Half of the MA15+ games released in Australia last year should have been rated adults-only, according to the Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA).
In a recent survey commissioned by the online rights group, more than 50 per cent of new games in 2009 that fell into the 15 years and older rating would have been branded as restricted content in regions with comparable jurisdictions to Australia.
“Those games would be classified as suitable for adults-only in the EU, New Zealand and the US,” EFA chair, Nicolas Suzor, said. “They are being inappropriately classified because we don’t have an R18+ rating.”
Australia is one of the few developed countries without a R18+ rating for games and debate has raged for years over whether to introduce the Restricted classification. Currently, only films can carry an R18+ rating, which prohibits access of content to people aged 18 and over.
The Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) is responsible for the determining the rating of entertainment media.
Games such as F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and Left4Dead 2 had initially been refused classification and were only given a MA15+ tag after they were tweaked to fit the standard. Alien vs Predator was banned for being too violent but the decision was overturned after the OFLC assessed the game again.
The South Australian Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson, has been the staunchest detractor of an R18+ rating and has claimed violent video games promote anti-social behaviour.
The OFLC has also been accused of making arbitrary decisions to refuse classification on some explicit games but not others and of slotting inappropriate games into the MA15+ category.
The Federal Government has released a discussion paper on the issue which is now undergoing a public consultation.
The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (iGEA) has already tendered its response to the consultation in favour of an R18+ system. EFA, in collaboration with one of the largest local gaming communities, AusGamers, is putting together a submission due to be handed in this week.
“We’re arguing against incorrect assumptions on who plays games and their effects on people,” Suzor said. “We are making a fairly strong argument from the perspective of civil libertarians, game players and people who are concerned with the regulatory policies in Australia.”
EFA said the average age of gamers today is 30. Prohibiting or scaling down mature games content would inhibit their right to experience complex adult themes.
“We are seeing now some games are complex and tell expressive stories, just like films. And they are not suitable for kids,” Suzor said. “They do tell adult stories and it’s a fundamental right to let people play the games they want. Restricting the range of releases available into MA15+ is unduly limiting and doesn’t fit with Australia’s national classification scheme.”
Suzor agreed underaged individuals should not be exposed to certain video games but said a Restricted rating provided a better solution than the existing classification scheme.
“We absolutely agree some ages aren’t suitable for children and we believe introducing an R18+ rating will better the ability of parents to make choices for themselves and for their children as to what they deem is appropriate to play,” he said. “It will far from increase the availability of violent and adult games to children and will give parents the tools they need to oversee the media their children consume.”
If Australia continues to neglect the need for an R18+ system for games, it risks damaging the gaming industry.
“People who want to access games overseas where there are proper classifications are pirating them. I think it’s damaging to the industry and to the economy,” Suzor said. “Retailers are suffering and innovative design houses are moving overseas to less regulated environments.”
Submissions for the public consultation close on 28 February. For information on how you can contribute go here.