South Australia Attorney General Michael Atkinson has spoken out about his ongoing opposition to an R18+ videogame rating in Australia, including a surprising revelation that he's not the only one against the proposition.
Atkinson is notorious among Australian gamers for his steadfast refusal to allow the implementation of an adult videogame rating in the country. An R18+ rating cannot be brought into effect without the unanimous approval of the Standing Committee of Attorneys General, giving Atkinson veto power over any attempt to legalize game ratings beyond MA15. GameSpot Australia attempted to interview Atkinson last year regarding his views, and while he did finally respond to a lengthy series of questions sent to him via email, he declined to answer them directly, instead offering a statement long on opinion and short on fact to justify his position.
"I don't support the introduction of an R18+ rating for electronic games, chiefly because it will greatly increase the risk of children and vulnerable adults being exposed to damaging images and messages," the statement began. "The interactive nature of electronic games means that they have a much greater influence than viewing a movie does. People are participating and 'acting-out' violence and criminal behavior when they are playing a video game. They are essentially rehearsing harmful behavior. Children and vulnerable adults (such as those with a mental illness) can be harmed by playing video games with violence, sex, and criminal activity."
Citing his experience with his own children, Atkinson stated that adult content in videogames is "worse" than in movies because children can participate in the on-screen action, becoming desensitized to it in the process. He also posited that adults don't need "extreme violence, perverted sex and criminal activity" to enjoy playing videogames. "There are plenty of sophisticated games that are of interest to adults," he said. "A game is not necessarily more interesting to an adult simply because it contains extreme violence, explicit sexual material, criminal activity, or offensive language. Some of the most popular and highly recommended games for adults would not be R18+ rated."
His biggest concern appears to stem from the fact that the government cannot police age enforcement of videogames once people have them in their homes, leaving children at a higher risk of being exposed to questionable material. "In cinemas, the age of moviegoers can be regulated, and at the video store people must provide ID to hire R18+ videos," Atkinson said. "Once electronic games are in the home, access to them cannot be policed and the games are easily accessible to children. These days, older children (18-30) are often living in the family home with younger children (under 18). This means games belonging to older children or parents can easily make their way into the hands of those under 18."
For the most part, the statement doesn't contain any new information; Atkinson's position on an R18+ rating, and his reasons for refusing to allow one, are well known to anyone with an interest in the matter. But he did drop one bombshell that will no doubt generate some heated discussion: Despite the popular belief that Atkinson is solely responsible for the lack of a proper game rating system in Australia, he claimed that other Attorneys General in the country are also against it.
"I am not alone in my view... Some other classification ministers are also opposed to an R18+ classification but have not spoken about it publicly," he claimed. "I'm confident the proposal would be blocked by other classification ministers if I weren't using my veto power."
Atkinson's opinion on games seems remarkably lacking in factual basis. His position can ultimately be boiled down to two points: That he believes videogames are a uniquely dangerous form of entertainment, and that he has both a moral obligation and a legal right to defend against them. He admits that his position "restricts adult liberty," but adds, "That is the price of keeping this material from children and vulnerable adults. In my view, the small sacrifice is worth it."
Atkinson's full statement to GameSpot.au can be read here.