Friday, July 25, 2008

Q&A on Game Classification: Bad Questions, Terrifying Answers

The video above is from last night's episode of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Q & A, which allows audience members to pose questions to a panel consisting of politicians, community leaders and the media. This segment deals with the question of games classification, and represents two profound failures: firstly a failure of our leaders to have even the most basic working knowledge of the issues involved here, and secondly of the Australian gaming community to effectively represent itself and its position.

Featured here are Heather Ridout, Chief Executive of the Australian Industy Group; Independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon; NSW Labor Senator Mark Arbib; Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce; and Christine Jackman, journalist and author.

The discussion in the clip uses the recent example of Besthesda Softworks' Fallout 3, a narrative-driven game in which survivors of a nuclear apocalypse struggle to adapt to The World The Bomb Built. While many details of the unreleased game are still under wraps, it is known that the world of Fallout 3 is a largely lawless one, and that the player is challenged to find their own unique way of interacting with it. As part of the suite of choices available to the player, the player may choose to buy, use, and sell a range of pharmaceutical substances, either as medicine or as stimulants.

The Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification recently refused classification to Fallout 3. This means that the game was deemed too mature to fall into the OFLC's "M15+" rating and has the effect of banning it from sale. Australia has no R18+ rating for games. It is believed that the OFLC's decision was largely related to the game's depiction of drug use.

In the clip above, the audience member is technically accurate when he agrees with the moderator's description of the game. Fallout 3 will offer situations that can be resolved by combat (among other methods), often resulting in the death of other characters in the game. One option in approaching these battles is to use stimulants to get an "edge" in combat. Other ways of overcoming problems in Fallout 3 would include negotation, trade, and avoidance. If Fallout 3 stays true to previous games in the series, these options would for the most part have realistic consequences, with violence damaging the player character's reputation and drug use leading to addiction and ill-health.

It is fairly clear from the clip that neither the panelists nor the moderator have any direct knowledge of Fallout 3. It doesn't stretch belief that in fact none of the panellists have played a videogame of any sort.

There are currently 5.2 million current-generation gaming consoles in Australia. That's one between every five Australians. And that doesn't include multi-purpose tools with gaming functionality including personal computers and mobile phones. This is not a minority. This is not a niche market. This is a gaming Australia. It's an Australia that's completely unrepresented on the political stage.

The range of opinions expressed in the clip above is frankly terrifying. Mark Albib seems happy to take the view that "because it's banned, it must deserve to be banned". Barnaby Joyce doesn't know the term "avatar", confuses it for the title of a game, and then suggests that the classification issue is in some way related to sex crimes. No one present seems to have an understanding of Australia's current classification system and not once is it raised that game censorship is a freedom of speech issue. Nick Xenophon reaches out to a shallow and inconclusive pool of evidence but doesn't quite know what to draw from it.

Christine Jackman fairly reasonably poses the question to the audience member: "Why do you want to play this game?" Said audience member muffs the answer; he begins to cite the merits of the game.

The correct answer is simple: because I want to decide for myself.

Censorship is odious because it removes community choice. Censorship says that the thought is the action; that the common person can't distinguish between depiction and actuality. Censorship says, "I know better than you." Censorship says, "Let me decide who talks."

And games are talking. They're talking very loudly, to a great many people, in strong and clear voices. They're speaking in places that have never read a newspaper and in houses which have never listened to politicians. It's okay to be worried by what games are saying. It's okay to disagree. But it's not okay to stifle those voices. It's not okay to kill the game.

Don't be afraid of ideas. Just present better ones. Engage in the debate.

Classification is about allowing the community to make informed choices about their media exposure. Under our current system, not only has classification been suborned into censorship, but Australians are being deprived of accurate information for deciding what games are suitable for themselves and their family.

Support an R18+ rating for videogames in Australia. Let's hear what games have to say.


Lesley said...

Hey Greg

The guy that asked the question is forum member and GameArena Editor Joab Gilroy. Met him a few times and he's a very passionate gamer.

