The (Australian) Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies (Senate Community Standards Committee) has considerable powers to influence Government policy on censorship matters. It holds frequent public inquiries to determine current community opinion regarding what levels of contentious material are permissible in the various electronic forms of media. Unfortunately, the most influential Senators on the Committee are highly conservative and definitely pro-censorship. Thus, any anti-censorship submissions to the Committee have little chance of being taken seriously - but this does not mean that one cannot try.
At the beginning of 1997, I sent an anti computer games censorship submission to the Senate Community Standards Committee to: supplement a smaller submission I made in mid-1996; as a response to one of their hearings I attended in November 1996; and because I was afraid they were about to recommend further harsh restrictions on computer games that would go far beyond even what they promoted in their infamous 1993 Report into this form of media. I remain uncertain as to what effect (if any) these words have had on Australian Government censorship policy. This submission is reproduced in edited form below. The vast majority of this information remains current, but please note that the US version of Duke Nukem 3D may now be legally sold in my country.
Report on Video and Computer Games (1993) by the Senate Community Standards Committee
Computer Games Ratings Guidelines
Why Phantasmagoria was banned in Australia
Why other games were banned in Australia
Office of Film and Literature Classification (censors)
This information ceased to be updated on 1 January 1998.
For current general information concerning computer games censorship in Australia,
please consult my Games Censorship Collection Web site.
- Fallacy 1: The public demands a crackdown on violence in the media.
- Fallacy 2: Only children play computer games.
- Fallacy 3: Children have easy access to all types of computer games.
- Fallacy 4: Parents are not technologically competent to supervise computer games use.
- Fallacy 5: Banned titles are of very low quality and are also banned overseas.
- Fallacy 6: Violent computer games use leads to real world violence.
- Fallacy 7: Violence is inherently evil and must never be depicted.
- Fallacy 8: Computer games are more impactful than other forms of media.
- Fallacy 9: The MA15+ classification already allows for enough contentious material.
- Select Bibliography
Dear Madam Secretary and Committee Members,
I have written this supplement to my earlier submission to present both new information that promotes the cause of computer games players, and to reemphasise certain points I have made previously - both in writing and in person at the Committee's public hearing of 29 November 1996 at Parliament House, Canberra. I maintain my firm belief in everything I have written and spoken about previously on the issue of the portrayal violence in the electronic media. This new document should be read in the context of my original submission and my comments in the Hansard of the Committee's public hearing. I ask that all three sources of representative computer gamer expression be carefully considered before any action against computer games, computer games players, or both, is taken.
Like hundreds of thousands of other law abiding, non-violent Australians with similar interests, I reject and deplore the way a pro-censorship crackdown on certain forms of computer game content appears imminent and intend to attempt to persuade you to reverse these moves. The computer games players of this country already have their freedoms restricted intolerably under the existing misguided, out-of-touch censorship regime. To crack down even further would defy all reason and place Australia well outside the ranks of freedom loving democratic countries to which it claims to belong.
This submission refutes nine commonly held falsehoods regarding the censorship of computer games so that you may make a more informed decision regarding what (if anything) should be done about the portrayal of violence in this form of media. It is intended to persuade you to realise that no crackdown in any form is needed against computer games and, if anything, what this media needs is less rather than more censorship.
|The public demands that the Government crack down harshly on all forms of violence portrayed by the electronic media, including violent depictions in computer games.|
You might make the retort that you are simply following community opinion that was confirmed both by the 99% of seven hundred or so public submissions on this issue that allegedly supported the Government's moves against violence in the media and by the resoundingly pro-increase censorship discussion at the Committee's public hearing in November. After all, democratically elected governments are supposed to rule by the consent of the people they govern, so why not tighten up our censorship laws?
As a refutation of this incorrect assumption, I put to you these points:
Is there really due cause for a crackdown on the portrayal of violence in the entertainment media - computer games in particular? In a word - no!
- In the House of Representatives Hansard for 6 May 1996 (Question Time), Prime Minister John Howard is quoted as saying,"I abhor censorship as a general proposition. I share the view generally speaking that people, particularly adults, should make their own judgments about what they see, what they read and what they hear. I am sure that I would share the view of most Australians that we do have a responsibility in respect of our children and I take the opportunity to reinforce the ongoing responsibility of parents in matters of this nature. There is a limit to what any government can do or ought to do in relation to the surveillance of the material that children see on television and parents cannot escape their responsibility in relation to it. I have asked the group of ministers to meet as soon as possible and to put some recommendations to the Government. I hope it is something that can be dealt with in a sensible fashion."In other words, what the Prime Minister was encouraging is wide consultation with all interested parties, parental responsibility, and definite limits placed on the actions of the Government. Instead, what has happened is that the computer gaming public has not been properly consulted and the moves planned against them are way beyond what one would expect from a fair and democratic First World government.
