, 2008

R18+, do want

Perhaps I am naive, but I expect those people in Government to have some resemblance of intelligence and be able to apply this very useful thing called logic. Michael Atkinson obviously isn't one such person. His recent reply to the demand for R18+ classification for Electronic Games [1] demonstrates a lack of intellect and foresight.

Firstly, Michael Atkinson can not see how have R18+ classification would a) stop parents from making bad choices and b) stop children getting hold of a game for their friend of sibling. Lets address these one at a time. Point a): MA15+ doesn't send a strong enough message to parents. If you are allowing children to purchase these games in the company of a parent or adult guardian, you are not sending a clear strong message that such games are not for children, at all. R18+ classification is a very strong message: these are prohibited to children, and it is illegal to make it available to them. Even the minimally functional or responsible parent will not purchase pornography for their children, and even the most apathetic cashier will not sell R18+ material to a minor. R18+ classification, if it existed, would an unmistakable message: DO NOT SELL OR EXPOSE TO MINORS.

Point b) can’t be any simpler. No cashier who wants to get paid, and no business which wants to stay in business, will sell to a child. If a child can not get hold of a R18+ game, it makes it impossible for said minor to get hold of it for their friends of siblings.

Secondly, Michael Atkinson believes introducing R18+ classification will increase the amount of inappropriate material for sale, and this will mean increased exposure of children to such material, since more of such material is for sale. What Michael Atkinson fails to realise is that introducing R18+ classification increases the volume of inappropriate material only very very slightly, while allowing the current volume of slightly less inappropriate material, namely games with MA15+ classification, to be reclassified as R18+ and thus have their exposure to children significantly reduced. Further, MA15+ restrictions only apply at the point of sale - it places no restrictions on whether the game must be played in the presence of an adult. R18+ classification will make it illegal to for a child to buy and play games considered inappropriate. In not having a R18+ classification for games, the Australian public is being done a disservice whereby the most restrictive classification is trivially circumvented.

Michael Atkinson then touts statistics like 79% of Australian house holds have a gaming device, and 62% of these Australians say classification of games has no influence on their buying decision. Seemingly solid statistics against introducing R18+ classification, except it is never mentioned which of these households have children under 15 - a household where all members are over 15 would care little for the classification of games they purchase. Further, given the current classification scheme’s weak delineation of games, it is not surprising that people ignore them.

The “violent games make violent children” card is of coursed played too. This is of course true - to say children is not affected by violent media would be a blatantly lie. However, the effect of violent video games compared to violence in television and magazines is not provably more or less. Michael Atkinson’s concerns are valid, but they are no more or less than concerns of any parent when it comes to violence in the media. If it is the basis on which Michael Atkinson voting against installing a R18+ classification, then I trust he is equally hard at work at removing R18+ classification for all other media as well.

Michael Atkinson then gives several examples of games that would supposedly be available under R18+ classification featuring strong themes of drug use and abuse. Ignoring the fact that thus far he has been arguing video games are bad because they lead to violence, there are two problems with this assertion. One is how Michael Atkinson knows these games will be classified under R18+ classification, when no such classification yet exists; and two, why we can’t demand the games be modified to fit R18+ or alternatively refuse classification of such games. Michael Atkinson suffers from the common fallacy that R18+ classification equates “anything goes” This is demonstrably false, as films have X18+ classification, and some films are still refused classification. Having R18+ classification does not rob us of the power to refuse classification for inappropriate games - in fact it only gives us more power to restrict exposure of such games to a greater degree than current classification scheme allows. This is especially true when Michael Atkinson says “What the present law does is to keep the most extreme material off the shelves” - R18+ classification will still allow the law to keep the most extreme material off the shelves.

There are several more flawed arguments in Michael Atkinson’s letter. One is the argument that if games can be made into MA15+, then obviously there is no need for R18+ classification. This is akin to saying that just because any film, television show, or magazine can be modified to be rated G, there is no need for anything over G. Another is the argument that film classification is different to video game classification because the age of moviegoers can be regulated. This is a blatant lie. The age of moviegoers is as well regulated as the age of video game purchasers, and just as ineffective. The only time when age of moviegoers is “well regulated” is when the film carries a R18+ classification. Michael Atkinson further differentiates film and games because “Access to electronic games, once in the home, cannot be policed and therefore games are easily accessible to children”. At this point I don’t know whether or not he is being serious - film classification extends to films on DVDs and on TV, where access in the home also cannot be policed.

Michael Atkinson expresses dissatisfaction with the current scheme - “I do not consider that allowing a child to play an MA15+ game is reasonable given the content set out in the National Classification Code...in South Australia effectively that does not prevent such a classification being purchased for the child or with the parent’s (or guardian’s) permission. It also does not stop a child from borrowing a game from another person or family member” What is stunning about this admission is that this is a problem which is helped by introducing a R18+ classification and reclassifying the more extreme MA15+ games as R18+ games. It would prevent such games from being purchased for a child, and it would make it illegal to lend or expose such a game to a child, say by allowing them to watch while you play. Even more amazingly, Michael Atkinson says he will “consider the merit in preventing MA15+ games to under 15 year olds, even with guardian or parental permission or assistance”. If he added another 3 years, he would effectively be considering R18+ classification to games.

Michael Atkinson in short presents no coherent or solid argument against R18+ classification for games. Despite his claim his decision was not conservatism for the sake of conservatism, it is precisely that - there is no more conservative argument than censorship “protecting the children”, and in this case, the children and vulnerable adults, whoever they are..