R18+: Parents need sensible games discussion and a hands-on attitude, not belligerence

There’s an opinion piece in the Herald Sun bemoaning the lack of games getting an R18+ rating. The writer’s entitled to her opinion — and I think she’s dead wrong, not just in the trivial details, but more worryingly in the overall outlook.
Susie O’Brien’s Herald Sun piece is online; you can read it here and I’d suggest you do so before reading this, because there are number of issues it raises… and many of them are wrong.
But before I start the dissection, I should say this. As a parent of children ranging from early pre-school to just pre-high school, I too believe that, as per the headline, parents do need game ratings they can trust. Parental involvement in children’s lives (without necessarily helicopter parenting) is something that every parent should both enjoy (because, hey, kids are exhausting, but they’re immensely rewarding, too) and take as a solemn duty.
The thing is, that’s about the only area in which I agree with O’Brien’s particular opinion.
Look, I could pick on the little stuff that she gets wrong — and badly wrong. I doubt too many teens these days play Doom — what with it coming out 20 years ago, even though it remains a classic. Some of us haven’t moved on from Pac Man (although I’m an adult, my 11 year old daughter loves the franchise), and the only Ping Pong I’ve ever played is the physical kind… but I presume she means Pong. Mortal Kombat isn’t a “bloody war or espionage franchise” in any real sense… and indeed, up until the ninth instalment managed to get rated, hadn’t even been seen legally on Aussie shores for a few years.
Guess what rating that game got, by the way? If you guessed “R18+”, award yourself a gold sticker. That probably wouldn’t sit well with O’Brien’s worldview, however. But that’s minor quibbling, and I suspect I’d strongly disagree with O’Brien in the real world as well, given that she states around halfway through the piece

“In truth, as a parent, I’d love to see an end to this entire industry. I can’t see what good any child gets from spending 15 hours a weekend pretending to be a fugitive assassin on a killing rampage.”

Interesting use of emotive language there; on the one hand she’s talking about kids “out of primary school” (which means they’re high school students, teenagers, even (gasp) perhaps “young adults” already), but in any case, there’s this thing called moderation. I have (as has been noted) a pretty extensive games collection, one that many of my kid’s friends envy. They imagine that they spend every weekend, 24 hours a day just sitting on their backsides playing games.
Doesn’t happen — moderation, again is the key, and I usually tie “games time” into doing some other chores or activities — but then again, anything that a child spends fifteen hours on over the course of a weekend is getting dangerously monomaniacal in my view; once you take out, say 16-odd hours for sleeping and even just time for meals and basic hygiene, that’s suggesting that a large percentage are ONLY playing games. I don’t think so.
O’Brien also subtly tries to muddy the waters over the still up in the air issue of the purported link between video game play and violence. That’s still very much up for debate (and she notes this) but then tilts the article strongly towards the “yes it is” camp by bringing up single examples. I’m not saying they didn’t happen, but anecdotal evidence is NOT scientific evidence, and many cases like these have complex underlying causes. Video games (like D&D, TV, even, gasp “the rock and roll music” before them) makes a convenient and easy whipping boy. Doesn’t make it “true” though.
O’Brien’s message is all hopelessly muddled, ultimately. She’s all emotive language in decrying games, but “it’s impossible” to stop kids playing games… which gets on to the R18+ part of her missive. She’s arguing — taking up a line from the Australian Council on Children and the Media that the fact that games that received mature ratings overseas got MA15+ ratings here — means that R18+ “isn’t working”.
No, I’d say it’s working exactly as the guidelines laid down in law say it should. That’s what the classification board has to work off, and while it can happen that classifications are appealed — so that, say, Left 4 Dead 2 was cut down to meet the strict MA15+ guidelines — the classification board’s job is ultimately to compare content against criteria, and judge accordingly. Frankly, the laws surrounding games content are significantly stronger than for other rated categories, so there’s even more protection in place. But ultimately, it comes down to an issue of parental oversight.
O’Brien rather cheerfully throws “kids” into her parlance, because it’s a great way to get people scared; “kids” tends to evoke images of tots in carrycots more than teenagers and their own unique worldview. MA15+ games contain strong content — that’s why they’re MA15+ in the first place — and all carry their respective classification logos in accordance with Australian law. But really, they also tend to advertise what’s in the game on the box.
I can’t really think of an MA15+ game that doesn’t have box art (and back cover images) that make it perfectly clear what’s in the game in question. Again, a little bit of parental oversight pays dividends. My kids know what the ratings logos look like, and they know what they’re allowed to play. I’m realistic — they’ll probably sneak a look at some adult material (in whatever form) while growing up, because that’s what kids do. At the same time, though, they know the boundaries, and respect them.
A few months back, I wrote a piece on Kotaku talking about the challenges of R18+ and educating parents, especially if they’re going to be buying mature content for their kids unwittingly. The community there didn’t entirely agree with me, but that’s the kind of discussion that needs to happen; making people aware of what R18+ content means… not just using it hysterically to drum up anti-games fervour. That’s the easy (and I’d argue, stupid) path to take though, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
Source: Herald Sun

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