It all started off with a request from the ABC to the AG guys asking if they knew of someone that could ask a 'feeder question' about the lack of R rating...

Heres the link to the thread.

Anonymous said...

Graphic interactive violence in video games seems to top out at a slightly stronger level than in MA rated movies. I always felt the reason for this was that censors were much more will to give a product an R rating than to ban the product completely.

It seems to me that some games already on the Australian market would have receive an R rating if an R rating actually existed.

As a result. As well as allowing adults to choose to play more graphic games, having a R rating on video games would give parents more control over what their children can play.


Greg Tannahill said...

Absolutely, Nick. Deciding what games are appropriate for children is a choice that families should make together. The government should be working to provide families with detailed, accessible information on all games to help them make that choice. Refusing a game classification informs nobody, and places the government in a position of surrogate parent, while at the same time preventing informed adults from accessing intelligent, mature gaming material.

Kel said...

This was such a farce, I left feeling very bitter about the competence of politicians and the moral panic around the issue.

What I don't get is that the issue is diffused to talking about protecting children. Do they not understand the point of an R rating? It's so children don't get their hands on it! Honestly if they feel that having an R rating is appropriate protection for movies, then why not for games? It's just another case of the government making excuses for controlling behaviour.

Andrew said...

I think there was also an emotional response to their description of the game as "banned", when in fact the OFLC had simply refused to classify it. This is because while arguably it would have fallen into an R18+ band, there is no such stratum for games in the Australian system.

Gentil said...

I hope you get into office.

Not only do you represent a section the community that needs representing, but you're also clear headed.

It's appalling that there's no R18+ category because of one man, I'm looking at you Michael Atkinson.

And without an adult rating, you get games like Manhunt being sold to 15 year olds, before being banned a YEAR after sale.

sam said...

I fear, having seen this display of ignorance (the Q&A panel), that these current politicians may never understand the nature of this industry and we may have to wait ten or so years for many of them to retire. Due to the size of video gaming as an industry however, I have no concerns for its legitimacy amongst the next generation of politicians.

Mitchell said...

One thing that that strikes odd for me is that we have two industry bodies, the Game Developer Association of Australia and the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia, yet they do NOTHING when such a misguided farce like this occurs.

It is this ignorance that has left out game developers from a 40% tax cut that their film maker and digital effects contemporaries enjoy.
It is this ignorance that has left us without an R18+ rating, restricting consumer choice and forcing piracy and importing, which only hurts our economy.

At least we have forward thinking politicians like yourself, Greg, who see the gaming industry for what it really is: an opportunity for economic and cultural growth.

Brendan said...

This panel of horribly ignorant hypocrites is a prime example of the people who are meant to be in charge of our industry. It's DISGUSTING!

It wreaks of biased opinions, misconceptions, hypocrisy and above all, complete and utter ignorance in relation to an enormous part of not just our country, but the entire world!

I've got to say Greg, you are the only beacon of hope for the video game industry of Australia. I wish you ALL of the luck I can and you can be sure you have the support of myself and EVERY SINGLE other Australian gamer.

You have an army that is millions strong, ready to rally with you and to lead the country in to an era that does not subjugate the basic freedoms and choices of an individual based on personal opinions, but instead educates and informs on the subject at hand so that individuals can make their OWN choices!

Once again, I wish you the best of luck and want to thank you for doing what nobody has had the guts to do before, and remember that you have the support of an entire country full of gamers. GO GET THEM GREG, WE ARE RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

D.Moogle said...

...woah, I'm sorry I was just shocked about a politician actually giving a damn about this issue.

Great to see you taking interest Greg, now you just need to babble on about the Dreamcast being a highly underrated system and you should have the entire gaming population of Australia eating out of your hand- I mean, ummmm, well nah I can't twist that around.

Hope to see more politicians like you who are not threatened by advancements in technology in the next few years!

wilk0r said...

