You might think that the departure of long-serving South Australian Attorney General, Michael Atkinson, would pave a clear path for establishing the long-sought R-rating for games in Australia, right?
Well, it might not exactly be as simple as all that.
You see, in order to establish the new rating category, you need the assent of all of the state and territory Attorneys General, and up until now, Atkinson has been the big sticking point. So, plain sailing, yes?
No. Not so much.
You see, until now the other Attorneys General didn’t have to actually make any decision on the matter. Ask for submissions, maybe issue a release saying that an “R-rating for games is a possibility”, maybe talk about some of the issues that might cause and so forth. As long as Atkinson had his heels dug in, a smart Attorney General could have it both ways gaining political capital from both camps, so long as nobody definitely came out for or against it.
It was a bit of a plum situation all-round, as long as the South Australian AG kept things moot.
Despite strong support for the new classification, it now comes down to the individual Attorneys General to decide whether or not to put their weight and their vote behind the measure come 7 May.
Even if they do, it’s not actually a guarantee that R18+ rated games will become available in your state or territory.
There’s actually two sets of legislation involved. One is the Classifications Act, which is a federal-level act that sets out the ratings and how the Classifications Board rates media and games (heads-up, the Classifications Board changed their name a while back and haven’t been called the Office of Film and Literature Classification [OFLC] for some time now).
The second set is the Classifications Enforcement Act, which is a state-level instrument which lays out which classifications of media are allowed, how and if they are segregated from other classifications, penalties for infringement, and even whether certain classifications are allowed to be stored on the same premises as others.
Even if all the AGs were to vote in favor of an R18+ rating for games, each state and territory could individually decline to actually allow titles with the new rating.
If some states and territories decline to do so, the situation might not change very much. Getting a game classified isn’t a cheap process, and some publishers/distributors may decide either not to do so or may cut their content back to an MA15+ rating, rather than reduce the size of the Australian market for their title.
And that would put us back in the situation we’re already in, more or less. We’d have an R18+ rating for games, but no actual increase in the type, content and availability of games for mature adults.