Australia introduces adult classification for video games after more than a decade of debate

Australian video game fans have much to celebrate. As of Monday, video games intended for adults can be legally released in the country, no matter how bawdy, violent, or graphically sexual. After years of debate, Australia finally has an adult rating category for its game classification system.

Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice Jason Clare announced on Monday that Australia is introducing an R18+ rating for video games. “There are important reforms over 10 years in the making,” said Clare via a post on his official website, “The R18+ category will inform consumers, parents, and retailers about which games are suitable for minors to play, and will prevent minors from purchasing unsuitable materials. The reforms also mean that adults are able to choose what games they play within the bounds of the law.”

Game players in the United States don’t often remember how good they have it. When controversy over the sexual violence in many of Square-Enix’s upcoming games, namely Hitman: Absolution and Tomb Raider, it’s important to remember that we at least live in a place where someone can make and distribute games like them to discerning adults that want to play them. Playing as a bald guy who murders a gang of latex-lingerie-wearing nuns may be a game of bad taste, but at least the game is protected speech that people can engage. Some other countries use rating systems far more harsh than the ESRB, and many use classifications overseen directly by the government. Australia has been amongst the harshest game censors, but Monday brought a dramatic change to the nation’s policies.

Many games released in the US, like Mortal Kombat for PlayStation Vita and EA/Starbreeze’s Syndicate, have been barred from release in Australia due to excessive violence. Rather than release these games with ratings that restrict their sale to adults, like the ESRB’s Matura and Adults Only ratings in the US or the PEGI 18 classification in the UK, Australia simply blocks the games. This is because the rating system has only allowed up to R15+, a classification marking games for teens.

Violent games like The Darkness II have received the R15+ rating and seen release in Australia but many others never came out. Calls for an R18+ rating were dismissed by conservative Australian Parliament members for years, an issue that became particularly heated between 2007 and ‘08 when Rockstar Games tried to release Manhunt 2 and Grand Theft Auto IV in the country.

In fairness to the Australian parliament, Australia’s game enthusiasts haven’t always chosen the best ways to express themselves. Huge groups of gaming fans hosted events like Cosplay for a Cause, where a horde of people dressed like game characters marched in parliament in Adelaide, to convince politicians like Attorney General Michael Atkinson to allow an R18+ rating. Dressing up like Cloud Strife does not exactly engender serious debate or respect for your cause.

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