In politics, policy-making that alienates the key constituencies affected can be a risky move. No-one knows that better than the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Stephen Conroy. His proposed internet filtering plan has caused plenty of outcry since late 2007. With the GFC and ETS to distract, Conroy may have started to feel the pressure was easing a little.
Then last week, someone from Conroy’s office told Fairfax newspapers that any online game refused classification in Australia will fall under the filtering regime. On the face of it, that’s not an unreasonable stance. Until you realise that here, we don’t have R18+ or X18+ classifications, so currently any boxed game that can’t meet an MA15+ rating is refused classification. Online games currently aren’t classified at all, but with the new filtering legislation, the MA15+ boundary is likely to apply to online games, hence the statement from Conroy’s office.
This admission opens up a whole raft of double standards. In an open letter I’ve written to the Minister, I’ve asked when the government checkpoints are being set up at the local bricks and mortar adult shop to ensure all customers are only buying MA15+ goods (“Sorry mate, unless that’s a back massager for your grandmother, you can’t buy that”).
Jokes aside, this potential policy “enhancement” poses some serious threats. Using Second Life as an example, there are real outcomes being demonstrated in relation to education and health: training simulations for paramedics and nurses, counselling services for trauma victims and disability support areas, to name a few. Trouble is, Second Life also has R18+ and arguably X18+ areas, so unless the filtering mechanism has some smarts, a whole bunch of innovative activity will be lost with the smattering of virtual sex clubs, which have recently been hived off to an adults-only section of Second Life anyway.
Publications overseas have well and truly cottoned on to our gaming classification farce and there’s a broad sense of incredulity that the filtering of online environments could be on the cards. It’s hard to go past this assessment from fellow tech blogger Duncan Riley: “That at the half way point of 2009 this is even still on the agenda in Australia is a fucking disgrace, and the more the Government confirms the details, the more totalitarian the proposal becomes, and even China starts to look more open and free.”
Others see it as nothing more than a beat-up, stating that the final legislation will recognise the intricacies in the online gaming / virtual worlds space. I do retain some of that optimism, but given the Minister doesn’t seem to be doing a lot of consulting with those affected, it’s hard to keep the faith. In most press comments Conroy or his entourage make, there’s just that overwhelming sense of little or no insight into the fact a rapidly growing baby is being held over a balcony by a man with slippery hands.
David Holloway is the editor of the The Metaverse Journal.