Australia's R-Rating for Videogames (or Lack Thereof) – It could be worse

Australia is the only Western democracy without a 18+ rating for videogames (the highest rating is 15MA+). Despite talks about changing this, it looks like this is not going to remain the same – one of the main reasons being South Australian Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson. The problem is that all votes concerning a change in the rating system have to be decided unanimously. Unfortunately Atkinson's Christian beliefs keep him from supporting such a change as this would inevitably bring foul and decadent evil to Australian shores and into clean, sane Australian homes – even though 88% of Australians support the R-rating. So much for democracy. Also: Even if there was a consensus to change legislation, it might still take years to come into effect.

Considering that the average Australian game player is 28 one should think that they should be able to make their own informed choices about what they're playing. If they really want to play games they can get them anyway, either through imports or piracy. I'm sure Mr Atkinson is aware that stealing isn't very Christian but this is something his policies eventually encourage. Also if games want to be taken seriously they should incorporate adult content, not only violence but also sexual content matter. Would the gaming equivalent to "The Last Tango in Paris" (whatever that might look like. Certainly not like Mass Effect. And that already drove conservatives crazy) be possible under these circumstances? Banning these things would basically amount to ignoring human nature.

If on the other hand one looks at the issue the other way round and considers which games Australia deems suitable for 15 year-olds the picture isn't actually that bleak. Compared to my hysterical home country Germany, Australia actually seems very relaxed about violent digital games: Between mid-1996 and mid-2007 only 20 out of 7334 games released in Australia were deemed unsuitable for 15 year olds, a meagre 0,272 per cent*. Out of these 20 games, only four were banned for violence while ten were refused classification due to sexual content matter (= sexual violence, nudity, simulated sex/ sexual activity)(editors note: where can we buy these games?).

Games deemed suitable for fifteen year olds in Australia include the uncut versions of Mortal Kombat II and Dead Rising both of which were confiscated by the German public prosecution due to the depiction of excessive acts of violence. They also include Gears of War, Medal of Honour Heroes 2, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, Clive Barker's Jericho and Crackdown, games which were refused a classification by German censorship authority USK, upon which their publishers decided not to release the titles. This moreover compares to 492 titles which were classified as not being acceptable for under 18 year olds by the USK between 1 April 2003 and the end of 2007 alone.

So while I can certainly understand the frustration of Australian gamers, things could always be worse. They could live in Germany.

*These numbers were obtained from all OFLC annual reports between 1996-1997 and 2006-2007. They do not account for withdrawn titles nor games that underwent modifications, e.g. the removal of certain violent scenes and game modes, to be released on the Australian market.