Switzerland Moves to Crack Down on Violent Games While Australia May See Loosening of Restrictions

This weekend some gamers received truly awful news while others saw the hope for long-awaited change. In Switzerland, the country’s National Council passed a pair of bills that will restrict the sale of violent games while in Australia, Michael Atkinson, the sole roadblock in a long-standing effort to instigate an R18+ video game rating has stepped down from his position as Attorney General for South Australia.

The law passed by Switzerland’s National Council aims to stop the manufacture, advertisement, importation and sale of any game that promotes means of advancement through acts of violence against humans or “human-like” creatures. The bill, which passed by a margin of 19-12, effectively puts video game control in the hands of the Swiss government.

In addition, a second law was passed in Switzerland that aims to restrict the sale of violent shooters to children, which obviously would be negated by the first law if it is not petitioned against.

Under Swiss law any petition that gathers more than 100,000 signatures has to be given a national referendum. However, with a population of roughly 7 million, 100,000 signatures is a significant number, particularly when the game-playing population of that country may be much smaller than the required number of signatures to achieve a referendum. Of course, there may be a large portion of the population that would sign a petition on the belief that the government shouldn’t censor means of expression. We’ll have to wait and see if an opposition movement builds from the bill’s passing.

On the lighter side, Australian’s may finally be able to play just about any game released on the worldwide market. For years, the nation’s gamers have suffered through a particularly trying fight to win support for an R18+ rating on video games.

The lack of an R18+ rating is a reflection of old law. When video games first came into being they were seen as children’s games featuring small, pixelated characters and little to no discernible violence or gore. As a result, the highest rating created in Australia for games was an MA15+. As a result, the 15-year old limit to “appropriate” content leads to certain, mature titles being banned in Australia because the board simply cannot certify a game such as Aliens vs. Predator (which required a fight from SEGA to be given a rating) because it’s content is seen as being too mature for a 15-year old.

An upper limit that would match the Australian games rating with their films rating has been proposed numerous times, but Michael Atkinson, the Attorney General for South Australia has always vehemently opposed the idea of creating an R18+ rating, which would require the consent of all the Attorney General’s of Australia in order to be implemented.

After considerable opposition and citing a desire to see his son grow up, Atkinson stepped down over the weekend and cleared the way for potential improvements in Australia.

As I see it, this is another reason why I believe the games industry should pursue a public relations campaign. In Switzerland, violent games are being banned while violent movies continue to be supported and in Australia, for a long, long time, violent games have had to fall under an iron curtain of censorship.

Unfortunately, the results in Switzerland seem to indicate that the members of the government don’t understand that games, much like films, are a storytelling medium and that different games are intended to be played by different age groups. A violent game isn’t made to be played by thirteen year olds. Do the games fall into their hands? Undoubtedly. But who should be to blame? The developers and publishers for making a violent game that could fall into the hands of children who aren’t age appropriate for the title or the parents who don’t monitor their kids video game usage as they would other mediums? Preventing the sale of violent video games would be like saying that Saving Private Ryan should be banned because of its violent content. Simply put, restricting the sale of violent games is censorship. Hopefully a referendum is brought to light in Switzerland and the law is opposed by the public, and hopefully, in Australia’s case, an appropriate games rating system can finally be implemented.