Confusion over Australia's refusal to classify Fallout 3 is running high, but thanks to some fine Aussie assistance we've got the facts, including why it happened and what our Down Under brothers can do about it.
News of the decision to refuse a rating for the most anticipated game of the year, which will keep the game in its current state off store shelves in Australia, came to light earlier this week, followed almost immediately by heated discussion about what gamers in that country could do to ensure they don't miss out on the experience. Some suggested it would be a simple matter to import the game from abroad, while others responded that doing so would bring about legal troubles, as even just attempting to purchase the game is prohibited by law, regardless of the source. Personally, I have no idea; I live in a country where big people are allowed to by big people things. So I fired off an email to Guy Blomberg, better known as Yug at Australian Gamer, to get the real scoop.
As it turns out, the situation isn't as dire for the Australian crowd as some would paint it: Anyone who wants Fallout 3 is free to order it elsewhere with no risk of penalty. "The main thing to realize is that Fallout 3 hasn't been 'banned' in Australia, it's just been refused classification," Yug said. "That means retailers here can't sell it (because they can't sell a product without a rating) but it also doesn't make the game illegal. So no jail time for importing games that have been refused classification!"
He predicted that the game will be modified to abide with the Classification board's 15+ rating, but added that if Australian gamers don't want to wait for that, they won't have to. "Basically we can just import the game from another PAL territory (such as the U.K.) and the game will work on our Australian systems, although videogame region coding isn't really an issue for the PC and PS3 versions of the games," he said.
Australian Gamer was also able to get its hands on a letter from Michael Atkinson, the Attorney General for the state of South Australia and widely regarded as the reason Australia still doesn't have an R18+ rating for videogames as it does for movies and other media. That lack of an adult rating for games is the reason so many titles are refused classification in the country and have to be edited for release; unfortunately for gamers, any changes to those regulations require unanimous support from the state Attorneys General, but Atkinson is apparently a holdout who insists that without an infallible method of ensuring that R18+ games can't fall into the hands of minors, the nation is better off not having the rating at all.
The letter was provided to Australian Gamer by an anonymous source, who contacted Atkinson regarding the current state of videogame ratings in Australia and actually received a reply. Atkinson displays a remarkable mix of heavy-handed paternalism, willful blindness and outright ignorance in his response, dismissing concerns about basic adult freedoms and implying that parents should be denied the opportunity to make decisions for their children in cases where they might make "bad choices."
"I commend your efforts to educate parents about the content of MA15+ games. However, I don't think your argument justifies the need for an R18+ gaming classification," Atkinson wrote. "You say that parents who see the MA15+ sticker believe that if their child watches films within this classification, then a computer game also classified, is suitable. I cannot see how adding an R18+ classification for games will stop parents from making bad choices for their children or stop children getting hold of a game from their friend or sibling."
Atkinson claims he is aware of statistics that show videogaming to be a predominantly adult activity, but then somehow manages to twist that fact into proof of the risk posed to children by the existence of an R18+ rating. "Given this data, I cannot fathom what State-enforced safeguards could exist to prevent R18+ games being bought by households with children and how children can be stopped from using these games, once the games are in the home," he wrote. "If adult gamers are so keen to have R18+ games, I expect children would be just as keen."
"I struggle to understand what R18+ content adds to the gaming experience," he continued. "With so much money and time going into game development, I do not believe that a gamer is bored with a game only because it does not include extreme sex, violence or illegal acts. Furthermore, with games being modified to fit within our current classification framework, it is clear that games can be modified and that games do not require R18+ content to be popular on the Australian market."
Atkinson's full and truly mind-boggling letter about the state of videogame classifications in Australia is available here.