Australians are right now being asked to voice their opinion on whether an R18+ rating for video games should be introduced, with the Australian Federal Attorney General seeking public submissions into the issue. But while the consultation process won't conclude until February 28, 2010, one high-profile figure in the games debate has already decided that the majority of respondents will be in favour of an R18+: vocal anti-R18+ campaigner Michael Atkinson.
The South Australian Attorney General had previously lobbied for the discussion paper that accompanies the public consultation process to include graphic game images. In April last year, the then Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, made the R18+ public consulation the concern of his office, taking power away from Atkinson and the other Attorneys General. In an exclusive phone interview with GameSpot AU, Atkinson said the public consultation is incomplete without the pictures he first proposed in March last year. He says the majority of Australians don't care enough about the issue to have a say, and as a result, the discussion paper responses will mostly be from gamers.
"I don't think the discussion paper presents a fair and balanced view of the issue without pictures of the games that would be rated R18+," Atkinson said. "I think the majority of the population are unfamiliar with these games and without images, they won’t be able to imagine them in their mind's eye. They’ll have no idea how violent or sexually depraved they are, and what kind of torture, drug use, and blood spatter they include.
"I also believe that very few people outside the gaming community will have a say in this public consultation, which will mean an overwhelming response in support of R18+."
Atkinson has also told GameSpot AU that a recent spout of personal death threats has made it unlikely that his opposition to the introduction of an R18+ classification for video games in Australia will shift or soften anytime soon.
Atkinson talked of renewed death threats and a daily flood of abusive e-mails, letters, and correspondence from what he assumes to be those opposed to his current stance on R18+ for games.
"It's unlikely I’ll change my stance [on R18+ for games] anytime soon, considering the last death threat I received was pushed under my door at 2am, presumably by someone who doesn’t like my stance on R18+," Atkinson said. "It was like something out of a Hollywood film--letters cut from magazine headlines arranged together on a page. I receive abusive emails from anonymous senders on a daily basis. I get called a paedophile every single day. But I won’t surrender," he said.
Atkinson says only the start of a civilised debate between himself and the gaming community will make him consider changing his stance on R18+. Although the threats keep coming, Atkinson says he intends to continue actively replying to as many letters as he can and continuing to have his voice heard.
"I'll consider changing my mind about all this when the gaming community decide to behave in a civil fashion and apologise for the theats to me and my family. But I don't plan to back down from the fight. I started my mission and I plan to finish it." he said. "Other Attorneys General regard this as a low-key issue. Others support R18+, and others oppose it. Others are indifferent. I personally try to reply in a reasoned way to everyone who writes to me about this issue, something that's become very hard lately with the daily flood of anonymous and abusive e-mails."
Atkinson made headlines in November last year when he appeared on ABC’s Radio National program National Interest and declared his intentions to appeal the Classification Board of Australia’s classification of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2--which was rated MA15+--because he was against "any game that encourages gamers to perpetrate extreme violence and cruelty onscreen…and allows players to be virtual terrorists and gain points by massacring civilians." Now Atkinson says he has no memory of what happened to this appeal.
"[Federal Minister for Home Affairs] Brendan O’Connor was planning to appeal the same game I was, and I understood that he went ahead with this appeal so there was no reason for me to do the same," Atkinson said. "I don't know what the result of this appeal was."
According to the Classification Board of Australia, the Classification Review Board has not received an appeal on any video game classification decision from O'Connor in 2009 or 2010. The board also told GameSpot AU in November last year that no appeal from Atkinson had been received, which indicates that neither minister followed up his intentions to appeal Modern Warfare 2.
Although hurt by the tirade of personal threats to him and his family, Atkinson remains positive. He revealed that his son Christopher is an avid gamer and a participant in competitive gaming tournaments in South Australia.
"I do sometimes discuss the R18+ issue with my sons, yes," Atkinson said. "I even bought them a Mario game for Christmas."
Stay tuned to GameSpot AU for more news on Atkinson tomorrow. Meanwhile, check out GameSpot AU's Aussie Games Classification FAQ feature.