With recent instances of negativity surrounding the upcoming inclusion of R18+, I thought it pertinent to play devil's advocate.
The contenious paragraph in the new proposed guidelines states:
Due to the interactive nature of computer games and the active repetitive involvement of the participant, as a general rule computer games may have a higher impact than similarly themed depictions of the classifiable elements in film, and therefore greater potential for harm or detriment, particularly to minors.
Mark Serrels over at Kotaku argued that even mentioning harm to minors in a category which was designed specifically to not be available to be sold to minors was missing the point completely.
Dr Jeff Brand, professor at Bond University, said at this year's Freeplay Festival that by having a definitive statement that games have a 'higher' impact due to their 'interactivity' without a shred of evidence still placed games in an imaginary 'other' category where classification was concerned.
Both arguments make valid points, and it's only on the notion which both land upon, which is that we've either made no progress or have gone backwards, which I'd like to refute.
As an Authorised Assessor of Computer and Video Games for the Australian Classification Board, I've been to many annual training sessions, seen countless reams of footage from Refused Classification material and had it drilled into me that when applying the guidelines (the parts which say that violence, language etc is to be moderate, strong or high depending on the category), one must consider a variety of factors.
Let's pretend we're talking about the big one: violence.
Firstly, there's the context of the contentious material - is it sadistic, part of a battle scene, an intimate one-on-one kill. Then, there's the precedents. While community standards do change over time, it's perfectly permissable for an Authorised Assessor to take a look at similar instances of violence in other products to get a feel for whether something fits into one category or another.
Finally, and this is the one I'd like to hone in on, there's the common sense factor. When looking at a game which is going to be MA15+ and deciding whether or not the violence we see on screen in 'strong', 'high' or whatever other vague term we're considering, we simply need to apply our own common sense. In doing so, we're being asked essentially whether or not the violence we're seeing, in the context we're seeing it, in the community we're rating it for, would be suitable for a 15 year old to play.
With the R18+ rating, that last resort of figuring out whether or not a game is suitable or not will be raised by three years.
With someone deciding whether or not they'll be comfortable with a game being on shelves, the classifiers and authorised assessors (just as the parents) will have that very strong signifier which puts games alongside R18+ rated films.
The days of games being seemingly arbitrarily banned due to going one decapitation too far aren't going to dissipate overnight (that'd be a political nightmare for the people who've promised that this new age rating won't allow countless new and more violent games into the country), but over a gradual period of time, that common sense factor should hopefully allow games which have previously been Refused Classification or given wholly superfluous edits to be given a fair trial on reaching our shores.
As long, that is, as we're willing to accept that we've got a special caveat saying our medium of choice is magically more impactful due to empirical studies which are being kept in a secret warehouse somewhere.
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