Hope you like the new curtains, MGK readers. This is Wendy White, here to balance the gender equation. Math is hard, tee-hee!
I promise to show all my working.
It is not as a woman that I speak to you today. Today, I speak to you as a representative of the Mad Max Country.
You may have heard of us. We are a country where the dirt is as red as the blood spilt upon the asphalt. A country where a stingray lurks around every corner, and the tea and coffee are served not with biscuits, but spiders.
Although we are rather fond of a nice Monte Carlo.
In the last couple of days, my native land has been in gaming news for the banning of Fallout 3.
The Fallout series is a charming set of games set in a desolate post-apocalyptic world which bears a distinctive 1950s flavour. It is as if you’ve rocked up to the World Fair a day late and found it trashed by mutants armed with nuclear weaponry who want to bare not only their own souls but those of anyone else within a 2.5 kilometre radius.
In Fallout, the world is your mutated, glowing oyster. Back in the day I had an enormous amount of fun working my way through the clever plots and witty dialogue, while fending off enthusiastic delegations of Radscorpions.
Here, the game has received an “RC” (Refused Classification) rating from the OFLC (Australia’s Office of Film and Literature Classification) – which means, in essence, that the game is illegal to sell or import into the country.
The reason? A game “that contains drug use… related to incentives and rewards is Refused Classification”.
The use of stimulants like Mentats which can provide stat boosts (along with negative side-effects including addiction) has been identified as being to be too close an analogue to real-world drugs. Apparently in F3 the drugs (chems) play a more significant role than in the previous games; previously your character could live through the story without actually needing to use any chems at all, bar one or two shots of Rad-Away. And, admittedly, a bunch of stim packs (but if health packs begin to warrant bannings then there really is going to be a fuss).
In addition, the OFLC had problems with the inclusion of a real-life drug, morphine.
I’m aware I’m not the only one to make this comparison, but – wait a minute – what about Bioshock? Sure, I guess jabbing a syringe filled with plasmids into your arm isn’t something you’re currently able to in the here and now (unless you have one of those awesome Bioshock pens) but the similarities are striking. Perhaps genetic material is to narcotics as rainbows are to mustard gas.
As far as the OFLC is concerned, Bioshock players can continue to shoot up their rainbows and unicorn tears, but the Nuka Cola? Off limits.
Why not give the game an R18+ rating then? Problem is – they can’t.
While we have this rating for films, Australia does not have anything higher than a MA15+ for games.
To create an R18+ rating, we have to change the law, and for that, we need to consensus of the Attorney Generals of each state in Australia. As I hear it, only one of them is holding out. A man by the name of Michael Atkinson.
And here, friends, is where gamers leap upon their collective bandwagon with glee to spew hatred upon this injustice forced upon us all. It’s a little embarrassing.
I took some time to research this fellow and his policies (expecting another ill-informed Jack Thomspon) and the man is both intelligent and articulate. His arguments are built on well researched information and reasoning.
“I have consistently opposed an R18+ classification for computer games. I am concerned about the harm of high-impact (particularly violent) computer games to children. Games may pose a far greater problem than other media – particularly films – because their interactive nature could exacerbate their impact. The risk of interactivity on players of computer games with highly violent content is increased aggressive behaviour.”
Now, after a long session of Half Life 2, I don’t have urges to go picking up any movable object I find and lobbing it at the downtrodden overall-clad citizens around me, or a desire to attach large blades to ground-based motors. I have also not increased my theft of sandwiches belonging to large Eastern European men due to the influence of Team Fortress 2. (That said, driving my car after playing a long round of Katamari Damacy can be a little harrowing.)
However, at no point does Mr Atkinson ever say that he thinks children are going to emulate what they see in games – and this is the point that people seem to be missing when critisising him.
He’s not saying that games train us to emulate the actions of our characters. He’s saying that perhaps some of these experiences are inappropriate for kids. Can’t really fault him there.
I have a friend with a four year old child. Recently, I saw her standing behind her father and watching him play Postal, as he shot bystanders with shotguns and urinated on the remainder until they vomited.