- Seven hundred submissions represent only the viewpoints of perhaps a few thousand people who account for less than two hundredths of one percent of Australia's population.
- After having read several of these submissions myself and, after listening to the discussion at the Committee's public hearing, it is clear that, while most of these people want some sort of tightening of restrictions, they do not necessarily want any or all of the draconian measures currently planned by the Government.
- The people making the most noise are far from demographically representative of voters as a whole - mainly in terms of age. For example, at the recent Committee hearing, I (a 23 year old) must have been the youngest person in the room - the average age being in the vicinity of 45-50 years in a country in which citizens may vote from 18 years of age. Furthermore, it is well worth noting that polls that show "community concern" about the levels of violence depicted in the media have consistently reported that a much lower number of young adults consider this to be a problem compared to older generations. In a Herald-McNair poll held in July 1996, it was found that, while 71% of respondents aged 55 and over thought there was too much violence on television, only 25% of people aged between 18 and 24 held this belief.
- According to the 1990 National Committee on Violence in its apparently forgotten report on the causes of violence in our society, media influences were ranked at seventh place - well behind far more important factors such as child development, influence of the family, substance abuse, and mental illness. Parents realise this too (according to the OFLC's Families and Electronic Entertainment research - monograph 6, pages 2 and 3) and have ranked quality of education, personal safety and security, and drugs to be the greatest concern in relation to the well being of their children. One wonders from where all the alleged "public outcry" regarding the portrayal of violence in the media is originating.
- If you want to serve the "community", you would best pay attention to the opinions of all the members of the community as opposed to merely a misguided elite. You plan to move against computer games, but where was the community consultation among computer games players? We use the Internet and read magazines specific to our interests and are generally a group of intelligent, reasonable people who would be happy to sit down and discuss our leisure time pursuits in a calm, objective manner. We are not unreasonable people and most understand the need for a system of games classification but not one as heavy handed and repressive as it is now and may continue to be. What this Committee has done so far is to make moves against computer games solely on the basis of the unjustified generalisations of people who have little or no idea of what they are talking about and certainly have not played a reasonable selection of games themselves. Industry representatives and sympathetic advocates such as myself have been deliberately excluded from all discussions or only allowed to make token comments such as the all too few three minutes I was allowed to speak at your recent public hearing at which I, with all my practical experience both as a player and communicating with hundreds of fellow game players, was not allowed to fully participate.
|Only children play computer games, therefore computer games containing mature subject matter, particularly if violent, have no place in Australian society.|
What your Committee has been doing to computer games players is ignoring them and treating them as second class citizens. Before you make thousands of otherwise peaceful, law-abiding citizens criminals merely for owning games that may legally be sold to adults in all other developed countries, you should realise that a very large percentage (if not a majority) of computer games players are adults. As adults have different psychological needs than children, and of course have the most disposable income, it is only natural that computer games publishers are targeting them in increasingly larger numbers. We do not want immature, childish titles, but require more sophisticated products for our enjoyment in the same way that we enjoy M, MA, R, and X rated movies.
Here is but a small sample of the mountain of recent evidence that very large percentages of adults play computer games and probably account for the majority of computer games players:
- According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its report Household Use of Information Technology - Australia dated February 1996, computer games playing is the most frequent use for home computers. Out of the estimated 2,346,000 computer games players, only 50.4% are aged 17 and under. Of the rest - all adults of course - 13.3% of Australian computer games players are aged 18-25, 19.9% are aged 26-40, 13.3% are aged 41-55, and 3.1% are 55 years old or more. Please read this report, particularly Tables 17 and 18. If ABS data is nationally and internationally recognised as being able to provide accurate Australian unemployment rate and national accounts data, then it should be trusted to provide accurate statistics on the demographics of computer games players in this country.
- On the basis of an extensive reader survey, leading Australian computer games magazine PC PowerPlay found that over 60% of its readers are aged over 18 (November 1996 issue, page 25).
- Also in the November 1996 issue of PC PowerPlay (page 29), Peter Mackay, former Senior Classifier (Computer Games and Publications) with the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), is quoted as saying,"...in the interests of consistency and adults rights, and in the light of the OFLC's [research] findings, the naive assertions put forward by this Committee [on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies] must be laid to rest and those same people should acknowledge that the gaming culture they so adamantly believed was only the domain of children, is actually dominated by those over the voting age, and that number is growing rapidly. And further, that those adults have the right to a classification system that is consistent and equitable to those for film and video."
- Australian computer games distributor Manaccom thinks that the "games for adults" cause is so important that it distributed a petition among many computer games retailers during the month of October 1996 to obtain as many signatures as possible to have games rated in the same way as movies.
- In the Syte section of The Weekend Australian (19-20/10/96, page 8), Sam Stewart of Psygnosis Australia (a computer games publisher) stated that the computer games industry has matured, with around 75% of today's game players being over 18.
