Australian gamers have long considered South Australian attorney-general Michael Atkinson as the biggest obstacle in the path toward an R18+ classification for video games. Despite his part in delaying a public consultation on the issue, Atkinson declared himself the scapegoat in the matter, claiming he was not the only attorney-general opposed to R18+ for games after receiving masses of angry letters, e-mail, and death threats from disgruntled Aussie gamers.
Atkinson is in the spotlight once again for his views on video game classification. Speaking on the ABC’s Radio National program National Interest last Friday (and outlined in reports in The Age and Kotaku AU), Atkinson told host Peter Mares that he intends to appeal the Classification Board’s classification of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2--which was rated MA15+--because he thinks the decision “is wrong.” Atkinson told Mares: "This decision doesn’t surprise me. The Classification Board in Australia does everything to try and get games in under the radar."
If Atkinson's appeal to the Classification Board is successful, Modern Warfare 2 could be banned for sale in Australia. In a similar case, the 2006 action adventure title Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure was refused classification by Australia's Classification Board after an appeal by the then-federal attorney-general Philip Ruddock and the Local Government Association of Queensland. The game had initially been classified MA15+ but the decision was revoked following the appeal, with the Classification Review Board ruling that the contents of the game promoted crime through "positive reinforcement of graffiti writing on public buildings and infrastructure."
In an e-mailed statement to GameSpot AU, Atkinson confirmed his intention to appeal, and said this is the first time he has intervened on a game rating decision by the Classification Board.
"I worry about any game that encourages gamers to perpetrate extreme violence and cruelty on screen, but this game [Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2] allows players to be virtual terrorists and gain points by massacring civilians. Expecting game designers to be responsible by not glorifying terrorism will always lead to disappointment," he said.
GameSpot AU is currently waiting on a further clarification from Atkinson on this statement, given that players do not in fact gain points by massacring civilians in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. No further comment had been received as of time of publication.
During the Radio National interview, Atkinson went on to say he did not want "extremely violent, sexually depraved games in Australia," claiming the Classification Board was to blame for not applying the principles and guidelines for the classification of video games properly.
"Just because the system is not being applied properly, it doesn’t mean the principles of the system are wrong…I have no trust in the Classification Board to apply the guidelines sincerely and correctly," he said.
The Classification Review Board, which handles appeals, has to date not received an application to review Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The Board told GameSpot AU that in order for the South Australian attorney-general to carry out his appeal to seek a new classification for the game, he must request the Federal Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O'Connor, to apply for a review to the Classification Review Board. The Federal Minister for Home Affairs must then carry out this review application.
"The review will be conducted by the Classification Review Board, an independent statutory body that meets and views the material, hears any submissions from interested parties, and makes a fresh classification decision," a spokesperson for the Classification Board said.
According to the Board, those entitled to appeal a classification decision and seek a review include ministers, the original applicant for classification, the publisher of the film, publication or video game, and a "person aggrieved" by the decision. According to the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the term "person aggrieved" means any one person or body that "has engaged in a series of activities relating to, or research into, the contentious aspects of the theme or subject matter of the publication, film or computer game concerned."
The Board told GameSpot AU that government officials do not receive preferential treatment in the review process; the process is the same no matter who is making the appeal.
When asked what the Board thinks of Atkinson’s comments made on Radio National accusing the Board of being unable to apply the classification guidelines "sincerely and correctly," the Board spokesperson replied: "The Board has no comment on Mr. Atkinson’s statements."