Macquarie Uni will host a free public debate on the 'politics of play' as part of the university's GAME festival, organised by the Interactive Media Institute. The debate will look at the issues surrounding the creation of an R18+ classification for video games in Australia and how interactive entertainment is treated compared to other forms of media such as films, as well as the impact of games on society.
Dr Rowan Tulloch, a member of the Interactive Media Institute and Macquarie University lecturer in multimedia and interactivity, said that although the creation of an R18+ classification for games may look like a done deal, the discussion aimed to "go beyond the R18 issue".
"The R18 issue does seem like it might be resolved, so one of the things we're trying to do is to inform the public, get some experts together to answer their questions as to what an R18 rating means for them; why it's necessary, how this will affect what their children get access to, what games get into this country, all those sorts of things.
"The other side of it is that we're going to try to take this farther than just the R18 discussion."
Tulloch said that participants in the debate will look at some of the issues raised by the ongoing review of the National Classification Scheme ordered by the federal government.
"This is the first time in 20 years that they're looking at the whole classification scheme in Australia," he said. "So not just game, but television, film and so on. And some really interesting things have come out of that. For example, how do you deal with user-generated content.
"That's something we're going to be discussion in the context of games — how do you regulate something that can be published almost instantly, something that's not going through official distribution channels."
On 30 September the Australian Law Reform Commission released a discussion paper (PDF) proposing an overhaul of Australia's classification scheme to deal with increased issues such as media convergence, uneven costs for complying with the current classification regime across different industries, and inconsistent classification of works on different media platforms. Attorney-General Robert McClelland ordered the ALRC review into the National Classification Scheme in March.
Proposals in the ALRC discussion paper include greater emphasis on industry self-regulation and using the same classification categories across different media forms.
Australia needs a classification scheme "that is more platform-neutral, concentrates government regulation on media content of most concern to the community, and a system that can be adapted to accelerated media innovation," Professor Terry Flew, the commissioner in charge of the National Classification Scheme Review, said of the discussion paper.
“The goals of classification in balancing individual rights with community standards and protection of children remain vitally important, but we need a new framework that minimises costs and regulatory burden, and does not penalise Australian digital content industries in a hyper-competitive global media environment.”
Flew will be participating in the 'politics of play' roundtable, along with Tulloch, members of the Australian Classification Board and Classification Branch and a range of academics.
Tulloch said that there are a number of reasons why the R18+ discussion had been so drawn out in Australia. One reason is a misconception about the audience for games. "There's an understanding that video games are just for kids and teenagers, but when you look at the statistics, the average age of people playing video games in Australia is 32.
"I think another thing is that in the early days of video games they were very much seen as being part of the same market as toys. They were electronic toys, and toys have a very close association with kids, obviously; though interestingly [video games and toys] don't have similar forms of regulation.
"It's only been in the last two decades really that video games have been seen as similar to other media forms like film, and it's taken a little while for the legislation to catch up with that idea."
The GAME conference will take place 27-29 October at Macquarie University in Sydney. 'Politics of play' will be held on 27 October. Admission is free.