- At the entertainment software industry's largest trade show, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), held in Los Angeles in the middle of May 1996, Doug Lowenstein of the Interactive Digital Software Association presented the results of the most comprehensive survey ever conducted into the games industry to a large audience of key industry representatives. He remarked that 72% of computer games players were over 18 and half of those were over 35 years of age.
- The CEO of Apogee, a leading games publisher based in the USA is quoted in the May 1996 issue of PC PowerPlay as saying,"...many future games from us will be adult oriented. We're not interested in the kid's market any more. We want to design games that would interest us. The movie industry has adult movies, it's time for our industry to have adult games. We're perfectly willing to forfeit the younger market."
- Even more convincingly, Ken Williams, CEO of one of the world's largest producers of entertainment software, Sierra On-Line, had this to say in the Holiday 1995 issue of his company's magazine Interaction,"Isn't it about time that computer games grew up? It's a fair question. After all, if not for books and movies meant for adults, our libraries, bookstores, and movie theatres would be practically empty. Doesn't the adult population of the world that watches Pulp Fiction and reads [horror novels written by] Anne Rice deserve mature interactive entertainment as well? We think it does."
The time for dismissing computer games are purely a children's phenomenon thereby giving license to crack down as harshly on them as possible, has long gone. The Government must wake up to the fact that adults not only play computer games (particularly those with mature themes that are targeted at their level of personal development) but also have a right to do so. Making it illegal merely to possess games not suitable for children mocks not only the dignity of the adult voting population but shows abysmal abundance of ignorance about the place of computer gaming in today's society.
|If computer games containing mature subject matter were allowed into this country, children would be able to obtain them with ease and have their psychological development deeply disturbed as a result.|
No doubt you might protest, "We're just trying to protect the children", or words to that effect. I have just shown that, at the very least, half the people who play computer games in Australia are aged 18 and over and are therefore adults who need far less protection than children. Thus, the problem is not as great as it might seem at first. As for the remainder of computer games players who are under 18, here are some factors to take under consideration:
Please realise that the average computer game (and certainly the vast majority of new releases) costs in the vicinity of $90 - hardly within the reach of most children. These are not products that may easily be bought without the knowledge of their parents. For example, they might be birthday or Christmas presents and, because family computers are usually in family rooms, it would be hard to play a contentious computer game without drawing the attention of the child's parents (the OFLC's Families and Electronic Entertainment research - monograph 6 - shows in Table 6 that only about 15% of all children have computers in their bedrooms).
In a welcome move to be more socially responsible, most computer games that contain contentious material - and here I am thinking in particular of two very popular, mainstream titles that have caused much undue controversy in Australia, namely Phantasmagoria and the unmodified version of Duke Nukem 3D - have had inbuilt censoring features incorporated into them by their publishers. The intent is to allow parents and adults of squeamish natures to block out certain scenes or images from the game so that its overall impact is toned down considerably. To activate the censor features, a password must be entered and the same password entered again if these features are to be deactivated. Naturally, a responsible adult enters the password in both cases and chooses one any children under their care will not be able to guess. This password protection system is very similar to the PICS ratings system for the Internet recently endorsed by the Australian Broadcasting Authority in their 1996 Investigation into the Content of On-Line Services for use in classifying Internet sites. Under PICS, sites are given ratings and parents may block Internet browsing software from accessing sites above a certain rating through the use of a password protection system. So, rather than ban access to certain sites to everyone, regardless of their age, common sense and parental responsibility is considered the best and fairest option. This is exactly the same way computer games should be treated. Games containing contentious material but also come with an inbuilt censoring system as described above should be treated more leniently than those that do not rather than banned outright to absolutely everyone.
Finally, and perhaps most obviously, you must consider that there are already many aspects of adult life prohibited or restricted to children. Access to alcohol and to MA, R, and X rated videos are classic examples. In cases where a purchaser's adulthood is open to question, identification such as a drivers license is required. There is no harm whatsoever in allowing computer games that are currently banned or unclassified from being given an R rating and treated in the same way. A Government that does not do this clearly distrusts its citizens to handle material that is legal in comparable developed countries and displays an alarming degree of fear of new technology that may reap disastrous economic consequences as we enter an age in which computers and computer knowledge is playing an increasingly important role in our lives.
By all means protect children via the means suggested in this section, but do not trample on the freedoms of adults in the process.
|Parents and guardians of minors do not possess sufficient technological expertise to adequately supervise computer game playing by their children.|
No doubt, the concern that parents do not possess the technological knowledge to adequately supervise their children with computer games might be expressed. Once again, recent research has proven such an anti-games assumption to be incorrect.
