Gaming censorship in Australia currently offers no equivalent of the R18+ rating that exists for film and television, meaning that computer games containing high levels of violence like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, Left 4 Dead II and Grand Theft Auto IV have been awarded an MA15+ rating and others, like Mortal Kombat IX, have been banned outright.
According to an article on the front page of The Age on Saturday (viewable online here), Julia Gillard’s federal government is, despite opposition from the Victorian State Government and Australian Christian Lobby, determined to update the classification system to incorporate an R18+ rating.
What do we think?
Censorship is, in many ways, an old-fashioned idea facilitated by old-fashioned technology. When the Australian Classification Board (ACB) was formed in 1970, censorship was permitted its effectiveness by a centrally-controlled system of information diffusion. Studios wanting to show their films and television programs in Australia needed to first pass through the ACB gauntlet. Whilst this process still exists, it no longer has a monopoly on information – the internet provides individuals the opportunity to circumvent it, to access information directly.
This is not to say we are arguing for the abolition of censorship laws, far from it. Rather, we suggest that censorship has so far failed to keep pace with the morally-neutral march of technological innovation. Banning films and games can no longer be considered a successful way of removing them from circulation in Australia – surely such a move only results in the banned items being sought out all the more voraciously online, often illegally.
What should we learn?
We suggest that the government immediately incorporate an R18+ classification for games into its ratings program and then get creative in its approach to information classification. Our children and children’s children will never again have the problem of information scarcity, instead they will have the problem of information abundance – theirs will not be the challenge of finding information, rather of filtering it.
The Australian government has a serious and pressing responsibility to get with the program. To remain at all involved in deciding what goes into the minds of our most impressionable citizens, it must shift its attention away from the centralised control of information and towards the diffused education of its people.