Tasked with describing an instance of media regulation that I’ve experienced, I can’t help but think back to last year with one of the most frustrating instances I can think of.
In June of 2012, after years of campainging, Australian gamers were finally bestowed the right to be treated like an adult by the Australian Classification Board with the introduction of an R18+ rating for video games. Previously, Australia had been widely known as a country with overly protective classification. For example, Bethesda’s Fallout 3 (2008) was briefly refused classification (RC) here due to a violation of the clause stating that drug use mustn’t be used for “advocatory manner”. The violation was for the use of morphine after a battle to dull the characters pain, which I believe isn’t an inexcusable depiction. To meet classification guidelines, the developers simply changed the descriptor of ‘morphine’ to ‘Med-X’ which legitimized the game for MA15+, but didn’t morally address the concerns that the Board had despite being granted classification. Clearly, there was a malfunction in the classification process that required an ‘adult’ rating.
With this new legislation introduced, 42 years after it was for movies, many assumed that we could now make the choice ourselves if we’d like to access content that most of Western world similarly could. This illusion was shattered, however, when many games post R18+ continued to be RC’d. The drug clause was still effectively the same, a game couldn’t show drugs as ‘incentives and rewards’, which would still fundamentally prohibit ‘morphine’ in the previous example. Violence could still not be ‘frequently gratuitous, cruel, exploitative and offensive’ as subjectively determined by the Board, and sexual violence is permitted only to the extent that it’s “necessary to the narrative” and “not exploitative” or “not shown in detail”.
Despite this, on January 15, 2015 we learnt that the highly anticipated Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number would not be classified due to a violation of this sexual violence clause. This ruling was no doubt reactionary and arguable even on the terms with which it could be depicted. Despite offering no legal recompense, the game includes a disclaimer and option to avoid the scene in question.
As someone heavily versed in the lore of the two games, it was pretty obvious that the scene in question didn’t depict actual sexual violence. Even viewing ten seconds of the footage, it’s quite clear that it’s an in-universe production of a snuff film of sorts. It depicts the game characters as consenting adult actors performing a rape scene, which is a slanderous take on the events of the first game’s protagonist who helped save a women and they began a consenting relationship over time. Clearly, this fake rape scene (which lasts all of a couple of seconds) is critical to the story and not at all exploitative.
The need to police an adult, R18+ rating is a clear indication that, unlike movies which are a real medium for adults, video games are for an audience that is ignorant of the distinction between what’s on screen and what’s acceptable in the real world. Referring to a previous engagement with this subject, I stated:
‘Detractors point to the element of interactivity; of participation, that the viewer has and argue that this must have an effect on the behavior of children, but independent investigation have time and time proven that if any link is to be drawn from these findings to a child’s behavior, it’s beneficial. Drs. Ferguson and Olson in their study determined ‘a very slight calming effect on youths with attention deficit symptoms… [reducing] aggressive and bullying behavior.’ The study also notes the ‘sanctioned’ context from studies finding opposite results, criticizing the unprofessional practices undertaken.’
A classification system, as reinforced in this weeks lecture, serves two purposes. Primarily, they’re established to maintain control of an industry and the distribution of its products in a country. Secondly, they act as a moral beacon expected to be the forerunners of what our society deems behaviorally acceptable. The ability to refuse classification says two things: the values presented in your product are reprehensible, and you cannot sell this product here in this space, at this time. Arguably, this practice hurts local businesses, as online there’s little enforceable regulation or restrictions. The aforementioned Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number title avoided the RC, because the developers and publisher simply told us to pirate it instead, completely circumventing our Classification Board’s control of space while they lost profit as a result.
I feel that the current operation of the rating system, particularly for games, is still affected by prejudice and devalued despite the newer R18+ classification, affecting us as consumers and our ability to access content locally and legally. What are your thoughts? Do you think that Australian adult gamers are treated with as much respect as film goers? Why/why not? Let me know in the comments!
Carr, C 2015, ‘Watch, but don’t touch! Play, but don’t buy.’, blog post, posted March 27, 2015, viewed 27/9/16, <https://carroftheoverflow.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/watch-but-dont-touch-play-but-dont-buy/>
Hill, J 2011, ‘The long campaign for R18+ games’, Sydney Morning Herald, posted July 25, 2011, viewed 27/9/16, <http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/games/blog/screenplay/the-long-campaign-for-r18-games-20110722-1htkg.html>
Australian Classification Board, ‘R18+ rating logo’, image, created 2012, viewed 27/9/16,<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Classification_Board#/media/File:OFLC_large_R18%2B.svg>
Serrels, M 2015, ‘The Creator of Hotline Miami 2 Tells Australians: “Just Pirate It”‘, Kotaku Australia, January 15, 2015, viewed 27/9/16, <http://www.kotaku.com.au/2015/01/the-creator-of-hotline-miami-2-to-australians-just-pirate-it/>
Wikipedia 2016, ‘Australian Classification Board: Film and video game classifications’, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., last updated 27 September 2016, viewed 27/9/16, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Classification_Board#Film_and_video_game_classifications>
‘, blog post, posted March 15, 2015, viewed 27/9/16, <https://carroftheoverflow.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/back-in-my-day-video-games-a-new-age-scapegoat-for-aging-anxieties/>