Legal opinion: Was gaming censorship a political stunt?

South Park: The Stick of Truth

By on March 24, 2014 at 1:43 pm

On Thursday I thought we could all have a nice, friendly chat about whether there’s a parallel between censorship issues in gaming , and the laws restricting guns. After all, Fox News sure likes to link the two together, and gamers need to be able to engage in these debates thrust upon us. What I didn’t anticipate was how emotive the issue would be, and I apologise. I’m not even pro gun—don’t own a gun, don’t have the intention to, and don’t believe that guns are the answer to violence. Like Leliana, I like bows.

But I am concerned that existing laws will not be enough once technology evolves. Laws should always be reviewed, and questioned. They should never be mere appeasement. Always reviewed to ensure they were not the case of politicians taking advantage of people’s emotions, and constantly questioned for objectivity.

So today’s question is whether gaming censorship laws were political appeasement, or whether they’re actually effective. To answer this question, we need to examine what the objective of the laws is, how they pursue this objective, and whether, in the words of one commentator “Some law is no better than no law.”

What is games censorship meant to do?

Games censorship is meant to maintain community standards. Such standards are obviously clear when talking about truly sensitive issues, issues which I don’t want to give the dignity of naming. However, they become less clear when talking about the myriad of other issues. Adults are meant to be able to view what they want, and so R18+ was created to allow this and bring games in parallel with films.

At the same time, games are widely played by minors, so censorship recognises that some things just aren’t suitable for children.  The hope is that no one will play pornography games, only adults will play games with explicit images of dismemberment, and minors will play My Little Pony —The Adventures of Twilight Sparkle, Bestest Pony Ever.

How does games censorship do this?

Censorship first reviews games to divide them into a broad classification scheme. Truly objectionable games are refused classification outright. Games showing explicit violence, sex, or drug use, are classified R18. Medium violence gets classified MA15, and ponies are G rated. Unless they’re ponies running guns.

Next up is Customs to filter out the truly objectionable material. This smut shouldn’t even reach our shores. So far, so good—I think we can all agree with that. Anything else gets let through.

At the dealer level, the classification tag must be clearly displayed, and R18 games must not be included for sale along any other games. Dealers are then not meant to sell R18 games to minors. If everyone plays along, the system works as intended.

The concern, however, is what happens when parts of the system break down. Like a stack of dominoes, does knocking over one weak support bring the whole house crashing down?

Censorship is a placebo

We can all agree that Customs blocking smut is good. We can probably agree that 8 year olds should be stopped from playing Mortal Kombat. Judging from my formative years, that’s a 13 year old’s game. What is in issue, however, is whether everything else in between can be too easily circumvented.

The recent uncensoring of South Park demonstrated how quick blocked material can be re-enabled. This is problematic because it encourages kids to actively seek out the uncensored versions. Once it becomes common knowledge that the games we receive can be easily converted to their fully automatic, censorship-free varieties, our censorship laws will cease having effectiveness. It’s not just theory, either. China has this problem where piracy is accepted as a cultural norm. Once something is entrenched, it’s difficult to change.

Yet another problem is that by trying to censor too much, the government sends the wrong message that they are actually in control. With the ease of which games can be uncensored or otherwise acquired illegally, the only effective way to guarantee kids play what they’re meant to is attentive parenting. Our government should not be sending the message to parents that ratings laws are doing anything effective. We should always be promoting parental responsibility. On this issue, some law is not better than no law at all.

Perhaps, then, our ratings laws need to be made voluntary and simplified. Keep the objectionable material out of this country, but everything else is fair game. Games are either banned outright, or not banned at all, giving parents the responsibility to inform themselves what their kids are doing, and act accordingly.

We should not even try to use half-assed censorship to make a sort-of-bad game sort-of-OK. Instead, unless a game is truly objectionable, it should receive the benefit of the doubt and be let in. This is more or less what America’s ESRB system does, and it works well. However, we should not follow the American way on guns.

39 comments (Leave your own)

I’m outraged at this.

How DARE you imply Twilight Sparkle is best pony.

As for the rest, I think it’s reasonably fair to say your point was missed by many last time, so hopefully this gets your point across easier.

 

The last article was simply terrible. Nothing to do with “not getting the point”.

 
Artful-dodgeR

makena:
I’m outraged at this.

How DARE you imply Twilight Sparkle is best pony.

Pinkie Pie > *

 

robbo89:
The last article was simply terrible. Nothing to do with “not getting the point”.