Many parents, especially young parents who went to school in the 1980's possess computer literacy skills. If they do not, then most workplaces strongly encourage their employees to obtain them or risk losing their jobs in the face of rapid technological change. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its report Household Use of Information Technology - Australia, published in February 1996, there are many places outside primary and secondary school from which adults receive computer training (Table 19). The most popular are: university and TAFE (who often provide adult education courses), from a commercial organisation, an employer, and the computer equipment supplier. Personally, I lacked adequate computer skills at age 18 but since then have acquired considerable knowledge in this area via tertiary education and self-tuition.
According to the OFLC's Families and Electronic Entertainment research - monograph 6 - on pages xiv, xv, 32, and 62-65, parents are able to competently make rules regarding their children's use of all forms of electronic entertainment. The fact that mothers are the main rule makers but many now work outside the home was not found to have any bearing whatsoever on the ability of children to be properly supervised.
So much for Recommendation #4 made by your Committee in its 1993 Report on Video and Computer Games and Classification Issues. Part of the reason computer games are currently dealt with so harshly in Australia is that parents were not seen to have the competency to adequately supervise their children in regard to their use of new electronic technologies. This assumption has just been proven completely groundless.
|Computer games Refused Classification in Australia are titles of no merit whatsoever that no one is allowed to play in other countries.|
A further objection might be made that computer games banned or unclassified in Australia are so depraved and utterly without worth that no one else in the First World is permitted to play them either. Nothing could be further from the truth. By banning certain popular and mainstream titles, Australia is showing that it is out of touch with many of the countries that it likes to compare itself with and that its censorship authorities have great trouble understanding the exact nature of the market for computer games.
It was highly disturbing to read what a Russian games player Alex M. Tourkin (Internet email: firstname.lastname@example.org) thinks of Australia's existing computer games censorship regime and the imminent harsh crackdown on certain types of computer games when he sent me the following message:"The most soft word for Australian [censorship] laws is stupid. Believe me, I know what I am talking about. My country was in complete censorship for more than 70 years [under Communism]. Now everybody can decide for themselves what they do need and what they don't....I wish Australia real democracy."
The existing computer games censorship laws and the planned crackdown indeed make a mockery of the number one principle of Australia's supposedly democratic censorship system that "adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want" (within a very wide range of parameters). At present, they do not allow for the facts that a considerable percentage of computer games players are adults or that computer games are no more or less disturbing to the mind than the more established forms of entertainment media.
Here are some international comparisons of computer games censorship systems. It is interesting to note that almost all games that enter Australia - whether approved by the OFLC or not - already contain one of more stickers or other form of box marking that indicates the game's censorship rating overseas. Every single game that has been banned in Australia has received ratings in the UK and the USA at the upper end of the scales referred to in this section. The systems that are discussed respect the rights of adults to play games aimed at their maturity while providing plenty of warning regarding the more violent and/or sexually explicit content for the benefit of those who feel the need to censor games brought into their homes. These systems are also much more detailed and informative than anything devised in this country. Confidence in the fairness of these foreign systems is high while there is little or no confidence among mature computer game players of Australia's overly restrictive system. Above all, no one in either the UK or the USA is punished merely for possessing a computer game not classified by the appropriate censorship authorities. Please read on to discover some welcome and highly workable ideas from overseas as to how Australia's own computer games ratings system may be reformed so that, while protecting children and squeamish adults, it does not infringe on the rights of adults in this country to freely possess and purchase the same major computer gaming titles as their overseas counterparts.
In the United Kingdom, computer games are classified by the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers' Association (ELSPA), with most titles rated 15+ or 18+ being submitted to the British Board of Film Classification for ratings verification. According to ELSPA, "The system is designed to ensure responsible behaviour by members and to allow parents to make informed choices about the game playing of their children." More importantly, it goes on to say that, "It accepts that there is a legitimate market for computer and video games with a more mature theme as long as they are provided to the market in a responsible and lawful manner." ELSPA has an 18+ rating for computer and video games. If you look in almost any British computer games magazines, you will find advertisements for games banned in Australia (Phantasmagoria, Strip Poker, etc.) with 18+ classifications. In other words, computer games prohibited from sale in Australia may be freely sold to all interested adults in the UK.
Please visit: http://www.elspa.com/ on the Internet for further information.
In the United States of America, games software is not legally obliged to be classified, but I have yet to learn of a computer games publisher who has not submitted their products for classification to either the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the Recreational Software Advisory Council (see below), or both in recent years.
Adults are well catered for in the ESRB scheme, with ratings categories ranging from "Early Childhood" to "Adults Only". In addition, content descriptors are added so that consumers may gain some idea of why a title was classified the way it was. In the higher classifications, simulated sexual and violent content may exist to a considerably greater degree than is allowed under Australia's overly confining games ratings system.
