My column in the local Chronicle newspaper is on the new R18+ rating for computer games.
Support for R18+ rating for games, The Chronicle, 3 April 2012
One of the fastest-growing pastimes in Australia is computer gaming. According to one recent survey, 95 per cent of Australian homes with children under the age of 18 had a device for playing games.
Over the past generation, we’ve moved from clunky arcade games like Pacman and Space Invaders to games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft, with slick graphics and millions of players interacting with one another. No longer are gamers just teenage boys. Today, nearly half of all gamers are women, and the typical Australian gamer is aged 32.
But while many Australians love computer games, parents also want to know that their children are playing games that are appropriate for their age. That’s where the proposed R18+ rating comes in. At present, most other nations have a video game rating of R18+, but at present the highest rating for Australian games is MA15+.
Not having an R18+ rating for games causes two problems. First, some games are refused classification, so cannot be sold in Australia. Second, some games that are only available to older people overseas can be purchased by younger people in Australia. For example, Call of Duty (a game that warns of intense violence and strong language), has an M17+ rating in the United States, but an MA15+ rating in Australia. When the Attorney-General’s Department held an inquiry into the proposal, it received over 58,000 submissions, with 98 per cent supporting an R18+ rating.
Parents understand how quickly children pick things up from their environment. A friend of mine told me about her 11-year-old boy who was watching a TV show and he said one of the characters was snorting coke. His mum asked, ‘How do you know that?’ He replied, ‘I know it from Grand Theft Auto.’
The Gillard Government is introducing an R18+ classification because it helps prevent children and teens from accessing unsuitable material. But it also lets adults make their own decisions about the computer games they play.
While some might yearn for an era when children played more backyard soccer and fewer computer games, mass usage of computer games is here to stay. Perhaps the most optimistic vision of how gaming might shape our society is a book by game designer Jane McGonigal, titled Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.
McGonigal proposes a variety of ways in which games can help us be happier in everyday life, stay better connected with those we care about, feel more rewarded for making our best effort and discover new ways of making a difference in the real world. For example, a game called The Extraordinaries challenges its players to take two minutes to write a short text message of encouragement to students in Mexico, Venezuela or India, who are about to take an important exam. At their best, computer games aren’t just fun – they can help build a better world.
Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com.