April 20th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: PM leads Australia down the slippery slope

Urgent action needed to save Australia's sugar industry

The ALP and the embryonic stem cell issue

NSW Euthanasia bill overwhelmingly defeated

Report recommends relaxing controls over violent computer games

Can the Public Service be depoliticised?

Straws in the Wind: Living fossils / Engineers of human souls

Western Australia: MP looks at SA's marijuana laws

Media misrepresentation on stem cell therapy (letter)

Media bias (letter)

Refugees: where do you stand? (letter)

Water and Australia's priorities (letter)

The high price of misplaced idealism

Is the 'war on terrorism' being hijacked?

Peter Singer's utilitarianism

Books: 'The Unsleeping Eye: A Brief History of Secret Police and their Victims' by Robert Stove

Books: 'Children as Trophies?' by Patricia Morgan

Film: Some Like it Hot - a tribute to Billy Wilder

Books available from News Weekly

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Report recommends relaxing controls over violent computer games

by Richard Egan

News Weekly, April 20, 2002

At their recent meeting on March 8, Ministers from the Commonwealth, States and Territories gave support to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) to "streamline and simplify" the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games.

This decision was made in response to a review of both sets of Guidelines initiated by the Office last year.

Dr Jeffrey Brand, Associate Professor of Communication and Media at Bond University, was selected by tender by the OFLC to analyse the 372 submissions received from the public in response to a discussion paper on possible changes to the Guidelines.

Concerns ignored

In his 50-page report, Dr Brand was generally dismissive of the concerns of individuals, religious and community organisations about violence and sex in films and computer games.

One of the main issues raised by the discussion paper was the proposal to introduce a new R-Rated category for computer games.

At present the highest rating for computer games is MA15+, sale of which is legally restricted to those aged 15 and over. Games which would attract an "R" rating are presently classified "RC", that is "Refused Classification" and prohibited from sale.

An example of the latter is Grand Theft Auto III, a Playstation 2 game which features a scenario in which players pay a prostitute for sex before following her from the car and attacking her. This was refused classification and banned from sale last December and the classification upheld on appeal to the Classification Review Board.

Dr Brand's report endorses the submissions received in an organised campaign in favour of a new "R" classification claiming there is "strong support" for such a move "both in terms of quantity and quality compared with opposition to it".

Dr Brand also claims that there is no evidence that the greater interactivity involved in computer games compared with other media (such as films) increases the impact of violence on players.

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, an American military expert on the psychology of killing, would disagree. He has expressed serious concern about the impact of violent computer games stating:

"Every time a child plays a point-and-shoot video game, he is learning the exact same conditioned reflex skills as a soldier or police officer in training."

Grossman explains how the military have succeeded in developing training techniques which lead to soldiers overcoming an inherent unwillingness to kill. This has resulted in the shoot-to-kill rates going up dramatically in more recent wars. Grossman states that these military techniques are replicated in the more realistic of the "point-and-shoot" video games.

The behaviour of the student killers in the Columbine massacre bore a disturbing resemblance to some of the computer games the students were known to have played intensely.

Dr Brand also dismisses the obvious problems with controlling access to computer games even compared with videos. He insists on separating the "classification and enforcement" issues. But this is unrealistic. The point of classification, especially restricted classifications, is precisely to control access.

Social obligation

If there is no realistic measure to prevent widespread access to R-rated computer games by children if they are made readily available to adults then clearly we can only fulfil the social obligation to protect children from the harms potentially caused by such games by banning them outright.

The introduction of R-rated computer games requires changes to both Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation. The review process is still continuing and the Censorship Ministers will consider further recommendations from the Office of Film and Literature Classification at their June meeting.

There is likely to be strong lobbying of the Federal Government both by supporters of "adult" gaming and by groups seeking to protect children and society generally from the adverse effects of violent and pornographic computer games.

  • Richard Egan

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