Hey, Stop Blaming The Australian Government/People For "Banning" GamesS

You know, every time a game is "banned" in Australia, I see people from the US and Europe saying stupid, stupid things. I'd like to try and put a stop to that.

This morning, for example, I awoke to find Rebellion - the developers behind Aliens vs Predator - saying that they wouldn't be making any changes to the game in light of its failure to secure classification in Australia. Were that simply from a business standpoint (ie, it's too small a market to go back into the code), that's fine. Whatever.

But they went and provided an official statement on the matter, which said "We will not be releasing a sanitised or cut down version for territories where adults are not considered by their governments to be able to make their own entertainment choices."

See that, right there? It's harsh. And it's 100% bullshit.

Whenever a game is refused classification in Australia - a move which effectively bans the game, since it is illegal to sell a game without a Classification Board rating attached - I hear the same old thing being said by publishers and gamers alike. That it's either the fault of the Australian government, the Classification Board, or some underlying moral flaw in the Australian people.

Let me tell you why games are continually "banned" in Australia. It is not, as you may believe, the fault of the Australian "government". Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his cabinet have never broached the subject. They have not passed any laws banning violent video games, nor will they. This is a free, liberal and democratic country.

Nor is there some movement or mass media crusade in this country, like there is in Germany, to crack down on violent content in video games. Newspapers, talk shows and TV hosts have better/more important things to talk about. It's not even on their radar. The Australian people, like people everywhere else, are free to purchase what they like, and since the biggest game of the year down here will be Modern Warfare 2, we clearly enjoy a bit of the ol' ultra-violence.

And it's not the fault of the Classification Board. They review what they're given and have to rate it within the guidelines they're given; they're not some autonomous body, some powerful government force able to lobby for changes. They do what they do within the rules, get paid, life goes on.

So whenever you see or hear a publisher, developer or writer from the US or Europe blaming any of the things above, ignore them. They don't know what they're talking about.

The actual cause of Australia's current situation can be traced back decades, to the time ratings for video games were first introduced. Because at the time games were so simple, childish and crude (they were, after all, still considered "toys"), it was decided that the maximum rating they'd need was MA15+. A mistake, then but an innocent one.

Fast forward to this decade, and suddenly games are incredibly realistic. The Xbox 360, PS3 and PC can depict scenes of shocking violence, and a maturing development scene means sex and drugs now feature prominently in video games as well. Games aren't just meeting the MA15+ rating, they're often exceeding it.

So, it's time for a law change, then! Should be simple enough. Australia has a number of international developers lobbying the government, it's a billion-dollar market, it's a free country. Except...to amend the classification laws, all six of Australia's state Attorneys-General need to unanimously agree to the change.

Five of them do, and have been for some time now. They're reasonable people, who realise that adults should be free to choose their own adult forms of entertainment. But one - South Australia's Michael Atkinson - does not.

An incredibly conservative man, Atkinson vehemently opposes the introduction of an R18+ rating in Australia, as he believes that would make it too easy for children to access the mature content in an adult game. Despite the fact it's legal to sell not only R18+ DVDs in this country, which would presumably allow the exact same thing, but in some territories (like mine) it's even legal to purchase XXX pornographic material.

Despite years of letters, phone calls and industry lobbying, Atkinson has refused to budge. He likely never will, meaning the only way Australia's classification laws are liable to change is if he dies, or loses his seat at the next election (a gaming party is seeking to do just that, but campaigning on such a limited platform, they won't likely be successful).

Well, that or change the constitution. And that's not going to happen over something so trivial (which, in the grand scheme of things, this is).

So developers, publishers, and everybody else with an opinion on why a game is "banned" in Australia or what's wrong with us if/when it is...try and keep all this in mind next time you go pointing the finger.