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The Need for an 18
Posted on Monday, November 16 2009 @ 14:00:00 PST

In the past week footage from the upcoming Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2 (or MW2 for short) was leaked. It depicted a terrorist act and the tragic deaths that resulted. This footage has prompted the Australian authorities to reconsider the game’s MA15+ rating. MW2 is the first Call of Duty game to receive Britain’s ‘illustrious’ 18 rating but that’s in Britain. Australia is an odd country: it is reasonably developed (before anyone complains, I’m hesitant to call any country ‘developed’), its citizens are pleasant and, despite being flipped, its seasons are equally so. However, they are rather backwards in their policy towards video games. You see, despite Australia’s National Classification Code stating that “adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want” (quote obtained from wiki though don’t hold that against me), Australia lacks an 18 rating. Australian adults can vote, fight, drink and do anything any other adult in any other country can do. Except for play a violent video game.

 

This regressive stance has been called into question once more now that the biggest game of the year may be denied sale in a supposedly modern nation. I actually feel quite strongly about the ratings system governing video games and have said as much in at least two of my blogs (here and here) but I also feel that no system is perfect (also covered in the aforementioned blogs). The British PEGI system is very good with its 3, 7, 12, 16 and 18 ratings but of course no one can say if a particular 15 year old is actually too young to play a 16 rated game just as a 19 year old may still be too immature to be exposed to an 18 rated game. Similarly, who can say if a game rated 16 actually deserves that rating? What is the average 16 year old capable of experiencing without degenerating into mental instability? If there even is an average 16 year old. Of course, individually rating peoples’ maturity levels is unfeasible and a nationally accepted system is a necessity. A nice touch of the PEGI/BBFC system is that idea of explaining why a game has been given the rating it displays. Fallout 3 was given an 18 certificate because of its ‘very strong bloody violence and gore’ for instance. Of course this sometimes results in hilariously redundant descriptions such as ‘mild lyrics’ for Forza 3’s 3 rating but swings and roundabouts.

 

The potential problems of current rating systems aside, they are needed. As difficult as it would be to gauge the average maturity of any given age, a line needs to be drawn at some point and ratings systems have been given the pen. Australia’s last line is drawn at the age of 15 for gamers and this means that the line has fallen well short of what a society should bestow upon its population: the right for adults to expose themselves to material they wish to see. Adults can make hundreds of decisions each day ranging from the mundane: whether to buy bread or go without a sandwich, to the extreme: whether to join the army and go to war. To deny them the ability to decide whether to play a violent game is undeniably backwards. Of course having no ratings system would be damaging to the industry; not because kids would create new Columbines but because the pundits would leap on any tragedy as proof that games shouldn’t be violent at all. Censorship is a scary thing which does not belong in any society; adults deserve the right to choose what they view and that includes what not to view as well, a fact that tends to escape the more dedicated of Fox News viewers. Hogtying developers and forcing the ‘kiddifying’ of games is not the answer and only restricts the freedom of developers and the public.

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