For those who don’t follow such things, a bring-you-up-to-speed: the land of Australia, which I will never visit on account of the Huntsman Spider, does not have a rating classification for “mature” games – what we in the States would call M-rated games, or what our PEGI-using friends in Grand Europa would call 18-rated, or what Australia would call R-18+ if it had such a rating, which it does not. Why not? South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson.
I will not do what many have been doing over the past few months and mindlessly bash Mr. Atkinson; he has a right to his position. His position being, by the way, that Australia and by extension Australian gamers do not need mature-rated games on their golden shores. He cites the usual claims of excessive violence and sexual content, mentions RapeLay (they always mention RapeLay), and belittles his countrypeople for having the filthy audacity to want games with all the stabbing and shooting.
Anyway, Atkinson is the lone holdout among attorneys general in Oz, and in so being he is singlehandedly preventing the establishment of an R-18+ rating in the country, meaning that any games that would carry such a rating are theoretically banned. We’re not talking about a lot of games here: Left 4 Dead 2 was denied classification, as was Aliens vs. Predator and various other titles. Not living in Australia (huntsman spider) I don’t know how easy or hard it is to get games that are banned. But the lack of such a rating has bothered people enough that some gamers have set up a political party and are running their own attorney general candidate against Atkinson.
So I won’t mindlessly bash Atkinson. I’ll bash gamers, who have once again demonstrated their compelling idiocy in the face of legal challenge.
Years ago I did some contract writing for a company that didn’t pay. I and maybe two dozen other writers were waiting and waiting for our checks, but none came. Through an error on the part of this client, we’d gotten hold of one another’s email addresses and were conferring on how to proceed. One writer took matters into his own hands, sending the following to the company and CC’ing us:
Fuck you fucking assholes I want my fucking money. I will sue your shit ass five ways from Friday. I have a contract. Have you ever heard of a fucking contract??? PAY ME OR I WILL FUCK YOU UP.
This was an ill-advised method of getting paid. It was childish and confrontational. Moreover, it diminished our collective position, because this dude had jumped the gun and communicated with the company without our blessing, creating the illusion that he spoke for all of us.
The more even-minded among us gently argued that a more civil, maturely-worded message, one which clearly stated our grievances and noted the existence of a legally binding document, might have been a preferable approach.
Similarly, many gamers in Australia have been resorting to characteristically puerile attacks on Atkinson. The political party Gamers4Croydon, for example, actually seems to think that running a candidate on a one-plank platform will seriously threaten Atkinson, who by all accounts is a popular attorney general who has done his job well. What has Gamers4Croydon really achieved? It’s made a mockery out of gaming as a hobby and gamers as people by creating the illusion that all gamers care about is games. Rather than establishing an Australian version of the Video Game Voters Network and simply lobbying, Gamers4Croydon decided to take over the Australian government.
Meanwhile individual gamers have been doing the usual moronic things: Atkinson claims he’s received death threats and harassing messages, while some other gamers decided that it would be a good idea to dress up as their favorite game characters and march around the Parliament building. Believe me, people, dressing up as Pikachu and shouting that games are free speech does not strengthen our position; it simply makes gamers look like socially retarded freaks.
As for the threats, well, Atkinson has veered into the melodramatic on that front. I have no doubt that gamers have threatened him, because many gamers are far stupider than you can possibly imagine (Harvey Smith received multiple death threats after Deus Ex: Invisible War), but Atkinson is now saying absurd things like he’s more afraid of gamers than he is of motorcycle gangs. And his actions prove that he takes a very narrow view of free speech – he recently attempted to legislate a fine for anyone posting to a blog or forum without revealing their full name and address.
But while I don’t agree with Atkinson’s position, I can’t help but wonder: had gamers united and politely called for mature, civil discourse on this issue – perhaps a series of public debates, or some community access cable discussions, or even an online debate – would Atkinson have refused? Moreover, such a genteel and measured approach would have granted us the opportunity to further educate Mr. Atkinson about the content of mature-rated games, something he clearly doesn’t fully understand. Instead, gamers have created a situation where they’re the bad guys, and Atkinson is gaining support all around the house.
So no, I don’t have a beef with Michael Atkinson, much as I disagree with his position, and much as I know (and he doesn’t) that his position is based on ignorance that could easily be dispelled with civil discourse on the matter. I have a beef with gamers, and not just Australian ones, because time and again as the medium struggles for approval we shoot ourselves in the foot… and the resulting blood spatter would be mature-rated.
