Like most other Australians I cheered a little bit (ok, a lot) when Australia finally emerged from the media dark ages and realised that sometimes, just sometimes, adults like to play games too.
By that I mean we have finally got the R18+ rating. Games can finally be classified as “adult” content and be sold exclusively to people who are aged 18 or over. It’s a good thing. Except the Classification board has since gone nuts and seems to be giving random games R18+ ratings for the dumbest of reasons.
In a few short months we’ve seen games that were considered perfectly healthy for the 15-year olds to play be reclassified as R18+ games. Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge on the Wii U, which still hasn’t been released in Australia, was given an R18+ rating. On other consoles the same game remains MA15+. EA’s Army of Two, which almost certainly would have also been given an MA rating, found itself bumped up to R18+. Spartacus Legends, a free-to-play game based on the TV series, is another victim of the R18+ rating. That last one is probably a fair call, judging from the content of the TV show though.
And then this happened. Atelier Totori, a game that 13-year old children can legally buy on the PlayStation 3, has been “gifted” a R18+ rating for the PlayStation Vita re-release, on account of some nonsense of “sexual violence.”
Having thoroughly played the PlayStation 3 game, I am completely baffled by this announcement. I cannot remember a single scene in this game that contained sexualised violence. Yes there’s some borderline “sexy” stuff, as only an otaku JRPG can offer, but implied or genuine rape? No. Not even close. And none of the additional features of the Vita version in any way imply GUST has thrown some rape in there for giggles.
I’m certain that if you sat a 13-year old in front of this game, as they were originally able to, they would emerge from the experience unscathed. I cannot for the life of me understand what the Classification board is thinking with this rating.
It’s not just an academic issue here either. As a very, very niche game on a very niche platform, the commercial viability of a game like Atelier Totori is compromised by a rating that means some game stores (Toys ‘R Us and department stores, for instance) may not stock it, and a full five years worth of a lucrative demographic can’t legally touch it.
Long-term we could well see that the R18+ could become the “kiss of death” for the games industry, and if a niche game looks like it will get an R18+ age rating, we may well see publishers bypass Australia completely. That will not be a good thing for people like me who happen to enjoy games like Atelier Totori.
I’ve got no problem with people classifying R18+ games as R18+ games. But given the Classification board has a history of hurting game developers for the most inane of reasons, I am not a fan of using the R18+ rating as yet another weapon to wield against any developer that wants to do something a little creative or different.