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The right to hit play

While Government bodies are allowing R18+ rated content on mobile phones, nothing has been done to remedy the situation with games, where a "maximum" rating of MA15+ applies.

Jeremy Roche commentary While Government bodies are allowing R18+ rated content on mobile phones, nothing has been done to remedy the situation with games, where a "maximum" classification of MA15+ applies.

As Australian gamers continue to push for a R18+ rating for games, the Australian Broadcasting Authority this week introduced a code of practice banning mobile content that falls under the X18+ or RC (refused classification) categories.

The new ABA code comes at a time when Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are gearing up to launch their own 3G mobile platforms, which will introduce a wider range of mobile content and, as Hutchison hopes, increase 3G uptake.

Currently, Hutchison's 3 mobile is the only provider to offer 3G content to consumers in Australia, although Optus recently rolled out a service in Canberra. 3's content partners include Channel Ten's Big Brother, ABC's Rage music channel, Sky News, Fox Sports, and Sony/BMG Music, through which customers can stream audio and video.

However, 3 also includes premium rate video content from Playboy and a 3G service operated by Capital Technology Ventures under the banner "The Promise", which is a directory for erotic massage venues, strip clubs and escorts. It is with these types of services that the ABA requires R or MA classified content to be restricted to users who have verified that they are 18 years of age or older.

Age verification seems like a reasonably sensible guideline considering the widespread use of mobile phones amongst children, but why can't a similar system be introduced for the distribution of games?

Presently, the Office of Film and Literature Classification, which is in charge of reviewing games, does not allow an R18+ rating for games under the Classification Act. Industry figures suggest between 62-70 percent of console players are aged 18 years or over but as Commonwealth, State and Territory Censorship Ministers rejected the idea in 2002, the OFLC board is forced to ban games like Manhunt and Narc, which it deems unsuitable for an MA15+ rating.

Instead of reviewing this, Australian Attorney General Phillip Ruddock will next week promote new colour-coded classification markings, in an attempt to make current ratings easier to identify.

The games industry in Australia is mature enough to necessitate an intelligent review of the Classification Code, which takes into account the demographics of this multi-billion dollar industry, rather than just add make the existing system look prettier.

What do you think? Does Australia need an R18+ rating for games? Should the interactive nature of games restrict us from an R18+ classification? Do you think retailers need to become more ethical in the games they sell to kids? Have your say below.