Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Michael Atkinson to Gamespot

South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, foremost Australian proponent of videogame censorship, has delivered an exclusive statement to Gamespot, which you can read here.

Before we get into ripping it to shreds, it should be acknowledged that this is progress. Atkinson has provided, for the first time, a detailed, reasoned statement on his position on censorship. He is still, of course, deeply wrong, but the first step in creating change is bringing the relevant parties to the debate.

Atkinson's position is founded on four fundamental misapprehensions, none of which are supported by research. The first is that there exist such a thing as "damaging images and messages". The second is that these images and messages are found in videogames to a greater extent than they are in government public service announcements and the nightly news. The third is that the interactive nature of video games makes content more inherently mature or threatening. And the fourth is that parents are unable or dangerously unwilling to monitor the media use of their children, to a greater extent than is true for DVD content.

It's also a bit worrying that the South Australian Attorney-General, in a statement presumably parsed by his advisors, is unable to get the name of our classification authority right. He refers to the Office of Film and Literature Classification, which has been officially known as the Classification Board for close to a year now.

Also, Atkinson's reference to his children suggests that this is his only direct experience of videogames. Surely we deserve better than a stance dictated largely by the man's relationship with his sons?

It's telling that Atkinson delivers a statement rather than an interview; it's suggestive that the fine detail comes not from Atkinson but from his advisors. It reveals that, even briefed in advance, the South Australian Attorney-General would not be able to intelligently discuss the key issues in the area he's legislating.

Anyway - check out the statement for yourself.


Morgan said...

Atkinson's proposal that once an R18+ game enters the home, there is no way to monitor whether a minor can use it or not is moot, because the same problem already exists with R18+ films and literature.

The problem here, as you suggested Greg, is not one of game content. It is one of parenting.
If Atkinson were to actually talk to his children, perhaps even try playing something with them, he wouldn't be so pedantic about the rating.

It's also worth noting that he doubles back on one of his arguments - stating "I don't support the introduction of an R18+ rating for electronic games, chiefly because it will greatly increase the risk of children and vulnerable adults being exposed to damaging images and messages.", followed by another comment further down the page, "Classification exists for advertising, films, and books for the same reason--to protect children and vulnerable people."

Is there some magical power hidden inside the R18+ rating of other forms of media? How does pressing buttons or keys make something more realistic?

Greg Tannahill said...

The only way to rationally interpret his comments about games in the household is to assume he's saying that parents are less able to monitor game usage than they are film viewing because they're less familiar with the medium.

That's surely something that's based on his own experience more than reality, but even taking it as a reasonable viewpoint, the solution is to increase parent media literacy and provide more informative ratings advice, rather than to ban classes of games.

Morgan said...

I'm a fairly regular customer at EB Games Woden - my closest games store. It's always warming to see parents there with their kids, especially when the parents and children are engaging in conversation about their games.

Of course, then you get the crabby parents who are only in there because of their children. But not often.

The solution here is more family friendly games that actually appeal to both parent and child. Many games aimed at younger audiences may be deemed "family" games, but the lack of depth may be detrimental to the parent's view on video gaming.

And maybe Atkinson should just sit down with his kids and play Mario Kart. Think about the good publicity it'd give Nintendo. :P

Greg Tannahill said...

The current generation of schoolkids are the first ones who have grown up with absolutely unfettered access to information. Through the internet, they have the ability to answer any question, no matter how obscure or perverse, instantly. They have been able to access pornography from the moment they conceived of its existence and they have been able to take part in discussions on subjects from bomb-making through to violent dismembership at any time they are so inclined.

I think they're going to turn out no worse than any other generation, and that's pretty much all the evidence we need to throw the idea of "harmful images or messages" out the window on a permanent basis.

David Cake said...

There is now an EFA reply to Atkinson at the EFA site that I wrote.