How I had a change of heart on R18+ video games

I have a confession to make for, which won’t be a surprise for those who know me well: I am a colossal nerd. My nerdery began in the realm of video games. When I was a little tacker, I was amazed by the Atari 2600 game console my mate around the corner had. We spend hours playing monster truck and Star Wars games on that machine.

My love was further stoked by Nintendo’s NES console, also owned by a mate of mine. I couldn’t spend enough time on those consoles but my love reached a new stage when I got my very own Sega Master System II (going in halves with my younger brother) in the early 90s. The only thing stopping me spending all my waking hours on it were my parents, who probably underestimated how great my fervour would be, and my brother, who wanted to get his fair share of time with it.

In the mid 90s, I bought a SNES, which is my view has some of the greatest games every made (in my rose tinted view). This time, my brother had no stake in it so I didn’t have to put up with his nagging. In the late 90s, I bought a Sony PlayStation (now called a PS1) and in the early 00s, I got a Microsoft Xbox. These days, I am a lover of PC games (and lacking a wife sympathetic to the price tag of the current generation of consoles) and love the rich depth of many of the AAA titles released these days (though I still remember playing a shareware version of DOOM back in the day).

I say all this to underline that when I say I like and understand games, I am not pulling your leg. I love video games and have a wide ranging experience of them. When people talk about the dangers of violent video games, they usually speak without having played said games, where I have played them all.

Since the awakening of the political animal within me, I have generally been opposed to the introduction of an R18+ classification of video games. For those not overly familiar with our current classification system, video games are rated by the Australian Classification Board (ACB) similarly to movies, with G, PG, M and MA15+ ratings. If a game doesn’t fit in these categories, it will be refused classification, (RC) thereby being banned for sale or import in Australia.

However, as the average age of gamers rises and there is more demand for games pitched at adults (as opposed to kids), there is a push for a R18+ category. At the moment, only a handful of games have been refused classification because most companies will edit their game to remove the offending content if it is initially knocked back. In most cases, it has been violent content that has been the primary issue in being RC.

So why would someone go from being opposed to allowing violent games into Australia to being supportive? Two reasons: firstly, Christians shouldn’t be in the business of supporting censorship. If anyone has anything to lose when it comes to censorship, it is Christians. We are the ones who preach an offensive message, which Paul describes as the smell of death to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:15+16). By invoking censorship readily, we invite the government to make judgements on the gospel, something they have no place in censoring.

The general rule should always be that Christians support consenting adults watching what they like (within limits) in the privacy of their own home. Christians should be concerned about the rising tolerance of explicit violence within our culture but we shouldn’t close down free speech and the freedom to play whatever games adults choose to play.

Secondly, an R18+ category will provide better guidance for parents. A turning point for me came playing Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto IV. Rated as MA15+, it contains a lot of adult content – not just the violence but implied sexual content and lots of swearing. There are many games that kids will play that have a MA15+ rating, most of which have high levels of violence (though not necessarily gore) but not the swearing and sexual content. GTA IV shouldn’t be lumped in with games like Half-Life 2 or Halo: Reach, which are much more suitable for teenagers.

If games like GTA IV are put in an R18+ category, it will help parents make a better informed decision about what their kids can play, as well as enabling better targeted content lockout features on consoles and PCs. It is unlikely that the sorts of games that some Christians predict (involving high level interactive sexual content for example) will be allowed in an R18+ classification as, firstly, those sorts of games aren’t being made and secondly, the ACB will in all likelihood still ban games like that.

I think it would be sensible for politically-minded conservative Christians to see an R18+ classification as an opportunity to better serve families.

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