When I say “Describe the average video gamer” do you picture 8-10 year old kids staring at a tv, jerking the controller in a bid to make their character jump higher? Or do you picture socially awkward 15-16 year old nerds sitting in the dark of their room, alt-tabbing between a game and anime porn?
Well if you pictured either you would be wrong. The average gamer is aged 28 and getting older, with about 70% of all gamers being over the age of 18 (with 20% of Australian game players are aged 39 and over, and 8% of gamers are over the age of 60 - most courtesy of the Nintendo Wii I'd wager) – which makes our lack of an R18+ rating for games and the resulting censorship even more ridiculous.
I don’t expect the totalitarian left wing scum (but I repeat myself) out there to see the problem (after all, their whole philosophy is based on censorship and telling people how to live their lives and what they can and can’t do and then murdering them en masse when they refuse so they would hardly see an issue) but I am sure the rest of you can see a problem with 70% of the gaming population being dictated to instead of treated like the adults they are.
Before I get onto the specific case, let me give some stats about video gaming.
First week sales in the US of Grand Theft Auto 4 in totalled $530million. Over half a billion dollars in its first week. As a comparison, The Dark Knight (smashing box office opening records all over) has taken $471m in ticket sales since its release on July 14.
And perhaps more telling is the situation here in Australia.
According to Screen Australia, in 2007 Australians spent $895.4 million at the box office. Over the 2007 financial year Australians spent $1.57 billion on gaming. Yes, Australians are now spending more money on gaming than on going to the cinema.
Ok, initially video games were in the realm of kids toys. Hell, I was one of those kids – one of the original gamers. I started on my cousin’s Atari 2600 playing Combat, and from there went on to own and/or play on the Commodore 16, Commodore 64, those Nintendo Game ‘n’ Watch thingies, the Amiga 500, NES, SNES, N64, Gamecube, Sega Master System (1&2), Megadrive, 3DO, Playstation, PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360, Lynx, Gameboy (original, Colour, and Advanced), DS, and of course the PC (not to mention the money spent at the arcades) – and most of today’s gamers are in the same boat. As the original gamers have grown up, so has the industry, both in content and sophistication.
Unfortunately our archaic censorship…sorry… classification regime hasn’t.
The latest victim is Fallout 3.
The Fallout games are set in a post-nuclear apocalypse United States with you playing the roles of a survivor in an underground vault venturing forth to complete whatever mission it is you have been assigned to (in Fallout 3, finding your father who left the vault and disappeared).
My interest was raised when I heard Bethesda was developing the game (Bethesda being the company behind the excellent Elder Scrolls games) and were going to take Fallout 3 in the direction they did with the brilliant Oblivion: Elder Scrolls 4 (a must-play if you consider yourself a serious gamer) with a massive, open-ended, go anywhere, do anything sort of world but instead of it being a fantasy medieval themed world with swords and bows, it is a futuristic post-nuclear-apocalyptic world with machine guns and laser rifles. And to get to the contentious point – drugs.
According to those gimps at the OFLC:
The game contains the option to take a variety of drugs known as "chems" using a device which is connected to the character's arm. Upon selection of the device a menu select screen is displayed. Upon this screen is a list of"chems" that the player's character can take. by means of selection. These "chems" have positive effects and some negative effects (lowering of intelligence, or the character may become addicted to the "chem"). The positive effects include increase in strength, stamina. resistance to damage. agility and hit points. Corresponding with the list of various "chems" are small visual representation of the drugs, these include syringes, tablets, pill bottles, a crack-type pipe and blister packs. In the Board's view these realistic visual representations of drugs and their delivery method bring the "science-fiction" drugs in line with "real-world" drugs.
The Guidelines also state that "Material promoting or encouraging proscribed drug use" is Refused Classification.
The player can also select and use "Morphine" (a proscribed drug) which has the positive effect of enabling the character to ignore limb pain when the character’s extremities are targeted by the enemy.
Of course this is nothing new – games have had things like that for years. What makes this situation even more stupid is that in the Fallout games, chems have negative side effects too, and if you overuse them, your in game character suffers. This being unlike Knights of the Old Republic where stim packs had no negative side effects on your character (and were almost required in some battles on high difficulty) or Bioshock (another must-play) where you see your character inject himself with big syringes full of blue liquid ADAM, required to power your plasmids (genetic enhancements giving you abilities like fire manipulation, telekinesis, mind control etc). Hell, even Super Mario Brothers had you eating mushrooms and bright looking flowers to grow big and shoot fireballs – and those games were fine and none of them were banned.
But now it seems adults can read books about drugs, adults can watch tv shows about drugs, adults can watch movies about drugs, but adults are not allowed to play games in which drugs are but a small part and will have negative side effects if used to excess.
An edited-solely-for-the-Australian-market version was passed with an MA15+ rating, which means, as Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson says in her column “…the OFLC is going to let 15-year-olds decapitate multi-skulled mutants and their fire-breathing dogs, too, but heaven forbid their virtual identities use fictional pharmaceuticals!”
Similarly, with her example of GTA4 allowing players to beat a hooker to death, but here in Australia not allowing them watch their character have sex with her. That is inappropriate for a 15 year old but everything else is apparently ok.
So why don’t we have an R18+ rating for games? Well to change classification guidelines, a unanimous decision by all state and federal Attorneys-Generals is required, and South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, in typical leftist fashion, has previously refused and continues to refuse to respect the right and freedom of adults to decide what they deem appropriate for themselves.
And what makes it even more laughable is how easily the banning and/or censoring of games (and movies for that matter) is to get around.
With the explosion in digital distribution and torrent sites, uncensored copies can be downloaded in a matter of hours with a good connection and sites like Play Asia will ship the uncensored US version internationally and still come in at roughly 2/3’s of the retail price here in Australia (thereby overcoming the horrendous price gouging gamers in Australia are suffering – but that is a topic for another time)