And you know what? I can’t really think of a reason why that is okay for a child to view. I don’t think she’s going to grow up to be a murderer with bladder issues. But I don’t think that experience should have been shared.
One point Atkinson makes that I will pick on, is that today’s children “are far more technologically savvy than their parents. It’s laughable to suggest that they couldn’t find ways around parental locks if R18+ games were in the home.”
True enough. The majority of children growing up today do tend to possess the edge on their parents when it comes to technology. However, I still think the majority of children will not have the resources to bypass any sophisticated parental locks or controls (should they introduced) for digital material.
Those children who are technologically savvy enough to do so, will still be able to access the game regardless of whether it is banned here or not.
This, I think, is probably the weakest link in Mr Atkinson’s argument.
He also says “with so much money and time going into game development, I do not believe a gamer is bored with a game only because it does not include extreme sex, violence, or illegal acts.”
This is also true enough, although that isn’t really why gamers are clamouring for these aspects to remain. It is more due to the concept of games as art, and that censoring that art reduces its value. We don’t want to compromise on the original vision.
Atkinson doesn’t agree. He mentions that the game 50 Cent: Bulletproof was banned for the close-up, slow motion killing scenes in the game, but when a censored version with MA15+ violence was released, it was allowed to be sold in the country (oh wow, thank goodness, I was totally looking forward to that one).
But seriously, who here really thinks the 50 Cent game is a work of art?
Many games, like many films, are crap. They contain elements that add no real benefit to gameplay or storytelling. Axeing these pieces is unlikely to cause outrage, because no one is particularly enamoured with the games to begin with.
Well-made games though – games like Bioshock and (hopefully) Fallout 3 – removing parts of them does, to me, seem like they are removing some of the integrity of the game as art, and detracts from the believablility and depth of the experience.
He continues his arguments with this;
“I cannot see how adding an R18 classification for games will stop parents from making bad choices for their children.”
This is perfectly reasonable. However, Atkinson mentions that about 70% of surveyed Australian households buy video games, and that most of them did not pay attention to the rating system when purchasing games. However this ignores two things.
One, that some of those surveyed are buying for people over the age of 15 and therefore are not considering maturity when making a purchase. The other point is that when the highest rating is MA15+, a lot of parents will be lax with the rating because hey, their child is pretty mature. However, slap an 18+ rating on a game, and many parents would think twice. “Hey,” they’d muse, between spankings, “This is the same rating they give X-rated porn! Maybe I don’t want my kid seeing that.” While parents might be slack about some 15+ movies, I doubt many of them are renting out 18+ flicks for the kiddies.
“This is the price of keeping this material from children and vulnerable adults. In my view, it is worth it.”
I’ll quote Ben Franklin here; “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”
That said, I am left wondering if my desire for the uncut game is purely selfish. He makes a good argument.
I want the chance to purchase an unedited version of Fallout 3 in this country. However, if it is edited and released here, the Morphine renamed to Moar Fine, perhaps, and the drug models replaced with brightly coloured walkie talkies that shoot rainbows up your nose – I will most likely buy it. With some small amount of disappointment. Although, then again – nasal rainbows.
It’d be lovely, though, if the other gamers upset by this wouldn’t make us look worse by flinging monkey-poop at a man who, by all intents and purposes, seems entirely reasonable and quite well-mannered. We’re providing fuel for the argument the anti-gaming lobby love to use, that games make people more aggressive.
Maybe I can be sanguine about this because I might just have happened to have stopped by my local EB last weekend and picked up the Fallout boxset for $AU14.95 – that’s right, Fallout 1, 2 and Tactics for the price of a movie. So my post-apocalyptic thirst is quenched, for the time being, by cheap, cheap nostalgia.
[Edit: 14th July – No Mutants Allowed reports that Aussies can still import F3 legally]
Wendy herself has certainly never been affected by video games in any way, shape or form, other than having to check under her bed every night for Radscorpions. You can find her at Solar Whelk, which is as much a desolate wasteland as those depicted in her beloved post-apocalyptic games.