Let’s delve back into my own past in closing, because I think we can all agree that I am a fascinating topic.
A while ago, in another iteration of this very site, I wrote an extraordinarily shitty thing about something Ubisoft genius Clint Hocking said in an interview. Not only was it a mean remark, it turns out that my source was grossly misquoting his context, something I further precipitated in my statements.
A lot of people would have ignited the flame thrower, but not Clint. He wrote me a long and gentlemanly email explaining his position, demonstrating that he’d been quoted out of context, clarifying a few things I didn’t know at all, and politely asking that I change what I said. So I did. And I told him. And he emailed me again, thanking me for the consideration.
He called me “Mr. Sakey,” not “asshole.” He tactfully explained my error. As a result I was far, far more willing to see things from his perspective. I wouldn’t have bothered making the change if he’d attacked me (he did say what I said he said, but he followed it up with context that I hadn’t seen until he explained it to me). Instead he created an environment of sympathy and discourse. He got what he wanted and I got the opportunity to apologize for an unfair assault on him.
I can’t help but wonder whether things’d be different if one gamer speaking for the whole had simply gotten in touch with Atkinson and requested the opportunity to explain gaming’s position, so the attorney general could be better educated and make a more appropriate decision.
Instead they dressed up like Pikachu and slid threatening messages under his door. Classy.
Oh Steerpike, I do love you. What a fabulous article. I must admit, I have mid-office begun to laugh hysterically at your co-writers email requesting he be paid. Absolutely priceless.
As for Australian Censorship, it is beyond a joke- and Michael Atkinson demonstrates as much political ignorance as many do in Germany.
The principle behind censorship should be to protect those who may be vulnerable to the content and who do not have the insight to understanding the physical or mental impact of viewing or interacting with such content. In most cases, it is to protect those leading to adolescence who do not yet have the maturity or life experiences to fully understand the ramifications. Simply put, it is our duty to protect children from possibly harmful content until they are mature enough to make their own decision.
Nothing more, nothing less. Adults should have the right to freely choose what they can and cannot do without state interference. It should not be the government or any other body to judge what is or is not suitable (as long as it remains legal). It should be the governments job to inform to the best of their ability of what said medium contains and allow the viewer, reader or player the choice to decide for themselves against their own moral compass (and that of their guardians) if this is suitable for them. We are all responsible adults, after all.
By banning video games, or enforcing changes to content what do the authorities actually think they are achieving? Does removing the gore from L4D2 make the game any less violent or gratifying, or remove the prospect of someone going on a killing spree? Does banning Fallout 3 due to a players ability to take drugs in game stop players taking them out of game? Does banning Man Hunt 2 stop people from killing one another in the real world?
This answer, and ever predictable is always “No”.
Instead of trying to censor products and protect those old enough to take responsibility for their own actions, we should take the stance (and with clear conscience) that if someone is offended by something (all too easily it seems in today’s society) and if enough appropriate content advice is given, that on their head be it. If you don’t like it- don’t watch it, don’t play it, don’t read it. Why must it be any more complicated?
The Byron Review as part of the Digital Britain report commissioned by the Prime Minister (and published in March 2008) recognised the need to pool the efforts of the games industry, retailers, advertisers and online gaming providers to raise awareness of what is in games and enable better enforcement. It all too truthfully recognised there is a general misconception by parents that they don’t need to worry about video games content irrespective of age restrictions.
Unlike other countries who have failed to commission extensive reports into the effects of internet, online play and videogames on the young and vulnerable, Britain can at least be comforted in the knowledge it now has a report over 120 pages long supporting the industry and showing understanding. It is to my complete amazement then that a labour MP (Keith Vaz) little over one year later is continuing in his blind pursuit of justice against an industry which continues to have to justify itself against this ridiculous notion of moral decency.
I completely agree that the way gamers react to such attitudes is a tad OTT, however I cannot help but sympathise with them. It surely must to them in that situation feel like David vs. Goliath. Perhaps involving the media, and posing to Michael Atkinson an interview opportunity for him to justify publically his arguments against industry representatives would be a better method. Personally, I think the games industry in Australia should get involved- its their livelihoods.
On a side note, people like him do worry me. You read about characters of his type (who take on a crusade against such entertainment mediums) in the papers. I expect in several years an embarrassing exposé will appear detailing the many skeletons in his closet. He probably gets his kicks from having wild sex sessions with boys, while playing GTA.
(clearly in denial).