Great blog, Greg. Fantastic to hear someone approaching the issue as it should be approached, instead of wading into detailed, irrelevant (and poorly informed) semantics. This is essentially a freedom of speech issue, and not one panelist managed to realise this.

To say the least I was gobsmacked at the responses from not only panel members, but also the moderator. I initially saw the video at and was frankly embarrassed at the level of ignorance from all concerned (as many other comments from Australians reflected). Clearly the high culture / low culture debate is in full effect, with all panelists (and moderator) seemingly amazed at the fact someone over the age of 12 might entertain themselves with video games and, due to this, treat the entire conversation with sickly contempt. I believe Christine Jackman was indeed aiming for crucifixion when she asked Joab Gilroy why he might want to play a game such as Fallout 3 - this is entirely missing the point.

ALL texts - be they film, television, literature, music, or games - need to be addressed as cultural artifacts and classified accordingly... which is not the case currently.

I think this particular Q&A program will serve as potent ammunition in demonstrating the absolute ignorance of the relevant administration.

Once again, Greg - Beautifully stated, please keep up the good work!

stephen said...

Dear Greg,

I must admit, at first when I heard the words 'politican supporting videogames', I immediately thought of someone Howards age, reaching for votes. For that I apologise, but I guess you can understand the cynicism towards it.

After reading your blog and your responses, I must commend you on the fair, well balanced viewpoint you have shown. I'm guessing you've grown up with videogames, as have I, and have a more realistic approach to them than the previous generations. I recently wrote to the Attorney G of South Australia, no reply yet funnily enough despite them requesting my personal details which I supplied in a supplementary email, and posed this question:

"Who are you to decide what I, or my child can or cannot view?"

I understand the banning of X rated material (Though isn't it ironic its legal in Canberra where the politicians are ;) lol ), but to me, having a system as broken as our current censorship system is embarassing quite frankly, when presented the maturity to which the rest of the world aligns itself to in terms of ratings sytems.

I think my biggest gripe is the allowance of 3 games, yet Fallout 3 gets banned. Lets explore them:

Battlefield Bad Company: Your soldier carries adrenaline in a heart syringe which he can inject into himself any given moment to revive his energy level.

Bioshock: When you get a new power, your guy grabs a syringe and graphically jams it into his wrist injecting himself with 'plasmids'. This is not like Fallout 3 where a static pic of a syringe is shown, this is a graphic injection right into the wrist.

GTA Vice City Ok it was years ago, but still: You can drive a Cherry Poppers icecream van around and deal cocaine out of it! In fact there's a mission dedicated to doing so. Is it fun? Yep. Is it worse than sleeping with a hooker? Definitely.

My point is, that Fallout 3's drug use is in context with the world its in and not glamorised at all. It has reflective repercussions and is not deemed as a positive thing. You get the shakes, your stats are affected, you become an addict with constant useage. You see the downside more than anything positive if used irresponsibly, people even in the previous games would react to this negatively.

I wish the ABC show had actually used people educated in fair opinion instead of people who relied on comments such as 'What ever happened to space invaders'. What a silly comment, its like saying 'Why did we need to progress beyond silent movies...'

Thanks for your time, good luck with your campaign and career and know there's now yet another guy out there backing you.


Eugene McArdle said...

Wish I was surprised by the opinions expressed by these panelists, but unfortunately I'm just too jaded.

One of the benefits (I hope) of an R18 rating for games would be the need for some kind of awareness/education campaign to educate people who have never played a game in their lives. Comments like "you can go out and rape people" and "GTA turned everyone into a car thief" are typical of an ignorant political and media group.

It's nice to know that we have at least one potential politician in this country who knows about the issues that affect us as gamers, and it almost makes me wish I lived in the ACT :)

Best of luck with the campaign.

Mr_Staypuft said...

I've written an article on this issue for Crikey. Hopefully it will be published today.

Kel said...

I'd love to read that article, but it's for subscribers only. Is there any other way of getting a hold of it?

Kel said...

Oh, and I jsut realised I'm actually in the electorate you are running in Greg. You've got my vote for sure.