For example, the unmodified version of Duke Nukem 3D that remains unclassified in Australia and therefore may not be sold was rated M17+ for "Animated Blood and Gore", "Animated Violence", and "Strong Sexual Content". Phantasmagoria (banned in Australia) was also rated M17+, this time for "Realistic Blood and Gore", and "Strong Sexual Content". Finally, Voyeur (also banned in Australia) was rated M17+ for "Mature Sexual Themes" and "Realistic Violence". Note that M17+ was also given to games that are perfectly legal in this country such as Ripper and Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. M17+ is not even the highest ratings category used by the ESRB - there is still room for stronger content under the AO classification.
The ESRB system is fair and just because it does not infringe upon the right of every adult in a truly free and democratic society to read, see, hear and play whatever they want, whenever they want - providing the rights of any third party are not infringed. This is accomplished in the USA by vigilant supervision of games software purchases by both software retailers and parents and thus ensures that minors cannot access material that may harm or disturb them.
Please visit: http://www.esrb.org/ on the Internet for further information.
A highly qualified team of academics, psychologists, educators, and industry representatives are behind the success of the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC) games ratings scheme - an alternative to the ESRB. Over 400 titles from over 100 publishers have been classified by this organization so far. Games are assessed according to the levels of violence (V), nudity/sex (NS), and language (L) they contain - from level 0 through to 4. If the level of any of these categories within a particular game exceeds 0, then a thermometer icon or icons are included on the box's ratings sticker with the level of each of the contentious elements present in the title filled in. As with most classification systems, consumer advice is added to the numerical rating(s).
Examples of rated titles include (all of these were Refused Classification or remain unclassified in Australia):
- Dream Web - V4: wanton and gratuitous violence; NS3: frontal nudity, non-explicit sexual activity; L2: profanity.
- Duke Nukem 3D [Unmodified USA version] - V4: wanton and gratuitous violence; NS1: revealing attire; L1: mild expletives.
- Phantasmagoria - V3: blood and gore; NS3: partial nudity, non-explicit sexual activity; L3: strong, vulgar language.
- Voyeur - V3: blood and gore; NS3: non-explicit sexual activity, revealing attire; L4: crude or explicit sexual references.
As is the case with the ESRB, the RSAC's idea is not to ban or censor any titles and to deny adults the right to play computer and video games designed specifically for them, but to classify titles so that consumers may make an informed choice over their gaming purchases for both themselves and their families.
Please visit: http://www.rsac.org/ on the Internet for further information.
According to the Committee and other Australian censorship authorities, Australians cannot be trusted to handle computer games containing violence and/or sex above a childish level while the adult citizens of the UK and USA are freely able to access these titles. These foreign countries are not filled with evil, corrupt people - rather they are the societies from which Australians for two centuries have drawn ideas on which to build our own community. In the case of the UK, perhaps the majority of Australians can trace their ancestry back to that land, and, as for the USA, its entertainment exports of all descriptions are eagerly purchased by Australians of all walks of life. But we are supposed to somehow know better than these dominant sources of worldwide culture!
|Players of computer games become violent in the real world as a direct result of such entertainment activities.|
In fact, Australian Government research, to anyone who takes the bother to read it as I have, has proven beyond a doubt that computer games are far from the promoters of violence that they are made out to be. Here, a few of the most significant findings from the main local study in this area (Computer Games - their effects on young people: a review by Dr. Kevin Durkin, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Western Australia. 1995) will be summarised. Please note that this study was conducted on behalf of the OFLC as part of their continuing investigations into computer games. You will note that, according to the extensive research undertaken by this qualified academic, computer games are far from the destroyers of society or the chief cause of the corruption of our youth as they are all too often made out to be.
- "Over the past decade, a body of research has grown. Although the research is not exhaustive and by no means conclusive, it indicates that the stronger negative claims [about computer games] are not supported." (p. 71)
- "Computer games have not led to the development of a generation of isolated, antisocial, compulsive computer users with strong propensities for aggression." (p. 71)
- Rather than out of any feeling of destructive, real-life aggression, computer games are played mainly for challenge, followed by fun, and the need to escape outside pressures. (p. 57).
- "Computer games can promote high levels of family involvement, reviving patterns of family togetherness that, for many, seemed to have died out or diminished with the advent of television." (p.71)
- "In respect of one of the most controversial aspects of game content, violence, it may be more productive to move beyond global condemnation of a little-studied entertainment form towards more extensive analyses of what is actually involved, what it means to different players, and what the outcomes are. From the perspective of those making classification decisions, all of this information and more bears on the difficult task of serving community interests in the face of a new and diverse technology." (p. 72)
In support of his findings, Dr. Durkin, in an article in Brisbane's Courier Mail newspaper of July 7 , 1996, page 13, is quoted as saying that:
- "even quite young children can differentiate between fantasy and reality."
- "a typical 12 year old might be desensitised to the explosion of bodies on the screen. But take the same child and show him a news report on the Port Arthur tragedy and you'll find the child will be distressed like most Australians were...We're not desensitised to violence in the real world and will still find it disturbing when we encounter it...even quite young people can distinguish between the two."
