In defence of 'adults only' video games


The Federal Government last week introduced legislation to create an R18+ classification for computer games from the beginning of 2013.

Until now violent or sexually explicit games have had to be either banned or put into the MA15+ classification that is accessible to minors. The legislation represents a breakthrough in that it will allow adults to play a wider range of games, while teenagers will be protected. 

This protection has prompted the Catholic Bishops to offer cautious support for the new classification. Father Richard Leonard of the Bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting said the old system is flawed because many games that should have received a restricted rating ended up attracting the highest possible MA15+ rating that includes content ostensibly suitable for older teenagers.

'Some parents have assumed that on seeing this classification on the cover of a computer game that these games were deemed to have less adult content. But they do not.'

The changes represent a step forward for both child protection and adult civil liberties. However they do beg the question of whether shifting the boundaries to legalise more sexually explicit and more violent content really serves a social purpose.

Indeed it would seem reasonable to conclude that increased exposure to sex and violence as entertainment will lead to more sexual exploitation and violence in the community.

Barbara Biggins of the Australian Council on Children and the Media does just that. She has been outspoken in expressing her conviction that the R18+ classification will lead to desensitisation, loss of empathy and an increase in risk taking activities.

Unfortunately Biggins' style is polemical. She appears to see only propaganda in the arguments of R18+ supporters, and this lowers the quality of the debate. She makes possibly important, but undeveloped, points, for example that video game violence is more sinister than violence in the cinema because 'you are rewarded for being the best at violence'. 

Such assertions are not backed up by scholarly research, according to Christopher Ferguson, a US psychologist and video game violence researcher from the A&M International University in Texas. He regards Biggins' presentation of the facts about the link between video violence and actual violence as 'not accurate'.

He wrote on the ABC's The Drum website last April that in recent research he conducted he found that youth exposed to violent video games actually engaged in more pro-social behaviours. The scholarly community, he says, is becoming quite skeptical about claims such as those of Biggins.

'In fact increasing numbers of scholars have criticised this conclusion, pointing out serious methodological flaws in much of the research as well as the irresponsible repetition of debunked "urban legends".'

Significantly Ferguson's research has found mental health issues to be a more reliable predictor of negative outcomes, not violent video games or television. This points to the need to stop demonising video games and instead to provide proper funding for youth mental health services.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, violent video games, R18+, Catholic bishops, Christopher Ferguson, Barbara Biggins



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Existing comments

Perhaps more research needed? Myths about violent game research - Violent Video Games Alter Brain Function in Young Men - etc etc
Sarah | 20 February 2012

Mullins article reveals a lack of knowledge in two critical areas: classification and research on violent videogames. On classification, he rightly states that legislation to introduce an R18+ classification for games will allow adults to play a wider range of games, but assumes (and is not alone in this) that teenagers will be protected. Teenagers will only be protected if the criteria which determine which games go into the MA15+ category, are significantly modified, and if the community in general respects the legally restricted nature of the MA15+ category. Many of the concerns which have arisen over the past 10 years about teenagers and younger children's exposure to very violent videogames (VVG) have their roots in the significant relaxation of the criteria for MA15+ for games that came about as a result of the 2003 revision of the Guidelines for Classification of Films and computer games. These MA15+ criteria have permitted strong impact violence if justified by context, and have allowed games which in many countries would have attracted an adult classification. The very many VVG now in the system classified MA15+ were not "squeezed" into the MA15+ category, they met the criteria. So, simply creating an R18+ category will not in itself produce a change in that. What is needed is a radical overhaul of the existing criteria for MA15+ and a careful review of what is to be permitted in a new R18+. And we need to know just how all those VVG which carry an MA15+ are to be reclassified. In any case, the community needs to pay attention to classifications. MA15+ means not suitable for those under 15 years. Many minors and parents blithely ignored the warnings given by the system- and to some degree, they have been misled by the myth that VVG do not cause harm. Mullins cites Ferguson as an authority on the subject. He is but one of a minority of critics. I take note of the significant body of well respected researchers with track records of original research in the field who conclude that VVG are a contributing cause of increased risk of aggression, of desensitisation and loss of empathy. None of them claim that VVG are a major cause of violence in society, but are one cause that we could fix.
barbara biggins | 20 February 2012

Agree with Barbara Biggins' well made points.

Russell | 20 February 2012


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