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Do we really need R18+ computer games?

By Barbara Biggins - posted Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association has for some time been trumpeting the statistic that “91 per cent of adults think there should be an R18 + classification for games”. “So”, you might ask, “why haven’t we got one?”

There are good reasons why not, but these have had little exposure.

First, a little background. Sixteen years ago, the Federal, State and Territory Ministers responsible for classification matters, introduced a system of classification for computer games: that system classified games with content from G (general), up to and including MA15+ (strong impact and not legally available to those under 15 years).


At present, games with content more extreme than MA15+ level are “Refused Classification”. This cautious stance was adopted by ministers in 1994 as they believed that the interactive nature of games would have an impact on the player: that “doing” the violence and being rewarded for it would be more harmful than just “watching” it (as with films). This caution has been supported by a growing body of research evidence (more of this later).

However, gamers and the industry have over the past five years mounted a campaign to allow R18+ content. In response, the ministers responsible for classification have called for public comment by February 28, 2010.

If accepted, the proposal will allow games with content more extreme than at present to be sold and hired out. By definition, R18+ content is likely to be offensive (a legal definition) to sections of the adult community, and minors should not be exposed to it.

The industry’s arguments range from “no proof of harm”, and “this will provide greater protection for children”, to “gamers are now older and need ‘access to content that’s age-appropriate’” (Ron Curry, CEO of iGEA (The Interactive Games & Entertainment Association), December 30, 2009); and citing the 91 per cent survey figure above.

There are many flaws in the industry’s arguments.

For a start, if the survey question were framed as “There is a proposal to permit an R 18+ classification for computer games. This will mean that the sale and hire system will make available games with more extreme violence, more impactful depictions of sexual activity and drug taking than at present. Do you approve of this?”, the responses might be considerably different.


Second, the fact that there are now many older gamers (and presumably more mature) does not reduce the obligation to protect children, who also play in large numbers and for long periods of time. The average age of alcohol drinkers may well be 40, but that doesn’t reduce the obligation to protect the young.

We know that once in the system, children will access such games. This flies in the face of the principles of the Australian classification system which places children’s rights to protection, and community concerns about depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence, on a par with adult freedoms to see, hear and read what they want.

Australia has had an R18+ classification for films since the 70s. In practice, it is possible to minimise children’s exposure to R Rated cinema films, via ticket prices and gatekeepers. The story for videos and DVDs has been far different, with our surveys showing significant levels of exposure to R18+ material once it has left the outlet. Responsible parents, who supervise what’s seen in their own home, despair at what’s seen elsewhere.

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About the Author

Barbara Biggins OAM, is the Hon CEO of Australian Council on Children and the Media. The ACCM is a not-for-profit national community organisation whose mission is to support families, industry and decision makers in building and maintaining a media environment that fosters the health, safety and wellbeing of Australian children. Its patrons are Baroness Susan Greenfield and Steve Biddulph. Barbara also served as the Convenor of the federal Classification Review Board 1994-2001.

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All articles by Barbara Biggins

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