In that same article, Mr. John Dickie, Director of the OFLC, remarks in reference to a pilot study into computer games conducted by his agency that, "the reaction [of the computer games players under study] was that if they were competing against someone on the screen, it was a fantasy enemy - there was no identification with it being another human person. It was quite clear it was an imaginary thing they were dealing with."
There is no evidence that violence in computer games causes violence in real life. In view of this fact, some prejudiced people would say that this was because the researchers were not looking hard enough. No - the researchers did not find a link between computer games and real world violence because there is none - a plainly obvious answer to this question, particularly to anyone with any real knowledge of the well-adjusted, non-violent nature of the computer games playing community.
|Violence is inherently evil and must never be depicted, even when expressed through a work of fiction that causes no harm in the real world.|
With absolutely no valid justification for maintaining the obscenely over-restrictive levels of censorship currently inflicted on computer games in this country and certainly no reason for increasing such censorship, the temptation might arise to ban the sale and possession of games refused classification due to violent content on purely moral grounds. That is to say if some particular violent act of scene is depicted in a computer game, then Australian society would be better off without having any copies of that game within its territory. This belief relies on the incorrect assumption that depictions of violence can never be justified and must therefore all be harmful to society without exception. In response, please consider these points:
If a violent act is depicted on a computer screen while a computer game is being played, it is not real. No real person is physically or mentally harmed by it. The characters in the game are either cartoon like and therefore entirely unrealistic and computer generated, or are real human actors who are just doing their job to simulate reality as they do in countless television programs and in films.
It has been proven many times that playing computer games does not lead to real world violence and, because no real violence is actually shown in computer games, the thought that someone might be prosecuted merely for seeing a story acted out in front of them is utterly ridiculous. In every controversial computer game I have played or read about, there is no content that cannot also be seen in an M or MA rated movie.
In movies and on television, as is the case in computer games, violence committed by the main characters occurs mostly for reasons of self defence or the protection of others. This may include situations as diverse as a day in the life of a police officer or soldier to a heroic fantasy character saving defenceless villagers from some sort of attack. Quite often, desperate circumstances dictate that one fights or loses one's own life and the lives of loved ones. The truly depraved acts of merciless violence are always committed by the villain - the antithesis of the main character. Censorship authorities that truly respect the people they serve will certainly consider who it is who perpetrates the violence and why when making classification decisions.
These principles have applied to all the dramatic arts of humanity since at least the time of the Ancient Greeks. The philosopher Aristotle in his work, Poetica, wrote of the concept of "catharsis". In particular reference to tragic stage plays involving pretend tension and violence that were popular in his society, he stated that watching fiction actually leads to a calming effect that drains away tension that might otherwise be released in a destructive manner.
No one can deny that some quite disturbing acts of simulated violence are shown in computer games, but where is it written that a grown adult cannot be shocked or disturbed? Why can adults not be permitted to make choices regarding the playing of computer games for themselves rather than have true choice taken away by Government officials who are either entirely unsympathetic or who do not properly listen to the people they are supposed to serve? If an M, MA, or R rated movie can shock, then computer games must be allowed to do the same. If Australia is to move into the twenty-first century and embrace the benefits of computer technology with a high degree of confidence, then one form of entertainment media must not be treated any differently than the others.
|Computer games are more impactful than other forms of entertainment media because they are interactive - so much so that players cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality.|
There has been some concern that the interactivity of computer games makes them more impactful. Yes, computer games are indeed an interactive medium while films and television programs are essentially passive. To the extent allowed by the computer game's creator, the player may influence the outcome of the storyline. It has often been incorrectly stated that the player feels as if they are actually perpetrating the acts of violence and rapidly become desensitised to violence in the real world. Here is the truth:
To repeat an earlier point made by Dr. Durkin in relation to his research into the effects of computer games on their players in Brisbane's Courier Mail newspaper of July 7 , 1996, page 13, "even quite young children can differentiate between fantasy and reality." Also, "a typical 12 year old might be desensitised to the explosion of bodies on the screen. But take the same child and show him a news report on the Port Arthur tragedy and you'll find the child will be distressed like most Australians were...We're not desensitised to violence in the real world and will still find it disturbing when we encounter it...even quite young people can distinguish between the two."
I am as sickened when I hear about real world murders and massacres as any other reasonable adult. Why? Because it happened in the real world and many people's lives are either finished or devastated as a result. In a computer game, whatever happens is not real and has nowhere near the impact of a real event such as the Port Arthur massacre.
