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Michael Atkinson - One Man Controls Mature Games in Australia

BlogI've had enough. I live in Australia, part of a modern country that like many others has free speech and all that jazz. Yet when it comes to video games we have no adults only rating; any game that is deemed too extreme for a 15+ restriction is banned or re-submitted edited to appease the rating board.

Can we blame the Classification Board? No of course not. They are bound by law; in 2006 Attorney-General Philip Ruddock that the Office of Film and Literature Classification would become part of his department. The law they are bound by comes under federal law which despite having an R18+ rating (restricting content for legal viewing only to those ages 18 or older) for films, there is no equivalent for games.

This has always been a cause for debate to some degree, yet in recent times this issue was finally addressed by politicians and in order to allow us to have an 18+ rating all state as well as the federal Attorney-General had to agree. After some research and thoughtful discussion all agreed, except one: Michael Atkinson. One man somehow has the power to vote against this decision and can legally block this change from ever occuring. He is dead serious on his opposition and will not budge so the only realistic way for us Aussies to ever have an 18+ rating is for him to lose his seat in parliament, and for the next South Australian Attorney-General to vote yes.

In no other area of politics in Australia that I know of is one person able to decide the fate of law relevant to the entire country. Michael was voted in by one area of one state, yet is able to make decisions for all of us. We have two houses in Australia in federal parliament, the lower house and the senate. The lower house is generally controlled by the party in power and the senate is usually not controlled, hence law changes often getting lengthy debate in the senate before being passed or rejected. No one person can turn around and block a law change, it requires a majority vote.

To get away from the politics a bit, a quick wikipedia search confirms what I've read about elsewhere; the board often makes what seem like stupid decisions on the rating of games:

Games that were banned in Australia and were then re-released censored include:

Manhunt was released with an MA15+ rating, then shortly after banned entirely. The game and sequel are not legally able to be sold in Australia to this day.2.

I could drown on and on, the main problem I have with this whole situation is Michael Atkinson is censoring video games for adults based on the fact that he does not want children to obtain the titles. An R18+ rating is restricted, that is according to law, no one under the age of 18 is allowed to see a given film with this rating. Period. No cinema outings, no DVD purchase, no DVD watching. Technically even with parental consent it's illegal, though no one would probably find out of course.

Fortunately the great Margaret Pomeranz from The Movie Show (film critic show in Australia) seems to agree that this entire situation is fairly silly with the following quote:

I think it’s dangerous… it’s the start of danger when you have a government effectively saying, this is what we will allow you to see, and this is what we will not allow you to see. Fortunately they have very little power these days because we can see anything we want… as long as we’re prepared to break the law. And what you’re doing is turning people into criminals.3

Even a conservative columnist has agreed. Miranda Devine from Fairfax said the conservative groups had

good intentions have [that] backfired spectacularly. Instead of protecting children, they have exposed them to unsuitable games shoehorned into the MA15+ category because the alternative is an outright ban, and the ire of anti-censorship activists.4

Despite a line in the National Classification Code stating that "adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want", the adult R18+ classification does not currently exist for video games.5

Oh the irony.

I'll finish this rant with some recent quotes from Michael Atkinson:

I think you will find this issue has little traction with my constituents who are more concerned with real-life issues than home entertainment in imaginary worlds.6

I understand the Wii console has been phenomenally successful for Nintendo and that system provides many games to challenge and develop skill, physically and intellectually, without depraved sex, gore and cruelty.7

Further reading


  1. Wikipedia

  2. Games Censorship Database

  3. Kotaku

  4. Kotaku

  5. Wikipedia



  • Posted by Alex

Michael Atkinson - One Man Controls Mature Games in Australia

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  1. In more recent times, politicians and decency zealots have decided that the inalienable right to free speech is, in fact, alienable when it comes to certain mediums. In the U.S., the FCC regulates all content on television and radio, realms in which the government (and dozens of "family" oriented NGOs) have consistently taken upon themselves to censor at times.

    Furthermore, we have these official ratings boards that have the power to indirectly regulate content based on the ratings they give to a movie or a game. They are effectively forcing people to censor their own work by threatening them with a certain rating.

    I never questioned that there was certain things you couldn't say on TV, though recently the more I think about it, the stranger and more ridiculous it seems. What gives government the right to regulate what I hear and see? It's asinine that they perceive me as so naive and corruptible, and ever moreso that they see themselves as righteous enough to declare what is and isn't decent.

    It's ridiculous, though I sure am glad I don't live in Australia.

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  2. I support the regulation of language, sex, violence, etc. I am opposed to complete censorship. That is, when the media cannot be found in its uncensored format in some fashion.

    I also in favor of the existence of rating boards to provide consumers with advice on suitable age ranges. I do not support, however, the seemingly arbitrary nature of the MPAA rating system. They need an overhaul or a replacement.

    What I don't like is when a company makes a very mature movie, game, etc., it gets a rating that reflects its inappropriateness for younger audiences, then they complain when sales are impacted by the rating. This isn't the raters fault, this is the company's fault for making an inaccessible movie/game. If they want to keep their artistic integrity and not alter the game for the public, they know the consequences. Self regulation resulting from economic demand it not censorship, it is the natural order of things.

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