I am offering a cash payment to a prominent Australian politician.

It’s in order to show South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson how he could both protect children, and become a historic figure in the development of interactive entertainment in this country.

It begins…

Mr Atkinson, tomorrow you will be gathering with other Attorneys-General to discuss a proposal to introduce an R18+ rating for computer games, in line with film and television.

You have stated your opposition to this move, due to your concerns that children would be exposed to “high impact” material. I applaud any politician who takes a genuine stand for protecting young Australians. However, I am willing to spend my own money – right now — to show you there’s a better way.

I am ready to buy you, today, a return airfare from Adelaide to Melbourne. But first, I would ask that you move a motion this Friday, as chair of this meeting, to defer any vote on the issue to your next SCAG meeting, later this year. This would allow more time for discussion. And – it would allow me to fly you to Melbourne.

In Melbourne you’ll find an exhibition at The Australian Centre for the Moving Image, entitled Game On. It’s a chance to experience for yourself the full history of videogames – the medium in question at tomorrow’s Standing Committee meeting.

You’ll learn that the first “computer game” was designed by an Australian, John Bennett, in 1951. You’ll also be able to play a number of Australian gaming success stories. And you’ll be surprised at how videogames confound expectations gained from some sections of the media.

Laziness? Have a turn on the Japanese dancing game – it’s such a workout, schools in the US are using it as part of their fitness program.

Violent? Walk through Game On, and you’re more likely to see players saving animals (Lemmings), co-operating (Bubble Bobble), or rocking (Guitar Hero) than committing violent acts.

A quick glance at the Australian videogame “top 10” charts reveals the majority are games like The Sims (a non violent simulation of everyday life) and Pokemon (which challenges you to “collect and train” cute, harmless manga monsters). Yes, violent games exist, and they do sell. But they consistently do so in smaller numbers than other genres.

Why would I want an R18+ classification for videogames? It’s not a desire for the local EB Games to flog gratuitous s-x and violence. It’s about being treated like an adult. Films like The Godfather, American Beauty and Apocalypse Now deal with “adult themes”, and are well accepted as quality examples of cinema. Yet we cannot play videogames in this country that match them. Anger, betrayal, lust, forgiveness… these issues can be explored by mature Australians, but only in their DVD players, not their Playstations.

But let’s get back to protecting children. Mr Atkinson – if you said “yes” to an R18+ classification to videogames on Friday, would it “open the floodgates”? No. It would not. Each year, only a couple of games, at most, are refused classification. There is no great flood waiting to drown us in a sea of digital smut. And as you’ve already read, the Australian gameplayer has shown a clear preference for non-violent material in their buying habits.

Importers are not going to bring in games that won’t sell. Stores selling R18+ games can check for identification. Games that exceed the R18+ category can still be refused classification. And games that fit the category but are gratuitous, such as the “Postal” series, have been derided by gamers worldwide, and sell poorly.

If the demand for gratuitous titles is poor, and teenagers are asked for ID at stores, will there be thousands of Aussie kids accessing “adult” games? As you yourself have stated: “Today’s children are far more technologically savvy than their parents”.

Indeed, with an R18+ games rating put in place, Aussie kids would be able to use programs like “Azureus” and other bit torrent software to download the games from overseas. Which is exactly what they can do today, without the R18+ framework. And it’s exactly what they could do yesterday. A change to the ratings system would not be enable kids to play “bad” adult games. It would enable grownups to play the “good” adult games.

In exploring the Game On exhibition, I hope you would feel the experience of wonder, as you see the great leaps in storytelling, graphics, sound, and characterisation. Maybe as you mix with other Australians there, you’ll hear their views on the subject of ratings, and their hopes for the future. Will they play games with more mature ideas and themes? Or will they be stuck “rescuing the princess” over and over again like modern Peter Pans?

Mr Atkinson, I admire a person with enough guts to be the last dissenter in a room. Yet my admiration increases for someone who will open their mind to another view.

My offer is no stunt. It is genuine, and I would be happy to discuss this issue in private.

Please move a motion to defer any “R18+” vote tomorrow, so we have this opportunity.

Peter Fray

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