Just because violence is depicted in a computer game, it does not mean that the character under the limited control of the player commits or even encourages such actions. The most infamous examples of this form of ignorance regarding computer games began with the classification of the title Phantasmagoria in which the player's character is the victim of a inexplicit and unavoidable sexual assault crucial to the overall storyline, and continued with the prohibition on the sale of the unmodified USA version of Duke Nukem 3D where the object is to stop the alien invaders who are capturing and tying up Earth women rather than join them in their misdeeds. In both these games, the perpetrators of unjustified and malicious violence are shown to be defeated and punished for their actions.
Personally, I feel that the interactivity of computer games (however limited it may be for one particular title), is even less harmful than the innocent play of children and also allows for a level of intellectual thought unable to be promoted via more traditional, passive entertainment media. Computer games players can readily distinguish between fantasy and reality. There are both "good" and "bad" expressions of violence in games. True atrocities are only committed by the forces the player is trying to oppose and these villains are shown to be punished. Surely the message that should be promoted here is that good eventually triumphs over evil rather than being a victim of violence is just as evil and disgraceful as being a perpetrator of unjustified violence? At the moment, only the latter concept is being promoted - an idea absolutely repugnant to all reasonable adults and children.
|The highest classification level for computer games - MA 15+- allows for enough violent material as it is, there is no need to go any higher.|
The final fallacy to be noted in this supplementary submission is that it currently takes very little to cause a computer game to be rated MA 15+ - the highest OFLC classification that allows for the legal sale of a computer game.
In one classic case, The Pandora Directive, the summary sheet produced by the OFLC that outlines the reasons why that game was rated MA 15+, states that it was because the player sees three "corpses" in the game. One is decayed and the others are recently deceased and have small trickles of blood running from the sides of their mouths. Having played this game for myself and having watched a fair amount of television and films, I can honestly say that such depictions in other electronic media could easily be accommodated by the much lower PG rating. What we have here is a game restricted to people over fifteen years of age and just below the borderline of being Refused Classification - all for the sake of almost still pictures with a bit of blood that are shown on screen for no more than a minute in total.
In another example of a ridiculous overreaction to violence, the strategy computer game, Command and Conquer, that allows the players to assume the role of an army general and direct their troops on various battlefields, has recently been reclassified from G 8+ to MA 15+ by the OFLC. As this game includes the occasion brief scene involving human actors, I can only assume that there was one non-interactive movie scene that caused the controversy - not among players of the game but among the censors who are presumably under increased pressure from above to crack down on all media material deemed violent. And this game was previously rated merely G 8+ for well over a year!
Both adult and younger players of computer games cannot have any confidence in a games ratings system that even now is applied much too harshly and unreasonably. Is the Government really going to crack down on "violence" mildly above The Pandora Directive level? What if someone buys a game at a fairly low level rating, but, one day, is suddenly and secretly reclassified to a much higher classification or Refused Classification altogether? As reported throughout this submission, there are many factors connected to computer games censorship that should be but have not yet been considered.
Attacking computer games of any description in the name of protecting society against real world violence is misguided at best and a violation of people's democratic rights at worst. Throughout history, there have been many well-meaning but naive attempts to seek simplistic answers to the problem of violence in society. In the past century, these attempts have concentrated on innovations in the entertainment industry. From films, to television, to comic books, to rock and roll music, people have stood in the way of cultural enhancements to protect the existing order on the grounds that things that are both new and popular can do nothing but harm. This has never and will never prove to be true. Computer games are here to stay and appeal to as broad an audience as do films and television programs. The Australian people expect that their Government will allow them as much freedom to enjoy this new form of entertainment technology as it allows for the more established forms.
To the informed adult computer games player (and there are many of us), the current computer and video games classification system in Australia is truly a national disgrace and makes this country look backward to developed, English-speaking nations with cultures similar to our own. It regrettably ignores the well proven facts that adults form a very large percentage of computer games players and that playing such entertainment does not cause an increase in real world violence. Other countries have realised these facts for years, so why can't Australia do the same and allow games containing mature subject matter just as it allows M, MA, R, and X rated movies?
What I have presented is current research conducted by a responsible adult computer games player with the assistance of the Internet and people and organizations that know how to treat computer and video games fairly because they have conducted unbiased surveys on the true demographics of games players. What Australia's current computer games legislation and guidelines are based on is obsolete data, a failure to understand the worldwide context of games classification, a woeful lack of community consultation, ignorance, hysteria, and technophobia. The sooner these injustices are corrected, the fairer our games classification system will be.
Thank you for your consideration of my latest submission. Please treat the computer gaming population of this country with the high degree of respect and consultation that it deserves rather than inflict further penalties against them without regard to all the evidence presented in my submissions to your Committee. At the very least, any and all moves against computer games and those who play them should be postponed until after a proper inquiry into computer games alone that involves Government officials, players, and industry representatives can been conducted. Only then should any changes to existing policies be considered.
Computer Games Players Advocate
- The classifying, modifying, limiting, and/or banning of electronic and print media material to some or all people within a particular society.
