Well, I guess Amnesia Month is well and truly over…
I wasn’t going to weigh in to the R18+ issue largely because for a long time I’ve maintained that it didn’t really affect developers, and there was already a well-motivated and very vocal contingent of gamers who had the time and the energy for the fight. I also couldn’t find a way to add anything more to the argument than has already been stated elsewhere.
But now I think I can.
…if the latest surveys about the average gamer being a 32-year-old single male who sits at home and plays games all day are correct, then what I am proposing is not going to have much impact at all.
This is the South Australian Attorney General talking about his proposal to get rid of the MA15+ rating if they agree to introduce an R18+ one and the survey he is referring to is, I assume, the iGEA report because there isn’t really any other of its nature out there.
The important part of this statement is the ‘if’ – because his reading of the facts is quite clearly incorrect. Sure it says that the average age of a gamer is 32, but that’s across both genders; the comment about being single isn’t borne out by the study (see figure 14 which shows the balance in households); and astly, there’s nothing to support the idea of the dominant gamer sitting at home playing games all day – according to the report, the average play session is 1 hour.
So, despite being a huge misreading of the statistics, this comment tells us two very interesting things:
The first is that data is useless in the presentation of a pro R18+ argument. No amount of studies on demographic breakdowns or literature reviews of the harmful effects of games will change anyone’s minds. This is, and always has been, an emotional argument that will not be won by any number of facts.
The second is that it hints at an interesting subtext of ‘I don’t understand why people would want to spend their free time this way’, a subtext that has has actually been explicitly made text by one of the key opponents to the introduction of the R18+ rating: the Australian Christian Lobby.
“It was very clear to me that the great majority of AGs were in a state of bemusement that anyone could want to make or play many of these games and particularly those proposed for an R18+ rating,” Mr Wallace said.
From the ACL Website
I’ve written before (here and here) about how the terms of reference we adopt restrict our ability to think & talk about aspects of game development, as well about how the framing of discussions is frequently dictated by people who don’t play games, who don’t understand how they work, and who don’t understand why anyone would want to engage with it as part of their free time, and this is just another example of that.
But this shouldn’t come as a surprise, right? And the arguments for and against the introduction of the new rating have been endlessly laid out in every pro and anti R18+ piece ever written. The same studies are quoted, the same voices are heard, and for every step forward towards revising the classification system, it feels as though two are taken back.
Which is why I haven’t really engaged with the conversation, but the above comments made me realise the silent, almost imperceptible impact, this would have on developers and the long term growth of games as a viable creative industry.
From the outside looking in, if the dominant conversation is about the small subset of games framed by those defining the conversation as containing gratuitous sex & violence, why should government support games? As put forward by the vocal and influential ACL, the AGs were bemused why anyone would want to make not only more adult games, but games more generally. The South Australia AG’s idea to split games down the middle between those for children & those for adults also suggests a lack of awareness of how they are produced & played. And, in my experience, despite pockets of support and thought, this is far from an isolated position.
But, and I would argue more troublingly, looking from the inside out, the question I have found myself asking recently is – why be part of a community, a creative industry, a culture, which is viewed by the wider community, industry, and culture as at best a non-entity and at worst as actively working to harm children?
The manifest effects of this hostility might not be immediately apparent, but the seemingly endemic negativity, lack of balance, and dismissal as curiousities of the 14 million people who play games as well as those who have, for the same reasons as people paint and write and play music, chosen to commit their creative energies to the medium, can’t help but grind away at the edges of their enthusiasm, potential, and growth. I know because I have felt it, that we run the risk of losing our best and brightest creative minds to other industries or countries – people who could help games make significant contributions to the economy, could fuel the creation of a vibrant and expansive creative industry, and could add their voices to the vast well of the nation’s cultural capital.
The R18+ rating might not directly influence what we as developers create, but it does influence the conditions in which we work – conditions where the overall message appears to be that our opinions and the choices we have made about how to spend our lives or free time don’t matter, or if they do, they should be actively questioned and scrutinised.
This is why I think the R18+ discussion should matter to developers – because the opponents of it tell us that we don’t, and are, once again, very succesfully defining the parameters of the discussion.