Gamers in Australia are apparently glossing over the dangers that an adult rating for videogames poses.
Barbara Biggins, the honorary CEO of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, has accused Australian gamers of using propaganda in the ongoing debate over the introduction of an R18+ rating for videogames, similar to the one used in rating movies.
In an article for The Drum Unleashed, a platform for debate on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Biggins said that the rhetoric employed by supporters of the new rating had changed recently, and now downplayed the possible negative side effects that a change in rating policy might have. “Over the past year … the pro-R18+ lobby has argued that having such a category would provide better protection for children. The push became propaganda.”
Biggins contended that rather than decrease children’s exposure to violent content by limiting it to games intended for adults, it would simply allow for videogames with more extreme content. “Using the classification criteria for films,” she wrote. “R18+ games would have no restrictions on themes … 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?”
She said that there was mounting evidence that playing violent games had numerous negative side effects, like loss of empathy and increased risk taking, and that any ratings system for videogames had to take their interactive nature into account. She said that the logical thing to do was to wait until the Australian Law Reform Commission reviewed the entire rating system later this year. “[G]amers may rant and rave (and they do if anyone dares oppose them),” she said. “But let’s take the ALRC opportunity to review the options properly, not respond to propaganda.”
Biggins argument isn’t an uncommon one; the idea that kids will inevitably get their hands on violent games, regardless of how they’re rated is trotted out seemingly everytime this issue is debated. It always seems like a very inconsistent viewpoint – if violent content it so harmful, then why allow it in films? – but Biggins does at least specify that it’s the interactive nature of games that’s the problem. It’s a bit of a cheating argument though, as it can be used to counter anything the opposition might say about checks and balances to make sure that minors won’t get their hands on inappropriate material, no matter how good a proposal is put forward.
Biggins isn’t really characterizing gamers fairly either. This isn’t about getting access to increasingly violent media; it’s about not having to miss out on games, or have them heavily altered, because of an over-zealous rating board. Gamers may have changed gear from a platform of “adult rights” – the preservation of which is one aim of the Australian rating system – to a platform of “protecting children” – which is the other aim – but let’s face it, it makes for a much more emotive argument. Biggins can call it propaganda if she likes, but it would be remiss of her to ignore the fact that her side does exactly the same thing.