The case for an R-rating for digital games

Mark Twain once famously said, 'Censorship is when you tell a man he can't have a steak because a baby can't chew it.'

Next week, Australia's attorneys general will come together to discuss, among other things, a form of censorship that undoubtedly reflects Twain's sentiment.

Introduced in 1995, Australia's classification system for video games indicates that this form of entertainment is mainly for minors. Accordingly, the highest rating is MA15+, which means people under the age of 15 are not allowed to purchase or hire these games.

The assumption that digital games are a medium for kids was already wrong 15 years ago; these days, it's downright absurd. The average age of players in Australia is 33 years.

Still, games that do not comply with the (arbitrary) criteria for a MA15+ rating are prevented from entering the country or have to undergo changes to make them suitable for minors.

As a result, adult gamers are prevented from consuming mature entertainment explicitly designed for them.

Those opposed to changing the current rating system demonstrate their ignorance of the reality of the medium, arguing that introducing adult ratings for video games would unleash a wave of sex and violence fuelled depravity across the nation.

This, however, will not be the case. The vast majority of the mainstream industry's products falls into acceptable standards of modern Western civilisation. They are no worse than depictions of sex and violence in other media. In fact, sex is virtually absent from Western games.

A few fringe titles stretch the limits and border on violating human dignity. These are the exception, not the rule, and can be prevented from entering Australia. An adult rating will not mean 'no classification,' just better classification. 

Yet, as it stands, a misinformed minority determines what adult Australia can play.

Lastly, an overhaul of the rating system would help parents to make more informed decisions.

While on the one hand, the current system prevents adults from consuming uncut adult entertainment, on the other hand it still does not prevent minors from playing games that in other parts of the world are classified for a mature audience. Examples include the Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty series.

Not releasing these highly anticipated adult titles would make Australia an exception in the West. Even worse, it would make Australia look like an analog dinosaur in the digital world.

The current MA15+ rating misleads parents into believing that these titles are suited for minors. While any impact of games on violent behaviour has still to be scientifically proven, it is clear that games like these were clearly designed with adults in mind.

The irony of this situation is apparently lost on the critics of an adult rating. While they tell a man he can't have steak, the steak gets labeled differently and is fed to the baby.

Dr Jens Schroeder is a Visiting Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.