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Australia's R18+ Rating: Why Do Games Have a Higher Impact?

Australia’s games industry has mixed feelings about the country’s new R18+ rating for games with adult content. This new rating has already been signed into law and will be implemented during 2013.

According to Eurogamer, Australia is notoriously strict with games content, with many of today’s popular games needing serious content changes before they can be sold. Some are just banned outright. Before the new R18+ rating was introduced, games rated higher than MA15+ could not be legally sold in retail outlets – destroying these titles’ retail potential.

Previous casualties of the no-over-MA15+-games include Left 4 Dead 2, which could only be sold after being heavily censored. The release of The Witcher 2 was delayed until developers rewrote a side quest so that the reward for completing it didn't include anything sexual. And Syndicate’s remake was banned outright.

Left 4 Dead 2 Left 4 Dead 2 was only sold in Australia after being heavily censored.
The Witcher 2 The Witcher 2 was delayed so developers could rewrite a side quest before its release.

The R18+ rating could mean that games may no longer have to endure such strict regulation and can be sold as they were originally designed – unchanged. Kotaku Australia, though, warns Australians to prepare for disappointment. The site explains that games can be refused classification if they contain and exhibit illegal and prescribed drug use tied to incentives and rewards, or if using drugs is part of the interactivity and plot of the game.

I’m not sure these ratings are going to accomplish what Australia hopes they will. Minors will do what they can to get their hands on whatever they want. It’s sneaking a sip of your dad’s beer when he’s not looking, or staying up late to watch a movie with an 18 age restriction – even after your mom said no.

If you want the game, you’ll get the game. It might not be from your local store, but online purchases have made it so easy to bypass the government’s age restrictions. Besides, I don’t believe it should be the retailers’ responsibility to monitor what kids are playing. That’s up to the minor and their parents/ guardians.

But why does Australia believe that games have a higher impact on minors than films? Is it because, in the virtual realm, you can behave like the character you play?

You don’t passively watch someone being shot... you shoot them – even if it is the touch of a button – a virtual action, instead. The gaming world offers you a multitude of environments, characters and stories to live in. Does this make the game more dangerous than a film of the same nature?

The Australian government seems to think so.