Adult gamers call for R rating – APC magazine, 7 July

Adult gamers call for R rating

Recent government moves including the banning of the Reservoir Dogs game have led Internet free speech group EFA to renew its call for an R rating category for computer games.

Adult-themed games have also come under greater scrutiny in Western Australia, with the state government’s recent decision to ban the public display of MA 15+ games.

Under the new amendment to WA’s Censorship Act, it is now a crime to publicly display MA 15+ rated games in WA. While it is legal to sell and purchase MA15+ games, retailers or anyone displaying them in public will be liable for a $5000 fine.

Games publisher Atari has confirmed it will not appeal the OFLC Classification Review Board decision to refuse classification for Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure graffiti computer game.

Unlike last year’s spate of computer game bannings (which saw both Rockstar’s Manhunt and Sierra Entertainment’s Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude refused classification), Getting Up was not banned for depictions of violence or sex exceeding the maximum allowed MA 15+ rating for games. In the case of Getting Up, the game was refused classification because it was deemed to promote a criminal act.

“Both the National Classification Code and the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games state that a computer game will be refused classification if it includes or contains detailed instruction or promotion of matters of crime,” said Classification Review Board Convenor, Maureen Shelley. “It is the Classification Review Board’s determination that this game promotes the crime of graffiti.”

Shelley cast the deciding vote to refuse classification to the Getting Up game after the review board was deadlocked 2:2 in the decision.

Executive Director of Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) Irene Graham said the decision to ban Getting Up was a concern because it invoked a little used rule about promotion of crime. The decision could have widespread ramifications if the OFLC began applying the rule to movies and other media it deemed to “promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence”, she said.

The ‘instruction or promotion of crime’ section of the classification guidelines has been notorious since the editors of Melbourne student newspaper Rabelais were prosecuted for the satirical “Art of Shoplifting” article in 1995. That matter went as far as the High Court before the Department of Public Prosecutions dropped the charges against the former editors in
1999, without explanation.

The invocation of the ‘promotion of crime’ as a reason for banning the Getting Up game could be a signal that the OFLC censors were starting to interpret the little-used clause “much more broadly” said Graham. “This is probably the first time since [The Art of Shoplifting] that they’ve used it in this way.”

The concern about instructing or promoting crime to the audience was probably heightened in the case of computer games because of the mistaken perception that only impressionable children and teenagers play computer games, said Graham. “It’s made worse by the fact that there is no R 18 rating for games.”

While Australia’s current classification system tops out at MA15+ for games, one games publisher claims to have found a loophole to enable adult gamers to purchase its banned games online. US-based Running with Scissors publishes the ultra-violent Postal and Postal II, both of which were banned in Australia. Through an online distribution
deal with DRM distributor Softwrap, customers around the world can purchase and download the game online, says Running with Scissors CEO Vince Desi.

“We believe that people have the same right to play any game they want to as they should have the right to read books, see films and listen to music of their choosing,” says Desi. “Our games are ESRB rated and their contents clearly explained. No one is being harmed and the Earth will not spin off its axis because a game with a notorious reputation is sold around the world via the Internet.”

Under the current federal government legislation, it is illegal to sell or display material refused classification by the OFLC, thus the importation of such material is banned. However a loophole might exist with regards to downloading RC material, according to EFA’s Graham.

While laws exist to make the possession of material such as child pornography illegal, in most states laws have not been enacted to cover RC material, she said.

“Under Commonwealth law it would be illegal to make it available on an Australian website. But the only districts in Australia that ban possession of RC material are NT and WA. In those states if you’ve downloaded RC material you have broken the law.”

The WA government has recently gone a step further to control the video game market, slapping a $5000 fine on the public display of MA15+ games. The Censorship Act 1996 Section 85 also introduces a $2000 fine for publicly displaying an unclassified game which would have received an MA15+ rating if classified.

The new amendments to the WA law mean that retailers won’t be able to display or promote legally available MA 15+ games, as well as extending the law into the home. WA now makes it an offence with a $2000 fine for showing an MA 15+ game to a minor under 15, unless you are the parent or guardian of the child. ABC news reported that the
Liberal and Green parties combined to get the amendment through the WA Upper House.

3 Comments

  1. morgan303 Said,

    July 11, 2006 @ 12:35 pm

    Very cool. You should be proud of that one. This is why the world o’ journalism needs you!

  2. blithespirit Said,

    July 11, 2006 @ 12:36 pm

    Thank you. 🙂
    It was nice to have that story come out this week and remind me that freelancing lets me do cool stuff that means something to me.
    🙂

  3. bobbain Said,

    July 14, 2006 @ 9:34 am

    Your article is quite prominent when searching Google (News) for “Banned Books Australia”. It’s dropped down the Google search list since yesterday however.

    Bob