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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

digitally depraved « Previous | |Next »
February 26, 2008

Two tenuously related issues have generated some interesting comment over the past couple of days.

The Federal Government is apparently thinking about introducing an R rating for video games. At the moment anything designated anywhere above an MA rating is banned. Not very effectively though - you might as well try stopping weather from entering the country.

Some of the comments point out that your average gamer is over 18 and that playing games hasn't generated an irresistable urge to "rump robots from playing Sonic Hedgehog" or "beat people up and decapitate them from playing Mortal Kombat".

This is going to be an ongoing problem for arguments like the one the Australian Family Association offers - that gaming can "change people's brain structures" or that society will generally slide into a chaos of depravity and violence if people are allowed to play interactive games which involve activities other than sipping tea and munching Iced VoVos with the kidlets.

As Steven in comments points out, it's already easier and more convenient to access games and anything else you might want online than from offline, ban-observing shops. So introducing an R rating amounts to not much more than officially letting people do what they're already doing.


The other issue generating some heated comment is adolescent boys accessing pornography on the internet. Not girls, just boys. The author uses some fairly emotive language in the article, suggesting that todays 16-17 year old boys' consumption of internet porn could render them unable to recognise women as fellow human beings.

"Will mass porn consuming countries like Australia become uninhabitable for women and girls?"

I guess that depends on your understanding of mass porn consumption, and your estimation of Australian women and girls. Nevertheless...

It's reasonable to expect men to take exception to the suggestion that exposure to pornography will turn them all into raging testosterone slaves, and they did take exception. You'd also expect some to express concern at the endless waves of gin-soaked godlessness currently drowning our society, which some did. Predictably enough, others backed the claim that pornography, rape and murder go hand in hand.

All of this is the standard response to porn, violence and horror, which is no help at all on the issue of access. I'm no expert, but violence, pornography, horror and 'adult themes' generally have been facts of life since long before the digital age. Solutions like bans and filters are, and will be, as effective as they've ever been. Which is to say, minimally, if at all. They're the same old response adapted for a new medium.

Surely we've reached a point in history, and a point of maturity, when we're capable of undertanding that:

a) a few people do bad things to other people regardless, but may or may not be encouraged by violent, pornographic or horrific material:

b) a lot more people than a) enjoy violent, pornographic or horrific material but are not moved to imitate what they consume on other people in real life, and;

c) the continuation of our largely unremarkable society with it continuous accompaniment of violent, pornographic and horrific material, previously assisted along the way by technologies from the printing press to the internet, suggests that a) continue to be the tiny minority, even if b) might becoming the norm.

Many of the current debates have the medium mixed up the the message. Game consoles can be used to play Scrable, Gran Turismo, Mortal Combat, Simon and Garfunkel cd's or The Sound of Music either audio or video. While it's true that porn sites are only one click away from anything else on the internet, porn, violence and horror are only a Drama or Comedy section away at your local video store. They're a click away from the Australian Family Association website as well.

There doesn't seem to be much point urging legislation against the world we live in, when it's not all that different from the one we've always managed to negotiate, since evil was thought to periodically block out the sun and some naked tart bearing promiscuous fruit had us all kicked out of paradise. Various prohibitions have demonstrably failed, if not encouraged consumption probably via another basic urge in the form of curiosity.

But more salient than at any other time in human history, your average Joe or Josephine has more capacity in a democratic society to access whatever they want and arguably more motivation to queer attempts to stop them than would-be stoppers could possibly anticipate. Maybe the contested ground has shifted from porn/horror/violence as such to the ground of access, which is ground not currently being won by The Authorities whoever they may be.

While I agree wholeheartedly that we need to keep trying to understand the relationships between exposure and real life enactment of yucky stuff, it seems ridiculous to keep insisting that the only answer to our problems is restricting access. Particularly at a time when the young and therefore, according to conventional wisdom, most vulnerable, are among those most likely to circumvent restictions just for the hell of it. Do we know how many of those 16-17 year old boys check out porn sites just because they can, as opposed to because they're planning a future career as serial killers or curiosity about sex? Do we know how many of those gamers who play Mortal Kombat have gone on to decapitate people, as opposed to people who've never heard of the game but decapitate people anyway? Decapitation does seem to have a much longer history than Mortal Kombat. And rape certainly has a much longer history than internet porn.

As far as really gross stuff is concerned, like snuff and kiddie porn, would we not be better off leaving it there as a policing resource for tracking both producers and regular consumers? I'd rather see a dozen producers of that kind of thing brought to justice than any number of horny teenagers or bored 20-somethings punished for being pretty average. We seem to have confused both the medium and the message, as well as the average and the extreme.

| Posted by Lyn at 5:31 PM | | Comments (4)
Comments

Comments

Well written article Lyn. I agree too.

Thanks Cam. It's a longer post than I intended.

Lyn,

People need to understand that an R rating is not Pornography. Movie theaters have been operating successfully with in the R rating for many years. It is my belief that the games follow the same ratings system in Australia that the movies do. So pornographic games would have an X rating.
To my knowledge there is no push to allow X rated games.
The R rating allows for nudity with no erections or penetration.
R Rated games will not be able to be purchased or rented by those under 18 and it is my experience that this is well adhered to by retailers as far as movies are concerned so it would follow that games would be treated similarly.
So I think it all comes back to parental supervision.

Hi Les,
The ratings and availability through conventional retail means is all pretty straightforward, although I think there are some inconsistencies when it comes to violence. We seem to have much bigger hangups about consenting adults doing routine stuff than about non-consenting adults doing obscene violence to one another. I'm amazed at some of the bland stuff that gets labeled as porn, considering we've grown out of covering table legs.

The interesting thing to me is that the worriers find new technologies so threatening, but always for others. Along the lines of "I supervise my kids, but other people might not, so it should be banned" You get the impression that the country is overrun by uncaring parents and porn maddened, mass killing teenagers who suddenly got that way with the digital age.

I often think kids are used as an excuse in these arguments to return us to some Stepford paradise that never really existed.