As The Little Review was going to trial for obscenity for publishing Ulysses in 1920, Jane Heap (a co-editor of The Little Review) wrote the following in an editorial regarding The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice:
The society for which Mr. Sumner is agent, I am told, was founded to protect the public from corruption. When asked what public? Its defenders spring to the rock on which America was founded: the cream-puff of sentimentality, and answer chivalrously “Our young girls.” So the mind of the young girl rules this country?
Whenever I hear anything about the suppression of material, I always wonder, “So the mind of a child rules this country?”
That being said the reaction of the gaming community to any sort of opposition to their beloved medium is usually met with head slapping idiocy. It’s actually a little disconcerting as it seems to imply that there is a burgeoning generation that seems to think that the rhetoric they employ on gaming forums and in multiplayer will get them anywhere. It’s rather astounding that people are attempting to show their maturity by acting immature.
A lot of people are complaining that Australia has an R-18+ rating for movies, but none for games. As usual, Atkinson and his supporters are claiming that interactivity makes the difference, which I think we’ve all established is a silly argument when really examined.
But as far as the freedom of speech and ideas, it’s impossible to extend the value of a medium when it is partly censored. One anti-R-18+ advocate pointed out that “mature” games aren’t great art; that when the videogame equivalent of Lady Chatterly’s Lover comes along, then maybe we could talk. Of course, how will it come along if it’s banned from conception? I’ll be the first to admit that most games, regardless of rating, are not on the level of deathless art. But progress is being made, and without freedom of expression, you can’t express.
I love my dear Australia – I see your feeble Huntsman, and raise you a Funnel Web and a Red Back (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_funnel-web_spider , and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_back_spider).
There’s perhaps two issues I’d like to comment on here.
The first is that it’s not about getting crude content – it’s about censorship removing freedom of choice. Sure, you’ve heard about the interesting antics of Mr Atkinson, but are you aware that at the same time the Australian government is trying to install compulsory national web-filtering of getting at an ISP level of ‘unwanted content’ (http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/296161/australia_web_blacklist_leaked/)?
Not only have ‘innocent’ business sites been blocked, but there are two other fears oozing into the psyches of Australians – one is that this service will be used to further political and government agendas by silencing any form of dissent; and the other is that this techology will affect internet speeds (we’re a little behind all y’all as it is).
Most people don’t want to look at the vast majority of junk out there that’s being blocked, but we don’t want decisions made for us either by a system that could be open to abuse. Australians are passionate about (the illusion of) choice.
The second topic I’d like to mention is this wonderful term ‘gamers’. I’m not old enough to know, but were early television watchers lumped together in a group and called ‘TV-ers’, or early readers called… well, readers?
People are people, be it good or bad. I’d put millions on the fact that Mr Atkinson has played games – sure, they may have been Poker or Monopoly, or Chess, or Tic Tac Toe. Should we call him a gamer (and thus he becomes scared of himself more than biker gangs)? Labelling someone a ‘gamer’ in this day and age is akin to calling someone a ‘breather’, or a ‘walker’, or a ‘looker’ as games are so prevalent in our society.
‘Gamer’ is merely a media buzzword at the moment because it was made popular once, and thanks to the journalistic criteria of timeliness, is being overused and associated with negative connotations. And media consumers find it easier to digest stories that are ‘us’ against ‘them’ (journalistic criteria of conflict) – the unusual element of this dichotomy is that most people these days are part of the ‘them/gamer’ group.
Does Australia allow films such as Hostel and SAW? And if so, does it certify those as 18?
Isn’t it slightly hypocritical if they do allow these films under an age classification to then not allow games under the same umbrella? I would always say that these types are films are far worse than any game, as they are so graphically realistic (sickeningly so sometimes).
On a side note- where is the fundamental freedom to choose in all of this? Why is one person taking it upon themselves to choose what others can and can’t watch or play. Censorship sends me into an absolute rage, and especially when it is targeted towards games.
Michael Atkinson needs to wake up and realise that financially its in the countries best interests to rate these games.
To be fair, if your sole interaction with “gamers” (apologies in advance, Jarrod!) is some of the absolute nonsense, abusive drivel you see on forums and comments systems across the internet, then you can hardly blame people like Mr. Atkinson for taking a dim view of the industry. Cos-Play protestors and people shouting “fkin die bobby kotick lol you fkn prk” is hardly a glowing example of the maturity of the people most likely to access violent content..
Having said that, I agree with Lewis. Censorship stinks at the best of times, but the current censorship of the games industry is just totally out of touch with other forms of media. I just don’t see how one person, or a committee of people, deciding on what people see or do is ever a good idea. It’s 2010, for gods sake..
