Australia bans graphic games ... sort of

BRISBANE, Australia — Has the Australian government’s most recent attempt at technological book-burning backfired?

Last month, the government gave the green light to controversial plans to censor the internet and now fans of computer games have started a political party to protest the censorship of globally best-selling adult games.

A debate is raging about the government’s refusal to allow an adults-only (18-years-old) or
R rating for games, effectively leading to the banning of some of the world’s most sought-after home entertainment — games that are available to adults in their entirety in the United States and other Western countries.

Ironically, the lack of adult rating — intended to exclude violent material — may be having the opposite effect.

Best-selling games such as "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" — which has raked in $1 billion and outsold the movie "Titanic" — are barely-edited in order to shoe-horn them into an MA+ rating (15-years-old). Computer game enthusiasts and researchers argue that this exposes younger players to similar versions of games that are rated for much older players in the United States, Canada, the U.K. and New Zealand.

Founder of the Gamers 4 Croydon party, David Doe, is busy preparing his party’s platform in the state of South Australia, where an election is due to be held on March 20. The
single-issue party’s candidate is yet to be chosen but will run against the South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson, who strongly opposes an adults-only rating for computer games, in the state’s electorate of Croydon.

Doe, 30, says gamers have come of age and the lack of adults-only rating is effectively censorship.

Research conducted Jeffrey Brand, a professor of communication and media at Bond University on the Gold Coast, reveals the surprising statistic that average age of computer and video game players in Australia is 30 years old.

Doe says young teenagers are being exposed to mostly adult material and parents misinformed.

“Most of the time when a game is edited the change is incredibly minor,” he said.

For example, in the game "Fallout 3" players are offered a choice to take the drug morphine and possibly become addicted. The edited Australian version of the "Fallout 3" merely gives the drug a fictional name, but allows much younger teens to virtually experience taking the drug, possibly become addicted and suffer the negative side-effects.

The games "Grand Theft Auto IV" and "Saints Row 2," both classified as MA+ in Australia and suitable for 15-year-olds, offer players a selection of methods in which to brutally murder innocent civilians.

In Australia, games are rated by the Classification Board, which is administered by the attorneys general of each six states in the country. Atkinson, the South Australian Attorney-General, remains opposed to an adults-only rating.

He maintains that the current classifications exist to protect children from exposure to violence, sexual violence and drug use in their content.

The type of content Atkinson wants to prevent children viewing can be extremely confronting.

One such game from Japan is called "Rapelay," in which players can earn points by simulating the brutal rape of a mother and daughter. Amazon decided against selling it. Other titles, including "Battle Raper," that depict graphic sexual violence toward women are protected from sale in Australia under the current classification scheme.

Censorship has become a sore point for the Australian government recently. In mid-December it announced it would go ahead with controversial plans to censor the internet.

A top-secret government list of banned websites was leaked on to the web, revealing the scope of the filtering could extend significantly beyond child sex abuse, sexual violence and instructions on how to commit crime, for which it is intended.

Many of the websites on the list were not related to child pornography at all. They included YouTube links, online poker, gay and straight pornography, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia websites, fringe religious sites such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and, bizarrely, even a dentist in the northeastern state of Queensland.

Daniel Johnson, a researcher in the Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Science and Technology, who teaches Games and Interactive Entertainment, explained:

“We have a situation where a medium mainly being used by adults now has no adult category,”  Johnson said. “Parents are trying to make informed judgements but they can’t. It’s definitely censorship. It’s not only backfiring, it’s working against everyone.”

Brand’s research shows that 91 percent of Australian adults, including gamers and non-gamers, think Australia should have an adults-only classification for games.

Considering 88 percent of households have a device for playing computer games and their favorite pastime is using the internet, the issue is turning into a political hot potato.