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.