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What our politicians think about videogames

Parliament

Ewan Jones, Member for Herbert (Liberal Party):

“I rise to speak on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (R 18+ Computer Games) Bill 2012. I do so in the full knowledge that I know absolutely nothing about the modern computer game. I know absolutely nothing about gaming. It is completely and utterly beyond me why people even bother with it. My level of gaming was playing Asteroids down at the cafe at lunchtime putting 20c in the machine. Asteroids was my game of choice. You blew up rocks on a black and white screen. I could quite happily pass half an hour playing that.” [LINK]

The last few days have given an incredible insight into how videogames are understood by members of the Australian Parliament. The amendment to the national classification legislation to include an R18 rating for videogames has had its second reading and accompanying debate since Wednesday.

It turns out, Australia’s politicians have some interesting things to say about videogames.

Equally, it’s important to note, that in the readings it has become clear that both the Coalition (Michael Keenan, Liberal member for Stirling, and Steven Ciobo, LNP member for Moncrieff have spoken of the Coalition’s support for the bill) and The Greens (Adam Bandt, the Greens member for Melbourne, has spoken in support of the bill) support the passage of the amended bill, which should ensure its unhindered progress through both houses of Parliament.

However, it’s also interesting to tease out some of the threads of discussion about videogames occurring in our Parliament at present. Some grouped highlights follow.

The most striking point is the politicians who struggle with anecdotes about their own videogame play. Adam Bandt, MP for Melbourne (Greens):

“I do remember having the Commodore 64. I do remember that, to play a computer game, you had to sit and wait for a tape player to load a game for about half an hour, and hope that it did not get caught some way through it, so that you could play a game of Aztec Challenge or Soccer. The most violent it got then was that a gorilla might throw a barrel at your head while your character was playing, but that was about it. But things have moved on enormously since then.” [LINK]

Steven Ciobo, MP for Monfrieff (Liberal National Party):

“I can plead guilty: I play computer games—though not a lot and certainly not as much as I used to. One of my first purchases was in fact Grand Theft Auto, so I have some degree of familiarity with the computer game. In fact, I think I may have been one of the first people to talk about it in this chamber, many years ago.” [LINK]

Ed Husic, Government Whip, MP for Chifley (Labor):

“I actually own an Xbox 360 and for my birthday my wife bought me a Kinect, which we both use as well. All this reflects the diversity as consoles change, and you have the Wii, which has been used in nursing homes of all things to keep people who are older mobile and active.” [LINK]

It is also interesting to note that the member of Parliament whose age falls most clearly into the stereotypical age group for a videogame fan, Wyatt Roy, spoke at length on the topic but did not mention his own experience with videogames.

A related theme was that of politicians who gave anecdotes about relatives who play videogames.

Steve Irons, MP for Swan (Liberal Party):

“I sat in awe for years watching my son, who is about the same age, play PlayStation and Xbox and all the various games that came along, and I am sure that, along with you, Mr Deputy Speaker, we do not have the skill that these young people have.” [LINK]

Chris Hayes, MP for Fowler (Labor Party):

“I have five grandchildren, and one of my grandchildren, 10-year-old Nathaniel, is absolutely very gifted when it comes to gaming. He is very gifted when it comes to maths as well, but when it comes to gaming he excels. One of the things a dutiful grandfather does is take the grandchildren along and try to encourage them to buy books, and nine times out of 10 it is not the books they want it is the game. I have to say that, for the life of me, I cannot make a value judgement on these things.” [LINK]

Natasha Griggs, MP for Solomon (Country Liberal Party):

“On the weekend I was very surprised when my son said, ‘Do you know anything about censorship for computer games?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said: ‘We really want classification. I’m an adult now and I think it is important we have an R rating for some of our computer games.’ You could have floored me.” [LINK]

Ewan Jones, Member for Herbert (Liberal Party):

“I have a 10-year-old son. He is forever gaming. He loves them. The best thing about it as a parent is that it keeps them quiet; they are out of the road.” [LINK]

Relatedly, a common theme was a feeling of bemusement that anyone might want to play R18+ videogames, though it was rarely stated as upfront as by Luke Simpkins, MP for Cowan (Liberal):

“It is a little bit of a mystery to me why some people are interested in some of the games that are produced. There are extremely violent games and there are games produced that have sexual content, which I think many people would have objections to. It really does come as a surprise that there is demand for such games.” [LINK]

Ewan Jones opined on a similar topic:

“I was driving to Ayr recently and for only the second time since I have been in Townsville I saw a brolga, Townsville’s emblem. It is a beautiful flighted bird; it is the largest flighted bird in Australia. I looked out the window and said, ‘Look, kids—a brolga.’ They were all just sitting there gaming away. Anything could have happened. So, look out the window, go and kick a ball, go and throw something, go and play with someone, go for a swim, do something with your lives other than just gaming.” [LINK]

However, two MPs spoke with no small amount of insight about the history of this debate and legislation.

