Many of the 80% of Australians who agreed that there should be an R18+ classification for computer games (Galaxy 2010) did so because they believed that this would provide better protection for children from inappropriate violent content.
It makes an interesting and disturbing case study of media manipulation to explore how this belief came about. How did a push to obtain access to more extreme games get portrayed as a crusade for the kiddies?
Firstly a little background is needed. Since the implementation in 2003 of the 2000-2001 Review of Classification Guidelines, films and computer games have been classified using identical classification criteria. Prior to that, films and games were classified separately and differently, an acknowledgement that the media experiences were different- one passive and the other interactive.
For the past 8 years, the only exception to the reliance on the same set of criteria for films and games has been that the R18+ classification was not available for games. The R18+ exception had been in place since the early 90s, with successive State and Territory Ministers taking the view that caution was needed, given the strong indicators that the interactive nature of games would increase impact.
Ever since the 2001 decision by the Ministers to maintain this state of caution, gamers have kept up a relentless push to have R18+ games legalised. This push has, until the past year or so, mainly centred around the freedom that adults should have to see, hear and read what they want: if adults can access R18+ films why not R18+ games?
Over the past year the tactics have changed. Rather than pushing adults' rights, the pro-R18+ lobby has argued that having such a category would provide better protection for children. The push became propaganda.
It's propaganda because the real outcome of having an R18+ classification would not protect children. It would legalise games with higher level impact than are presently available in the sale and hire system. Using the classification criteria for films, as the system required, R18+ games would have no restrictions on themes, could have high impact levels of violence, of implied sexual violence, of realistically simulated sexual activity (and perhaps the real thing), of drug use and of nudity. Given that it's practically impossible for even the most conscientious of parents to keep their children away from exposure to portable R18+ items like DVDs and games, how can it be possibly claimed that this would be better for children?
Over the past year, the propaganda has been along the lines of "All these very violent games now in MA15+ (the highest level now permitted) don't belong there; if we had an R18+, they'd all [magically] move up into R18+. Everybody knows R18+ games are not for children, and that will keep them out of the hands of kids. And if parents allow access it's not our fault. And as well, we won't be the laughing stock of other countries because we don't have an R for games …"
The last argument is laughable- as if other countries care what Australia does about classification!! But it seems to have traction in some circles.
The main line of propaganda has, however, been largely accepted, even though all that was actually being proposed was the legalisation of games with higher level content than presently permitted. Until the SCAG meeting in December, there was no proposal on the table to modify the guidelines for any lower classifications for games, or to reclassify MA15+ games at a higher level.
Many good hearted people have been misled. They've said "Yes" to polls asking them if there should be an R18+ classification. This has allowed the federal Government to quote the level of support as a reason for now pushing the State and Territory Ministers to acquiesce in allowing an R18+ by July.
There's another way to look at it. We've had a position of no R18+ for games for 18 years. A wise position of caution that has only been strengthened by increasing evidence of harm from very violent games- desensitisation, loss of empathy, a lack of appreciation of the real life consequences of violence, increases in risk taking activities. It's only been a long running sore because gamers have never been willing to take "No" for an answer
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