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Video Games

Sep 4, 2014

Razer's Class Warfare: Abbott govt helping at least one area of the arts

The Abbott government has promised to "cut red tape", and while most of its decisions have been ludicrous, one stands out as actual good policy ...

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It will be 12 months this week since the Abbott government took office, and only an ungallant bludger too busy carving replicas of Stalin in ivory from a Newstart-funded safari would not pause to applaud the Prime Minister for making good on his promise to deregulate. The Coalition has untangled all sorts of red tape. There’s FoFA, which formerly deadened growth by compelling financial advisers to give advice; the carbon tax, which formerly deadened growth by compelling polluters not to pollute; and our TAFEs and universities, which formerly deadened growth by compelling ordinary people to seek an affordable education.

With hurdles like a materially sustainable future out of the way, we can now all lie down and softly moan as the deregulation engine rolls over us and wait for death. But not, it seems, before the current government has given us an accidental, if slight, moment for approval.

It’s true that what an Abbott neocon might call deregulation, a centrist might call economic brutality and some of what the current government has called “cutting red tape” is, in fact, violence done to checks and balances. But very quietly on Thursday, the Minister for Justice announced the abolition of some actual red tape. And its disappearance is likely to please producers and consumers alike.

When Michael Keenan sent news of reform to the nation’s classification process, the only community to greet it with real interest were games developers and enthusiasts. Kotaku reports the change as a major amendment. Keenan can’t claim responsibility for the commonsense reforms proposed by the Law Reform Commission back in 2012. But, he can, on this occasion, genuinely lay claim to cutting red tape.

(You can read about the reforms here.)

What the minister’s first tranche of changes allow is for games that have undergone upgrades to go straight to market without re-seeking a classification. Which is to say, no arsing around waiting every time a developer has fixed a glitch. Eventually, in my reading, it seems that Keenan intends to allow an online request for classification of a new release, which will be cheaper, faster and make Australian rating information available to parents perhaps even before their issue has climbed on the back of a corpse and searched it for wedding rings. These reforms, say the department’s statement, are the first step in ensuring that regulations remain in line with current market conditions, and bugger me, they do.

“To stop the flow of information in time for a classification board to keep up is as absurd as maintaining the primacy of Foxtel in an age of on-demand viewing.”

Anyone with muscular thumbs or a Steam account will remember the campaign for an R18+ classification for games. Not so long ago in Australia, thanks not only to the antique opinion of South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson but an antique need for unanimity among attorneys-general when it came to some matters of classification, a grownup couldn’t buy titles like Left 4 Dead 2. The game, which required one to obliterate zombies in a dystopian fantasyland, was considered too “realistic” and so, presumably, was Sexy Poker, which was also refused classification. The Senate finally passed the new R18+ classification in 2012, and not before time for an entertainment form whose average consumer is now well north of 30.

Part of the sluggishness in changing the law had to do with community ignorance most fumblingly uttered by Atkinson. The A-G spoke of “depravity” engendered by games from which, apparently, parents were powerless to protect their children, and recommended that everyone just play nice games on Wii. His was the revulsion of the under-informed. But these first significant changes to games classification had as much owing to a respect for history as they did to a disgust for the future.

Ask Margaret Pomeranz, the late Pasolini or just about any Australian bookseller of the last century about the red tape of Australian classification. Ask Andres Serrano, the proprietors of neighbourhood video stores or James Joyce. (That one always makes me laugh. To ban Ulysses is a bit like making the study of quantum mechanics illegal. Which is to say, for most of us, a prophylaxis against difficulty.)

It is, perhaps, our view of a quarantine that must extend to the culture that saw the first books banned by the Colony of Victoria’s Customs Minister in 1889. Although that didn’t explain how we produced, and then quickly banned, the world’s first feature film in 1906. Whatever the case, we had, and until recently have retained, a great fear of the invidious power of books, films and games that is upheld by an agreement of state and federal authorities and unmatched in any Western liberal democracy.

Perhaps this longstanding urge to purge of ours is changing. And not because Tim Wilson is a great guy. And not necessarily because Michael Keenan wants to cut red tape of the cultural kind. And certainly not because “free speech” is necessarily the mark of a just society — there have been plenty of dictatorships where the rights were trammelled but the porn was freely available.

Rather, it is because there is no point in doing anything else. To stop the flow of information in time for a classification board to keep up is as absurd as maintaining the primacy of Foxtel in an age of on-demand viewing. And, while government is considering throwing the biggest reel of red tape at ISPs ever seen in this nation’s history to protect Murdoch’s profits, at least it knows it can’t bind the feet of the games industry.

Helen Razer — Writer and Broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and Broadcaster

Helen Razer is a writer and broadcaster whose work has appeared in The Saturday Paper, SBS Online, The Big Issue, and Frankie. She has previously worked as a columnist for The Age and The Australian.

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