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01 October 2013
By Matt Hrkac

OPINION: Video Games and Violence; and the flawed "R18+" law

These days, violent video games seem to be synonymous with violence and crime in the real world. However, there is one such game series that comes out on top with all the controversy that it generates whenever a new entry into the series is released; Grand Theft Auto. The most recent entry into the series, Grand Theft Auto V, released just a couple of weeks ago, also generated controversy for its violent nature. Most of this controversy, however, is sensationalised - taken out of context by right-wing conservative news program presenters who had clearly never played the game, or any video game for that matter, in their lifetime.
It should be surprising to say that this is nothing new, particularly when it comes to the GTA series. However, it isn't really surprising at all. With every new GTA title, a plethora of controversy from the conservative side take aim at it. Blaming the game for all of the problems in society. Even though these problems existed long before GTA, as a game series, was even conceived.
This controversy seemed to reach its apex with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which featured an interactive sex minigame that caused the game to be Refused Classification (after already being rated MA15+ and being on sale) in Australia. The release of Grand Theft Auto IV saw another peak in controversy for the series - which was particularly marked in the United States through anti-video game violence activists such as Jack Thompson, arguing that kids could get their hands on the game, and wanting the game banned for sale as a result. All, of course, achieved no success what so ever, and even resulted in Jack Thompson being disbarred over professional misconduct. In Australia, GTA IV had content toned down to satisfy the Australian Classification Board's then-highest rating of MA15+.
Between the release of GTA IV and GTA V, the Australian government passed a new law to allow video games to be given the R18+ rating. This meant that these games 'could no longer be sold to minors' under the age of 18. When GTA V was released, predictably, it was given the R18+ rating. This should have ended the argument that kids could potentially get their hands on the game - however it still drew in a lot of criticism from the mainstream media in the country for the fact that kids could potentially get their hands on the game, despite the R18+ rating.
As much as I personally dislike the mainstream media in Australia, I actually agree with them on this point, and only this point; and for one key reason. Kids are still getting their hands on GTA V. There is an R18+ rating in place for a reason, however the way that it is executed is seriously flawed.
Here's an example on how the R-rated law is flawed. If I am standing with my friend who is purchasing alcohol for his 18th birthday party, I have to show identification to prove that I am at least 18 years old for my friend to purchase the alcohol; and the store clerk can refuse the purchase to my friend if I fail to provide such identification (even when I'm not paying for, or purchasing for that matter, the alcohol in question) to prove that I am 18 or over.
By that logic, why are minors under the age of 18, some who are barely even teenagers, allowed to stand in line at a midnight launch, without showing any ID, for an R-rated video game (just so long as they're with someone who is over 18 and has ID to prove it) to pick up or purchase the game? An individual 18 or older picking up or purchasing an R-rated game has to provide proof of identity and age in order to pick up the game; it should also apply to whoever that individual is with as well. No identification or if someone who a person is with is under-age, no game at all. Simple. 
With that being said, it certainly isn't the game that is the problem; and it is very unfortunate that the media point the blame on games for social issues which have been around long before video games were within the mainstream realm for entertainment. Most reasonable adults realise that video games are just that, a video game, and not real life.
No, we need to point the blame at the parents who purchase games such as GTA V on behalf of their kids, and the pathetically flawed law that allows 'restricted' R-rated video games to be passively sold to minors. Particularly those who are barely in high school.
It is also certainly quite ironic that the mainstream media peddles the "kids are being influenced by violent video games" line, and then show footage of said video games on television during prime time slots, which kids would likely be watching. I guess that Rockstar Games/Take-Two Interactive would also be pleased with reaching its adult audience completely free of charge, though.
Still though, I played GTA: San Andreas and GTA: Vice City when I was around 10-11 years old. The difference here is that the violence and themes in these two games are barely high in impact when compared to that of the richly detailed worlds, violence and themes of GTA IV and GTA V
- Matt Hrkac

About the author:

Matt Hrkac is a writer and photographer based in Geelong. He has particular interests in politics, elections, social movements and the trade union movement. If you like what you see here, please consider giving a small donation to help cover the expenses.

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