R18au – at last a new perspective

I read an interesting post by Daniel Golding yesterday for Crikey.com.au’s recently-launched GAME ON blog.

Here’s my response…

Hi Dan,

Congratulations on the new blog. And for doing the impossible. Finding a fresh new angle on a subject many of us considered ‘done to death’.

Yesterday’s post started with a great point about R18+/gaming and its effect on Australian videogame media. No other subject has taught these outlets (and indeed, their audiences) more about Australian politics, lobbying and how to ‘win’ a public debate – than this one.

Yes, the initial game rating regime was set up in the early 90s to ‘protect children’ when politicians started to feel the heat from media converage of titles like Mortal Kombat. For MPs it was a no-brainer. You can imagine the thought process “Games are just for kids. So we’ll rate games more stringently than other media, and the worst stuff goes away. A Current Affair will get off my back. Case closed.”

So from the very beginning of this topic – gaming was under attack. Australian game players – and specialist media – began from a defensive position. (“Games are NOT just for kids”, “Games are NOT just about shooting people”… etc etc) Incorrect impressions had been put out there by people who didn’t play videogames – or – benefited from spreading ignorance. And as you correctly identified Dan, buying into that argument was pretty much doomed to failure. Telling people they’re wrong is an ineffective way to influence them.

So for more than 10 years, we had gamers metaphorically saying ‘The earth is round!‘ whilst non-gaming politicians said ‘I’ve heard the earth’s flat and you’ll fall off if you walk too far!‘. Most politicians had no personal experience of gaming; the worst descriptions of others were their only frame of reference. And it wasn’t like politicians were suddenly going to buy Xboxes to educate themselves. The broadening (and aging) of the videogame-playing base is something that’s only really kicked in, in recent years.

Of course, whether or not MPs ‘get’ games is a bit of a distraction in talking R18Au. It’s based on a belief that politicians will always ‘do the right thing’ (assuming they agree with your definition of ‘right’) once they understand a given topic. Here’s an alternative model of politics: ‘If position X is more easily defensible, if it’s already law and it’s in tune with my party’s philosphy – you’ve got Buckley’s of convincing me otherwise‘.

So – the pro-R18+ lobby had a choice, to wait for glacial change, as politicians and mainstream media slowly became more ‘game friendly’ – and then hope that somehow – against all available evidence – ‘facts’ finally beat ’emotions’ in a public debate. Or they could, as you said “change the language and terms of the discussion”.

If you’re a West Wing fan, they stopped being Toby, and started being Josh. (“I don’t know what gave you the impression that I had to be convinced, but I want to win. You want to beat him, and that’s a problem for me, because I want to win.“)

Was this a ‘Pyrrhic victory’?   No, gaming fans didn’t cause any further damage to the status of the medium. At worst – they only failed to change a few incorrect assumptions. You suggested R18+ campaigners have reinforced “the perception that there is a potently destructive element in videogames that must be legally withheld from young eyes”. And I don’t see any problem with that. I don’t want 10 years olds watching ‘Saw 3’ or reading ‘American Psycho’ or playing ‘Manhunt’.

Did non-gamers learn anything during this process? Perhaps some saw that videogame enthusiasts can articulate an argument, and maturely participate in public debate. Perhaps others saw all those ‘kids’ who are supposedly playing games…  seem to be aged 30+.

But what about politicians? You suggest it’s “unclear as to whether the cultural importance of the form has been impressed upon the halls of power”. Unclear? I think you’re being generous, Dan. I doubt many Australian federal MPs have learnt anything about gaming – let alone its cultural importance – in this debate. And – they weren’t going to.

Those who’ve never played, will never know.

So what can we do?   A few years ago, my naive suggestion to take politicians to videogames didn’t work.
But now… I think we should follow the UK, and the USA, and take games to the politicians, instead.

But which games?  

CC licensed pics by Bija, Markehr and Tim Ebbs.
Plus Dead End Thrills.

4 Responses to R18au – at last a new perspective

  1. VRBones says:

    Try Crusader Kings II. I would expect they’d have a natural flair for plots and backstabbing.

  2. First, I must apologise for taking so long to reply to this, Gabe. I really appreciate such a thought-out response to my opinion piece, and you’ve definitely hit on a few truths.

    Was the R18 debate ever going to change parliamentarian minds about videogames? Perhaps not. But the makeup of the parliament has changed hugely since 1993-5 when the bill was first debated, as we can see with my other post recently tracking the comments of MPs at the second reading of the amended bill.

    Some of them, a small handful of them, already do have first-hand experience of videogames, much more than when the original legislation was introduced. There is still a very healthy level of bemusement and disdain there, but a few do actually seem to get it.

    As to how this can be turned into positive progress outside of an R18 classification, I do actually agree that the games days in the UK seem to have worked well. Equally, that relied on some MPs already being proponents of the videogame, but it did seem to generate some interest. I do wonder if something similar could work here. It’s something to consider, anyway. I know that the role of videogames in culture is being lobbied right now in Canberra – the National Cultural Policy is due to be released with the budget, after all.

    • justonemoregame says:

      Daniel, not a problem. Just glad we’ve made a connection at last.

      Yes, take your point re: parliament’s makeup changing over the years.
      Oh, and I was going to mention your MP’s firsthand gaming experience post here – but I forgot. HERE IT IS GUYS, READ IT – IT’S FANTASTIC.

      Subtle? Me?

      Dan, your mention of a ‘National Cultural Policy’ was interesting – I went googling and.. hurrumph!
      1. First time I’d ever heard of it.
      2. Public submissions are now closed.

      Perhaps whilst many Aussie game fans were busy with the last push for R18+, we should have ALSO been submitting something for the National Cultural Policy.
      Damn.

      I dunno… All this political/lobbying/democracy stuff… in the old days all we did to participate in ‘gaming’ was stick a tape in our C64 and press play… 😀

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