The overly dramatic response was disgusting. Worse than the so called “terrible article”. I stayed out of it because it looked like a child’s playground in there.

 

robbo89:
The last article was simply terrible. Nothing to do with “not getting the point”.

Seeing as the comments turned into wild accusations that it was a pro gun agenda and it had no right being on a gaming website. I think a lot of people didn’t get the point.

 

artfuldodger: Pinkie Pie > *

Acceptable answer for not worst pony, but not best pony.

 

*heads off to read the before article*

 
Patrick Vuleta

C’mon, let’s let bygones be bygones. This is about ponies. Twilight Sparkle!

 

You know, I just realized that if someone every asked me to name a Pony from My Little Pony, I’d probably say “Makena” by reflex? I don’t even know their names, sparkle dust, cosmic rainbow, or something?

 

Twilight is bestest pony, Pinkie confirms it

Anyway I agree with banned outright or not banned at all stance as long as we keep the little tags saying what the game contains (strong violence, mild course language etc.) to help parents make judgements without having to research the game, of course they can ignore this as everyone raises their kids differently.

 

discolt:
You know, I just realized that if someone every asked me to name a Pony from My Little Pony, I’d probably say “Makena” by reflex? I don’t even know their names, sparkle dust, cosmic rainbow, or something?

Hahah, I can totally give you a run down if you really want :P

 

I’m still not sure if its irony that an article about content being removed from games and censorship was removed and had the comment thread locked…

But I do agree with the idea that censorship on stuff like The Stick of Truth and Saints Row 4 is kind of pointless, It really seems to create a [urlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect]Streisand effect[/url] where people are more likely to look for ways to view the content then avoid it.

Also the dragon is cooler than the ponies…. I think there’s a dragon on it I’ve only ever seen it as I’m flicking over to cartoon network for adventure time.

 

makena,

Pretty sure it’s Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen…

 

All my knowledge of MLP comes from Makena.

 
Artful-dodgeR

This time last week I only know some of them because of the TF2 mod Saxton Hale Mode.

And now because my daughter is infatuated with them I know most of them -_-

 

I will understand why this article is written like this if English is a second language for Patrick Vuleta, he had a serious hangover, was drunk at the time of writing or even having a stroke. I do hope he hasn’t had a stroke but I would like to know why this article turned out how it did.

 

IMO, (i did read the prior article but didnt comment) this article… it doesnt really SAY anything. A few facts we already knew, and then a little diatribe to finish it off. I got to the end and said ‘is this it?’. Personally i think GON would be better off going back to publishing articles on consoles, (more news) then putting up articles of this meandering neverwas type information. IMO GON has become pretty stagnant after getting rid of console news, and i dont buy into that ‘glorious PC gaming master race’ BS anyways. Personally i think, pc games, we’re actually more like the jews – subjugated by the console majority, forced into slavery by every hardware manufacturer since the dawn of time, given shitty ports for years, but we’ve overcome it all and still have the most valuable hardware (as well as secretly controlling the video game industry).

 
Patrick Vuleta

Given that the the rating system is being currently reviewed, I think it’s fair enough to state how it should be and why. If you already knew some of the earlier info – that’s great! :) But I don’t expect everyone to.

In particular, there’s a perception that we “need” a classification system. I’m not sure what it does anymore, other than the very important role of keeping certain things free from our shores, or providing a basic education in what’s on the shelve for people to buy.

However, even that’s becoming a little meaningless, with content patches circumventing the stickers. This is kinda a new thing. To take your console example, when consoles were the main games industry here (way back in the early 90s), you simply couldn’t circumvent censorship. Now it seems developers are surreptitiously releasing content patches.

How do we develop a classification system for this new environment, where even publishers and developers don’t really respect censorship laws? That’s worth discussing.

 

Well this got off track quickly.

I think that the whole classification system needs to be moved to an industry based scheme across the board (games, movies, TV and magazines).

As it is now, the system is in the hands of a few government bureaucrats and just adds unnecessary red tape (both in terms of time and costs) for publishers and developers intending to get their content to market here in Australia.

Leave Customs to scan for RapeLay and the like as that stuff is truly objectionable. Animated alien anal probes in South Park or Saints Row 4 are not objectionable and should not be treated as such by Customs.

 

Well this got off track quickly.

I think that the whole classification system needs to be moved to an industry based scheme across the board (games, movies, TV and magazines).

As it is now, the system is in the hands of a few government bureaucrats and just adds unnecessary red tape (both in terms of time and costs) for publishers and developers intending to get their content to market here in Australia.

 
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