- Senate Select Committee on Community Standards Relevant to the Supply of Services Utilising Electronic Technologies.
- computer game
- A game played on a personal computer that allows a degree of interaction to the extent allowed by the title's designer. Computer games may involve cartoon-like animation, real human actors, or both. Altogether, gaming titles contain an array of storylines as diverse as those found in movies and are enjoyed by an equally diverse range of players - male and female, adults and children. Some computer games are suitable only for adults who account for at least half the players of this form of entertainment media.
- Scenes depicted in computer games that cause them to be rated MA 15+ or Refused Classification by the OFLC.
- Refers to the condition in a society where the people in charge listen and consult with the people who will be affected by any decisions they make - well before they are made. This is done to establish the widest possible information base from which fair and just policies may be formulated and implemented.
- Duke Nukem 3D
- An animated action/combat game seen from the first person perspective in which the player's character must stop hordes of aliens from taking over the Earth and kidnapping women. Produced in early 1996 by 3D Realms, it remains popular worldwide. In Australia alone, this game may only be legally sold in a modified version that tones down the violence and removes all the depictions of women. This is accomplished by ensuring that the inbuilt parental censoring device (intended to be used at the discretion of adult players) cannot be turned off. There has been much outcry among the extensive Australian adult computer gaming community that this blatant form of censorship is both ignorant and patronising.
- Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers' Association. This private computer games ratings body based in the UK allows games to be rated as high as 18+
- Entertainment Software Ratings Board. A private body based in the USA, it classifies computer games by providing each with a rating and content descriptors. Allows games to be recommended for/rated for adults only.
- Freedom of Information Act (Commonwealth).
- A leading Australian computer and video games magazine.
- Office of Film and Literature Classification - an Australian Government agency obliged to provide censorship ratings for all films, publications and computer games sold, hired, or demonstrated in this country. It Refuses Classification to many titles that the ESRB and RSAC would allow at the upper ends of their ratings scales.
- PC PowerPlay
- The leading Australian computer games magazine.
- An "interactive movie" for mature audiences involving human actors in which the player's character must stop the evil supernatural force that has taken over her husband's mind. Released in August 1995 by one of the world's largest publishers of entertainment software, Sierra On-Line, and designed by the world's best-selling computer games designer, Roberta Williams, this extremely popular mainstream adventure game has sold approximately a million copies worldwide to date. Despite being allowed for sale in not only the USA and UK, but also Germany, Brazil, Russia, and Israel (as well as numerous other countries), Phantasmagoria was Refused Classification by the OFLC in Australia because it contained a brief, inexplicit, non-interactive, contextually justified scene in which the player's character was the victim of a simulated sexual assault at the hands of her on screen husband. This unfortunate decision by the OFLC sends the repulsive message that being a victim of crime is just as evil as being a perpetrator. Like Duke Nukem 3D, this game contains an inbuilt censoring feature that may be used to protect children and squeamish adults from witnessing some of the more contentious content.
- Platform for Internet Content Selection. Recently endorsed by the Australian Broadcasting Authority as a suitable means by which parents may block access to adult sites on the Internet by their children. Under this system, a site is rated under various categories. If a parent has set their computer's Internet software not to allow access to certain sites that contain one or more categories above a certain level, then those sites cannot be accessed. Such home censorship is controlled via a password protection system set up by a responsible parent or guardian.
- player's character
- The fictional being that is under the control of the player in a computer game to the extent allowed by the game's designer. This character may be the victim as well as the perpetrator of violent acts. When the perpetrator however, the character either fights in self defence or in the defence of a noble cause.
- Refused Classification
- A computer game that has been banned from sale, hire, or demonstration in Australia by the OFLC.
- Recreational Software Advisory Council. Based in the USA, this private body classifies computer games and Internet sites according to their levels of violence, nudity/sex, and language. It allows for the fact that many adults play computer games.
- A computer game that has not been classified by the OFLC.
Australian House of Representatives Hansard 6 May 1996. Canberra. 1996.
Durkin, Kevin. Computer Games: Their Effects on Young People: A Review. Sydney : Office of Film and Literature Classification, 1995.
Families and Electronic Entertainment - Monograph 6. Sydney : Australian Broadcasting Authority and Office of Film and Literature Classification, 1996.
Household Use of Information Technology - Australia. Canberra : Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996.
Serials and Periodicals:
Computer Market. November 1996, p. 55.
Courier Mail. 16/4/96, p.12. 7/7/96, p. 13.
Hyper. October 1995, p.8 and January 1996, p.80.
PC PowerPlay. June 1996, p. 6. November 1996, pp. 24-29.
Sydney Morning Herald. 16/7/96, p.1.
Weekend Australian. 19-20/10/96, p.8.
Title - Introduction - Gameplay - Plot Synopsis - Sound and Visual Effects - Main Characters - Censorship Issues - Miscellanea
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