Video game censorship and the possible introduction of a restricted R18+ rating for games in Australia continue to be two fervently argued subjects. With the government-issued public consultation process scheduled to close at the end of this month, we spoke with groups on both sides of the fence to hear their opinions on why they believe the introduction or blocking of a mature rating for games is so important. Last week we spoke with Electronic Frontiers Australia chair Nicolas Suzor. Now we examine the other side of the coin by chatting with Jim Wallace, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby--a group whose vision is (according to its Web site) to have "Christian principles and ethics accepted and influencing the way we are governed, do business and relate to each other as a community." The ACL is a vocal supporter of the national Internet filter and opposes same-sex marriage.
GameSpot AU: Do you support the introduction of a restricted R18+ category for video games in Australia?
Jim Wallace: Obviously we don’t, and the reason for it is I really can’t see how anyone would want to watch and participate in more violent, more sexually explicit, and often deviant games; but I’m particularly concerned about the more violent. I’ll just give you my own personal background to that. I commanded the SAS regiment, and in that role I had to train people for counterterrorist operations. In doing that, and in fact with any military training, you have to break a very natural reluctance--and from a Christian point of view I think it’s a good natural reluctance--by anybody to kill someone else. In order to break that reluctance the military generally--but particularly the SAS because of the time-critical nature of the actions they’re involved with--means you have to break that by two things: the first is simulation and you make that as real as possible. The second is repetition. I think you’d agree that for SAS personnel involved in counterterrorism to do that is a necessary evil so to speak. But for us to be condoning games that did that for the general person out in the community, particularly when we’re going to get some of those people who have a predisposition to violence, simply doesn’t make sense, and it’s not in the individual’s interest, and it’s not in the community’s interest.
GS AU: Are games being appropriately and consistently classified under the current rating system?
JW: There are always inconsistencies in classification and this occurs right across the regime of classification, whether you’re talking about certainly DVDs and films, or I assume, and I know, games. But that doesn’t mean that we throw out the classification system. The classification system is there for good reason and as far as I’m concerned, my experience, as I said in training people to actually kill, says to me that in the area of games if we’re getting more simulation, then there’s more reason than ever before to make sure that our classification system works. Of course we have the ability to challenge classifications that we believe are inconsistent or wrong, that’s all part of the system; you expect it to be part of the system. No system is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you throw out the whole system, that’s nonsense.
GS AU: Does the current classification system adequately inform consumers about the content found in games?
JW: I think that the classification system, and I’m not overly familiar with it in the case of games and how it’s actually communicated, but certainly the classification system and the standards used are pretty well communicated through warnings on TV and what have you, so I don’t personally believe there’s a problem with that.
GS AU: Who should choose which content Australian adults view?
JW: We have a system which obviously passes that responsibility to the Office of Film and Literature Classification [Editor's Note: The OFLC is now called the Australian Classification Board], and it’s an organisation set up at arms length from the government and has people who are experienced in this. It has both a classification board and a review board, and it’s quite an appropriate body to do the job.
GS AU: Do you agree with the current unanimous decision required by all State and Federal Attorneys-General to amend the National Classification Scheme?
JW: Yes I do because it’s a fact of federation that there were particular responsibilities that were resident in the states--censorship was one of them and clearly the states have reserved powers in that regard. They’ve reserved the right to take back that power and by agreement have to come to a unanimous decision before they agree to a change, remembering that change in any state is clearly going to affect the other states. It’s a fact of our federal system and it’s quite a logical one.
GS AU: What do you think Australia's pro and anti R18+ support results will look like once the national public consultation closes?
JW: I think the entire consultation process is nonsense. It’s being pushed really by the Victorian Attorney-General who realised he was going to be defeated in the [Standing Committee of Attorneys-General] meeting and what do you anticipate? The only people who are going to be into this are the games people, so I don’t think the outcome of this particular study will represent anyone’s view but the games industry. I can’t see a whole lot of other people becoming motivated on it because they won’t realise it’s on, because it’s the gamers and games industry sending in all the responses. I don’t really think it’ll serve much purpose at all. I think that as the South Australian Attorney-General has pointed out, without some sort of imagery that demonstrates what we’re actually talking about, most people won’t realise the sort of danger until it’s on top of them. Who for goodness' sake if you’re interested in gaming would be interested in themes that have the massacre of civilians, torture, extreme violence, bloodlust--gratuitous bloodlust. It’s quite ridiculous and it’s not something that’s to benefit society or in many cases will benefit the individuals playing it.
GS AU: Why do you believe gamers are the majority of the respondents in the public consultation?
JW: I don’t think it is out there, and as the South Australian Attorney-General has said, I don’t think people will generally be aware of the types of games because most people wouldn’t seek to play them. I don’t think the fact that some people seek to play them and they’re the ones who are going to respond to this particularly enquiry should mean that we take any undue notice of the result.
GS AU: Is there disparity with how content is rated when games are given an 18 rating in other countries and an MA15+ locally?
JW: You’re making a presumption that the whole system is broken because the occasional game drops through and is classified as MA15 when it should have been R18+. I’m saying that any system will not work perfectly. We have a repechage system available where you can challenge a classification and that’s how it should work. You don’t throw out the whole classification system simply because some items or some games get through when they shouldn’t have. I can understand the proponents of R18+ for games using this sort of argument, but it’s a clear nonsense. It’s self-evident nonsense, quite a self-serving argument.
GS AU: What is the Australian Christian Lobby’s position on R18+ for film and DVD?
JW: We believe that there has been creep through these various classification levels all the time. We’re now seeing things in R18+ that are not supposed to be there by the letter of the regulations, but increasingly creep into them. There is a need to monitor and police these things and perhaps an increasing need.
GS AU: Why is the ACL supportive of an R18+ for film when you don’t believe the classification is filtering content appropriately?
JW: You’ve got a completely different situation with games because games are interactive--increasingly interactive--and have high levels of simulation. It’s simulation and interactivity and repetition all of which are ascribed to games that make them a particularly dangerous form of medium to be flooding the community with. We’re not talking about movies that are a one-off viewing or you might see a piece of violence in a 90-minute session. We’re talking about something that is repetitive, highly simulated and highly interactive. All simulation and interactivity will become increasingly real, and you and I both know that--it’s the object of games manufacturers. As far as increasing reality in games that don’t have these violent and unnecessary sexually violent games, then I would salute that. But I don’t salute that when it comes to violence and indeed sexual violence.
GS AU: Jim Wallace, thanks for your time.
Stay tuned for information on other groups that support or block an R18+ rating for games in Australia. In the meantime, check out GameSpot AU's Aussie Games Classification FAQ feature.