Hi Mat – apologies unnecessary! Certainly we, as a group of ‘gamers’ don’t portray ourselves often in a favourable light, and of course, we, as a group of ‘humans’, sometimes don’t either.
The counter-party to Mr Atkinson, Gamers4Croydon, made an excellent point that in saying gamers were worse than bikers, Mr Atkinson has belittled the harm that has befallen individuals and communities committed by outlaw bikers.
One letter from an 18+ advocate hardly equates to some of the death and carnage that some bikers have committed, even recently (http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/World-News/Tourists-Watch-As-Biker-Is-Killed-In-Sydney-Airport-Brawl-In-Australia/Article/200903415246668?f=rss). If I were a victim of such outlaws, I’d be outraged at Mr Atkinson’s flippant claim.
I can’t find the particular article at the moment, but there are those saying the R18+ discussion paper is merely a smokescreen while the government introduces the afore-mentioned ISP filtering, as all eyes turn to the R18+ controversy. Damn sneaky government.
And Lewis B, the original SAW was an Australian/US co-production, and is most assuredly available down here, and I believe Hostel is as well, although I haven’t watched it myself (too scared).
Interestingly, I was fairly neutral to all of this 18+ controversy, but talking about it I find my opinion is polarising.
You know Jarrod, I don’t tend to use ‘gamer’ to describe myself because it always seems so exclusive but that’s an interesting point you raise there…
I’ve not much more to say on this topic really that hasn’t already been said above. Good article Matt, didn’t know Clint got back to you on that either. Interestingly I was only reading his blog the other day and his article on ‘Didacticism’ in game design, which is tenuously linked to game maturity and speaks about the motivations behind elevating the medium etc. Go and read it here.
By the way, Jarrod, since you live in Australia maybe you can clarify – how hard is it to get games that are refused classification down there? I mean, with Steam and Amazon imports and stuff, is it just an inconvenience, or is it really a major aspect of censorship?
The thing that strikes me about Atkinson is that his position has grown more and more extreme in the few months this has been major news. I can’t help but believe that it’s a reaction to the way some gamers are responding to his views. If after mature discourse he still wants to control expression in his country, yes, he should be replaced by someone who understands the concept of free speech. But to some degree I can’t help but think his behavior is a reflection of some of these gamers’.
So true, Mat. Not to mention the fact that it almost never works… instead, shines greater attention on the object of offense. Leland Yee and Jack Thompson are responsible for selling a lot of really crappy games on account of their crusade.
@ Steerpike. Is it not a politician’s job to rise above gutter politics, and set out policies for the good of the country and its people?
Reacting in a negative manner, and worsening his current stance on videogames on the basis of negative feedback from gamers is hardly setting a political example, and clearly undermines his entire argument against the medium.
Can he not understand by acting the way he is, and by fighting against the medium the way he does that he is bound to incense some people into rage.
How would he like it if one of his favourite hobbies was banned for no other reason than because some politician said “it’s not in your best interests Mr Atkinson to have such hobbies.”
I really don’t think its fair to blame those who play games, for his reactions. Inevitably and as I’ve said previously, they are fighting a losing battle. He has the wealth, the voice and the political spin/weight/power to undertake anything he wishes. No sensible letter writing or coercion is going to sway his view, as evident by the fact he holds the view in the first place and the fact he is a politican.
You’re absolutely right, Lewis, that a politician’s responsibility is to make the most educated possible decisions in the best interest of his constituency.
I’m just saying that Atkinson – obviously a nongamer, with perhaps as little as zero experience with games – is being exposed to only the worst, most freakish, most socially inept side of the gaming experience. It’s natural that he react this way. Bear in mind that in the last few months, no one has politely invited him (at least not in public) to discuss the issue in a civil way. No one has tried to educate him on what games are really like, and what the crushing majority of gamers are really like. He’s only been shown the Cosplayers, the death-threateners, the idiot political party.
To my knowledge no one has said “Mr. Atkinson, I’d like the opportunity to show you another side of gaming and gamers, because I feel that you haven’t been exposed to a balanced view of the hobby. May I spend an hour or so discussing this topic with you?”
To him it’s not gutter politics. He just doesn’t see the whole picture, because the only picture we’ve shown him is utter insanity.
Of course, if, in the wake of such an effort, he still insists on a narrow-minded, censorious view, then he can bite me.
