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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 3015

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (18:36): I rise to speak on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. On the weekend I was very surprised when my son said, 'Do you know anything about censorship for computer games?' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said: 'We really want classification. I'm an adult now and I think it is important we have an R rating for some of our computer games.' You could have floored me. My son had been very angry with me when I would not let him play Grand Theft Autobecause I thought it was too violent, but now he is an adult he endorses our position on having an R rating. The member for Moncrieff was saying that he also plays Grand Theft Auto. I cannot make the same confession. The worse thing I do is play Sudoku on my iPad. There are other people who are very passionate about it. I have been contacted by a number of constituents who also endorse the proposed R rating.

Currently the system provides that the highest legally available classification category for computer games is MA15+. The issue my son has is that games that are not acceptable for a person under 15 years are refused classification, meaning that they may not be sold, hired, exhibited, displayed, demonstrated or advertised in Australia. As the member for Moncrieff said, the average age for computer gamers in Australia is 32. Surprisingly, women comprise 47 per cent of computer game players and 75 per cent of gamers in Australia are aged over 18 years. Developments in both games and gaming platforms in recent times ensure that long gone are the days when computers games were just for children. We heard the member for Fowler talking about his grandson and using the slate with his colleagues when they were at school. I did not use slates but I remember the computer when I was at school, but technology has moved on.

Most gaming devices on the market today play DVD films and more broadly can access the internet. With the continuing development of interactive entertainment and its ever-increasing popularity, it makes sense to have gaming classification in line with film and television classifications. Additionally, the rapid development of game graphics and high-definition digital imagery give rise to images far more realistic and explicit than at any time previous. Games are interactive and in many respects the allure of gaming is a personal matter: some play to engage with other gamers in a battle of wits; others seek to step out of the real world into a world where they have the controls and are able to make the choices; some just like the entertainment and relaxation offered by simply playing a game. Regardless of the motivation, the gaming world is one that is not limited to a window of an hour or two. People can enter and re-enter as often as they want and for whatever period of time they wish. That is vastly different from the limitations associated with watching TV or a film, where you have a limited time and are more restricted.

Without the R18 classification, games meant for adults are currently rated MA15+ thus making them available to minors and confusing parents and carers who try to manage access to such games. Clearly the R18 classification given to films, as an example, relates to the level of violence, language, nudity, drug use and adult themes. This rating provides a clear guideline for adults to make informed decisions. No less for the gaming world—I believe adult games should be restricted to adults. Additionally, introducing an 18+ classification allows parents a better opportunity to assess game content and suitability, allows adults freedom of choice and prevents people under the age of 18 from purchasing adult games.

At present some degree of self-regulation has occurred for the Australian gaming marketplace, where games which would ordinarily be classified R17+ and R18+ in other parts of the world are being modified and classified within the MA15+ category. Unfortunately, in some circumstances adult themes behind the game remain and potentially harmful or disturbing content remains accessible to people under 18. With R18+ classification these games could be placed in a more appropriate category. Australia is the only Western country that does not have an adult R18+ classification for games. The UK, EU member countries, the USA and New Zealand all have adult classifications for computer games.

Grand Theft Auto IV, a development of the original Grand Theft Auto game—a series of games with a huge player following—is an example of self-censorship by a game developer. This particular game came to the Australian market with the removal of stimulated sex scenes and pools of blood and a reduction in the visible representation of injuries. That is part of the reason why I was not happy for my son, who was under 18, to have access to that game. Resulting from these omissions in the game, it was given an MA15+ classification. The game still includes the ability to murder, blackmail, fight, steal, extort and bribe. The high-impact game also exposes players to mature themes such as prostitution, gambling, drug use and gang violence.

In the United Kingdom the original version of this game was given an 18+ adult rating, in New Zealand it was given 18+ and in the European Union member countries it was given 18+. Yet in Australia the game is and was available to 15-year-olds. Even with the alterations or omissions to the game for the Australian market, this example qualifies why the current classification system needs to be modified. This would give parents, relatives, friends and carers, when purchasing a gift for a person under 18, the ability to review the suitability of games for a child under 18. They must have a mechanism whereby they can evaluate the game content and whether a game has high-impact adult content, content to which a young player should not be exposed. Unfortunately, it is currently too often the case that people purchase games based on the ratings applied to them, and in the case of the MA15+ games they take the classification on face value without considering the themes or content. It would be my assertion that if Grand Theft Auto IV were a movie and contained the themes present within the Australian version of this game it would most likely be an R18+ film. The issue of R18+ classification is not an issue for controversy for those concerned with the amount of violence children are exposed to. The bill I see is not about opening the doors to more violent and mature games entering into the Australian market. It is about bringing our game classification system into line with much of the world, and providing further capability to assist those people with a responsibility to children to protect those children from obscenities and profanity.

'Appropriateness' is probably the best descriptive term; this bill seeks to achieve appropriateness for classification. Parents must be able to easily identify if a game is appropriate for their child or not. Currently, parental controls exist on modern computer gaming devices so parents and carers can censor games to an extent. Within Australia there are 25 major gaming development studios supporting an industry worth a predicted $2.5 billion annually. This industry has a far reach, and needs the support of a clear and appropriate classification system—one that reflects comparative standards internationally.

This legislation will have an impact on our society but also on the individual gamer. The support for this bill from the gaming community has been overwhelming. As I said, I have been contacted by a number of constituents. The consultation report released in November 2010 reported that 98 per cent of the 58,437 submissions in respect of introducing an R18+ rating were supportive. A Galaxy Research telephone poll reflected that 80 per cent of people contacted supported the introduction of an R18+ classification.

Steve Buic, a member of the Darwin Gamers Association, has been in contact with my office regarding this classification. Those in the gaming community of Darwin want this change. They see the value of an R18+ classification. This bill will give consumers both the freedom and protection they deserve. In conclusion, I echo the words of Steve Buic:

The computer gaming community in the Top End want an R18+ gaming classification. For too long now, the Australian gaming industry has been held back by classification laws. It is pretty clear to us that some games which get classified as MA15+ are too violent for 15 year olds. There needs to be another classification level. Games which are modified to meet Australian standards do not always have the same game content quality. Adult computer games are being censored by the classifications board but the fact is these games are not designed or marketed to fifteen year olds for an MA15+ classification—they're computer games for adults and such should be labelled accordingly. There are games in Australia which 15 year olds can purchase that you have to be 18 to buy in New Zealand or the UK. Computer gaming is a form of entertainment which is very similar to television and film. The fact that the two classification systems are so different highlights the need for a change. I believe an R18+ classification will help parents buy more appropriate games for their children. We need an R18+ classification.

So, being a good member and representing my electorate, I am actually going to support this bill.