Steve Georganas, Member for Hindmarsh (Labor):

“Because my own home state, South Australia, opposed the [R18 amendment], change was defeated. It was unilaterally vetoed. So, when contacted by many of my constituents who were very concerned by South Australia’s veto of the clear and unambiguous national will, I responded with my view that the will of the minority dominating or vetoing the will of the overwhelming majority is undemocratic and wrong. It is undemocratic for the few to rule contrary to the will of the majority—to dominate the majority or to veto the majority.“ [LINK]

Judy Moylan, Member for Pearce (Liberal):

“Electronic Frontiers Australia and AusGamers noted that three assumptions underpinned the select committee’s recommendation which resulted in the exclusion of the R18+ category. Those were that (1) computer games are only for children; (2) the level of technology involved with the use of computer games means that many parents do not necessarily have the competency to ensure adequate parental guidance; and (3) having regard to the extrasensory intensity involved in the playing of interactive games and the implications of long-term effects on users, games should be subject to stricter criteria for classification than those applying to film or video. We certainly know that computer games have gone far beyond children’s toys and playthings. Certainly, it has been a bit of a minefield for many parents who are not technology savvy. There are still plenty of people in the community, who, although they can do the basics, find it difficult to understand the complexities of new technologies.” [LINK]

Just as in the introduction of the original legislation in 1994, there remains the perception of a duty to protect youth.

Karen Andrews, Member for McPherson (Liberal):

“I will conclude today by reiterating that I do have a concern for minors and that it is our need and our desire to provide the necessary protection from material that is likely to harm or disturb them. We do have an obligation to our youth to ensure they are protected from things that could be detrimental to their upbringing.” [LINK]

Chris Hayes, MP for Fowler (Labor Party):

“I have seen some research material that indicates that, unlike movies, interacting with games has an impact on a person’s outlook to violence and desensitises people to violence. I am not sure of the validity of that research. But, in my own mind, I can make a significant distinction between sitting back and passively watching something with an entertainment value and actually rolling up your sleeves, getting involved and becoming part of the game itself—being a perpetrator of violence or anything else.” [LINK]

In the end, however, the support for the legislation was abundantly – and unanimously – clear. I’ll end with some of the words indicating the bill amendment will pass.

Ed Husic: “I think the level of interest in this matter has been terrific. I think it reflects a broader societal move. I think the classification, as I have said, is long overdue.”

Luke Simpkins: “This legislation brings us into line with comparable nations in the Western world. It is bizarre that we have not had a classification.”

Michael Keenan: “Not only does the current classification system fail to allow adults the right to choose; it also falls short on protecting minors from potentially harmful or disturbing content.”

Steven Ciobo: “This has been a long time coming.”

The full Hansard on the bill’s second reading may be found here.

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  • 1
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic piece Dan, really superb.

    One of the driving forces in recent years (in making it ‘OK’ for politicians to talk about their own videogaming past/present) has been exhibitions like ‘Game On’ (Melbourne, Brisbane, Launceston) and the upcoming ‘Games Masters’ again at ACMI in Melbourne.

    The latter has been spruiked by Ted Baillieu (although purely in terms of ‘look at how great Melbourne is) but the Game On event in Launceston led to (then Tasmanian premier) David Bartlett revealing on my blog to his love of Commodore 64s, arcade games, Lego Batman and Band Hero.

    Whilst I don’t feel the need for a ‘pat on the head’ by hearing pollies speak about their gaming, it is nice for the last pieces of the ‘normalisation puzzle’ to fall into place.

  • 2
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Lets edit some comments for fun and profit:

    Luke Simpkins:
    “It is a little bit of a mystery to me why some people are interested in some of the [films] that are produced. There are extremely violent [films] and there are [films] produced that have sexual content, which I think many people would have objections to. It really does come as a surprise that there is demand for such [films].”

    Ewan Jones:
    “I was driving to Ayr recently and for only the second time since I have been in Townsville I saw a brolga, Townsville’s emblem. It is a beautiful flighted bird; it is the largest flighted bird in Australia. I looked out the window and said, ‘Look, kids—a brolga.’ They were all just sitting there [DVDing] away. Anything could have happened. So, look out the window, go and kick a ball, go and throw something, go and play with someone, go for a swim, do something with your lives other than just [DVDing].”

    Judy Moylan:
    “…We certainly know that [websites] have gone far beyond children’s toys and playthings. Certainly, it has been a bit of a minefield for many parents who are not technology savvy. There are still plenty of people in the community, who, although they can do the basics, find it difficult to understand the complexities of new technologies.”

    I acknowledge important differences between media forms (Hey McLuhan, how’s it goin’) but the rhetoric surrounding games is still so similar to the rhetoric of the moral panic.

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