I think your being very kind towards the man Steerpike 🙂
I would hope as a politician that someone with his authority (and hopefully education), that he has enough knowledge to make the link that not all gamers are insane, all by himself.
Admittedly approaching Mr Atkinson and opening a dialogue relating to videogames may yield results. However having worked with British MPs regularly, I am all too aware that such personal stances don’t tend to be about their personal views, but simply about their political image. If he was to retract his sentiments about videogames now, after such open discussions, not only would it undermine his credibility but he would probably lose the votes of those conservatives he is targeting.
In an extreme example, it would be like a Republican turning pro-abortion. It just won’t happen.
Perhaps, we at Tap can work together and actually write him an email on the subject? I’m up for it if you are?!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 Oh pretty please! 😀
Maybe so, maybe so. I generally have little patience for censors, but at the same time you’ll see people like David Walsh (formerly) of NIMF, who at least make an effort to understand all sides. While I wish Atkinson would try harder, I feel that maybe we could have made it easier for him.
If we needed a Lady Chatterly’s Lover to justify games as art, then I’d rather we didn’t. A Lady Chatterly’s Lover would be one incredibly boring game. Actually, I’m only half joking. I find that an exceedingly awkward analogy as it seems to demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the history art, politics, societal values and how they interact with each other. Mostly it bothers me because it assumes that games elicit emotions and create meaning the same way literature does. This is obviously incorrect, and what’s more the board clearly recognizes this. If the argument is that games are more dangerous because they are interactive, than surely it should be recognized that that interactivity is what makes their artistic value unique and that a new paradigm of critical thinking towards games (and their danger) needs to take place.
I’ll have a dig around Steam this weekend and see what I can see on restricted games.
I’m not sure whether the Gamers4Croydon party have offered a mature ‘educating’ for Mr Atkinson, but I vaguely recall that he has been invited to political debates over the issue against Gamers4Croydon, but his MO so far has been to pull out of such debates at the last minute and not engage with G4C.
I can’t see his position on censorship changing – Australia is fairly conservative, and fear-mongering returns high yields. If someone said to any of my grandparents, “If you vote to allow this classification, then games involving violent rape and other grotesqueries will be available for your great-grandclidren to play” they’ll vote it down quicker than they pour a cup of tea, and with as much gusto, I’d wager.
And there are a lot of folks like them here in Oz.
Ok, well this gave me the excuse to finally install Steam, which I’ve been putting off for months!
I went through the list of banned (and formerly banned) games from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_banned_video_games and broke them up into three lists. I’ve put “***” besides the ones that showed up in searches, and that I could check. The rest simply didn’t show up in searches.
Blitz: The League
Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude
Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure
Shellshock 2: Blood Trails
Singles: Flirt Up Your Life
50 Cent: Bulletproof
Left 4 Dead 2 *** – indicated as low violence version
NecroVisioN *** – pre-purchase only
Silent Hill: Homecoming
Soldier of Fortune: Payback ***
Alien Vs Predator ***
Fallout 3 ***
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin ***
Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto IV ***
Shellshock: Nam ’67
Tender Loving Care
I haven’t looked into Amazon imports, but I’d imagine the company wouldn’t want to risk the fines of breaching the law.
If you were to consider illegal ways of getting your hands on any of these games, there is no inconvenience at all above and beyond whatever illegal thing it is that you’re doing.
So it seems that to a certain degree, banned = banned in Australia, which is to say at least something of a pain to get your hands on. That is too bad. What’s worse is some developers aren’t even bothering to submit their games for classification in Australia, knowing they won’t get approval. So now you’ve got a big first-world country (with a pretty energetic development community of its own) that doesn’t have access to a portion of the industry’s creative output.
I guess the only positive I see is that of that list, only 3-4 are remotely good games. I could live without Sexy Poker if I was in Australia, but I wouldn’t want to be without Fallout 3.
Just to be thorough, here’s the latest article on Mr Atkinson’s antics:
“the link between violent games and youth violence was stronger than tobacco and cancer”
Apologies if you can’t read it – please let me know and I’ll post the article itself.
I hate arguments like that. It’s absurd logic, and not for the reason most people might think.
In general sort of way, violence is committed by young males, from, say, ages 14-35.
Find me a guy in that age group who hasn’t played videogames. They’re few and far between.
It’s like saying that dying is the leading cause of death, or losing your hair is the leading cause of baldness. Atkinson is behaving more and more like a lunatic, and it’s damaging his credibility.
Jarrod, you’re Our Man In Australia!
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