Monday, 22 February 2010
Grow Up Australia!
Pardon the inflammatory title, but “Grow Up Australia” is the name of a high-profile campaign which is seeking to persuade the Australian government to allow the introduction of an ‘18+’ age rating for in-game content (read the full news item here). This has been a hot issue in Australia for many years, with a great deal of moral panic generated by the media and politicians regarding the dangerous moral sewer that is the video gaming industry. There are lots of good articles about the history of video game censorship in Australia and the video below depicts a notorious recent example of this policy in action, with footage of the Australian version of Left 4 Dead 2, released with significant changes to its content last year.
I won't get into whether or not media images can turn children into serial killers (though, for the record, I doubt it) as that is an issue for another day and a longer post. I am just baffled by the fact that this debate is even happening in modern day Australia. Censorship is an unpopular idea when it comes to limiting freedom of expression, so how is it possible for video games to be singled out in this way? Well, because they are still not are still not seen as a form of artistic expression and so they are easier to censor or ban than a book or a film, especially as they are still perceived by many to be children's toys. In the UK, many parents I have spoken to (whilst working in games retail) will happily buy their young children BBFC-rated '18' games, whilst they may be less keen on them seeing a film with the same certification. People simply assume that a video game is something produced for children. When I have explained to parents that a game they are buying include the similar content to that of a violent film, they often express surprise that a video game might contain such graphic content.
Isn't the video games industry partly to blame for this perception? Because whatever their content, most games are still too juvenile to be taken seriously. It is the games industry, as well as Australia, that needs to grow up, and once that happens games may be able to confidently contain the same content as a graphic movie, perhaps even with the consent of the Australian government.
The official "Grow Up Australia" website is full of information about the history and future of Australian video game censorship and those interested should check it out!