Four months after the Australian government first sought public opinion on the R18+ for video games debate, the first results into the long-awaited public submission was unveiled late last week.
Last Friday, the Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O'Connor announced a preliminary report into the results of the R18+ public consultation, which ran from December 2009 to March 2010. The consultation asked Australians to have their say in the debate after being presented with arguments for and against R18+ for games.
Following the initial news that 98.2 percent of the 59,678 public submissions received by the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department were in favour of introducing R18+, GameSpot AU has combed the report's contents to present a detailed summary of the key points.
It is important to note that the information presented in the report (and reproduced here) is based on preliminary figures--the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department is still processing submissions made during the R18+ public consultation.
1: The majority of submissions received in the R18+ public consultation were from games retailer EB Games (34,938). This was followed by Grow Up Australia (16,056). The department also received 33 submissions from community, church and industry groups, such as Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, Telstra, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, and the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (all in support of R18+), as well as the Australian Christian Lobby, the Australian Council on Children and the Media, the Commissioner for Children Tasmania, and the Sporting Shooters Association (all opposed to R18+).
2: The majority of respondents were aged between 18 and 24 years, followed by 25 to 34 years, under 18 years, and 35 to 44 years. Interestingly, the majority were male (21,832 male and 2,444 female). The number of males that made pro-R18+ submissions was 91 percent; the number of females that made anti-R18+ submissions was 38 percent.
3: A large number of respondents made similar comments in the "free text" option of the public consultation. More than 2,000 people stated that: "A lack on an R18+ classification for computer games restricts the civil liberties of adult gamers" and that "Content children access is a parent/guardian [sic] responsibility." Other points agreed upon include: The lack of an R18+ classification for games has a negative impact on the Australian video games industry; the lack of R18+ for games means games are incorrectly classified; an R18+ rating would prove useful to parents; refused classification games can be easily bought online and imported; and the requirement that all censorship ministers must be in unanimous agreement to introduce R18+ for games is too stringent.
4: The department received 34 submissions from community, church, and industry groups. Of these, 53 percent supported the introduction of R18+. The most interesting arguments from these groups are listed below:
a) The Communications, Entertainment & Technology Law Committee of NSW Young Lawyers (CET), Electronic Frontiers Australia and AusGamers (EFAA) argued that there is a continuing trend to classify games as MA15+ in Australia when they are restricted to adult-only sales and use in overseas markets. The groups argued that under classification creates a higher chance of minors accessing unsuitable material than they would under a system with an R18+ classification and that parents would be less likely to ignore the classification and allow their children to access an R18+ game if such a classification was introduced.
EFAA provided a list of 91 titles that the Australian Classification Board classified MA15+ or RC in 2009. Of these, EFAA found that where a game had been classified in the US, UK, and EU member countries, 24 titles were classified as being unsuitable for minors and restricted to 18 years or over.
b) Interactive Games & Entertainment Association Ltd (iGEA), Media Classifiers’ Association of Australia (MCAA), XLAN Inc (XLAN), and EFAA argued that there is a lack of conclusive scientific evidence that violent media causes or triggers violent behaviour, pointing to Australian and overseas government-funded reports and inquiries that suggest there was no direct causal link between exposure to violent media and violent behaviour. They also argued that there is no evidence to suggest that violence in video games is more damaging than violence in films and other media. Research supporting a link between simulated violence and aggressive behaviour has come from limited sources and questionable experimental practices. Telstra suggested that the lack of scientific consensus on the issue highlights the need for more research to be done; however, it was still in support of R18+.
c) The Presbyterian Church (PC) argued that the protection of children against harmful material should be a higher priority than the principle that adults should have free access to all media. The Commissioners for Children and Young People and Child Guardians (CCYPCG), the Commissioner for Children Tasmania (CCT), and Australian Family Association WA (AFAWA) all argued that this would be in line with Australia’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but also with government and community efforts to protect children and Australia’s future.
d) Interestingly, the Australian Catholic Bishops (ACB) argued that their preferred position is that R18+ material would not be available in Australia. However, as material is currently available despite its illegality, it would be preferable to introduce an R18+ classification category for games so that access to such material, particularly by children, can be restricted.
e) Groups were divided on the topic of age restrictions by parents. CET argued that having greater differentiation between MA15+ games and R18+ games will aid in the use of parental control locks on consoles. Other groups argued that the lack of an R18+ classification has caused confusion for parents about what's contained in MA15+ games and that classification parity with films would assist parents to make better decisions as to what is suitable for children. The majority of submissions supportive of an R18+ classification also argued that there is a need for more government education about the content and restrictions attached to classification standards.
On the other side of the debate, Media Standards Australia (MSA) and the CCYPCG argued that research and surveys have shown that parents find it difficult to prevent children from accessing forbidden material. The groups also stated that children are not passive recipients of media; they are independent agents who aspire to adulthood and adult activities and that no amount of safeguards can prevent the increase in access and exposure of unsuitable materials to minors.
Stay tuned to GameSpot AU for more on the R18+ debate. For more on video game classification in Australia, check out GameSpot AU's Aussie Games Classification FAQ feature.