A Rant Against Video Game Censorship

Recently, at the video game blog Kotaku (www.kotaku.com), South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson made a series of arguments in favor of preventing an R18+ rating for video games (and it is because of this that Silent Hill Homecoming is being delayed for its Australian release whilst they censor the hell out if it) . Readers responded with a series of arguments arguing that the current scheme is distortionary, and that MA15+ games often include content that should be R18+, and thus Atkinson’s stance is not only confusing parents but actually harming the children.

I am not a fan of “for the children” arguments and thus I posted my argument on Kotaku’s commets page a while ago. I am reposting here:

Out of all the comments posted here, one thing that I find consistently disappointing is that no one has yet consistently defended the right of adult individuals to access any material (assuming it was not made via coercion, force or variants thereof, such as snuff, real rape and child pornography) that they wish.

Instead, many gamers have stated that they desire an R18+ rating on the grounds that it will “keep violent games out of the hands of children.” Whilst I will not question the sincerity of this, I consider this an apologetic, weak stance that compromises on the core principle involved: individual rights.

I am not defending Michael Atkinson. I consider his replies condescending, patronising, offensive and bordering on defamatory. He likens us to outlaw motorcycle gangs, accuses us of having psychopathologies because we want to see violence, take virtual drugs, etc.

And it seems to me that, in order to avoid being tarred with the brush of “wants to see horrid violence,” we refuse to stand up for the central issues, instead taking a relatively weak stance that bases our case on Atkinson’s premises. Atkinson opposes R18+ games on the grounds of “protecting the children” (saying that OFLC inconsistency will make the matter worse) and the replies above have often argued FOR R18+ ratings on the grounds of “protecting the children.”

Both sides thus concede Atkinson’s core premise: that the liberties of adults can be sacrificed ‘for the children.’

I disagree with this premise. My position is that we should allow R18+ games because adults have the right to access whatever material they wish to (unless this material itself was created via the violation of the rights of others (i.e. snuff, child porn, real rape)).

Yes Mr. Atkinson, I wish to view games with extreme content. Whilst extreme content in and of itself does not make a game good, extreme content has many artistic uses. For one, Sandro Botticelli did a series of paintings on the subject of the Rennaisance-era Catholic concept of “Hell.” These paintings depicted horrible tortures and extreme violence. You can see similar depictions in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (which was rated MA15+ rather than R18+, although its graphic violence far exceeds that of some R18+ horror films, such as the original version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

Some people slam the Jerry Springer Show for its unpleasant content, yet Sophocles dealt with the subject of incest in his play “Oedipus Rex.” I am not arguing that Jerry Springer is Sophocles, or that Tobe Hooper is as much of an artist as Sandro Botticelli: I am simply arguing that the presence of extreme content DOES NOT automatically make something an artless piece of trash.

So, extreme content in and of itself does NOT deserve the vilification Mr Atkinson piles upon it. Thus, we gamers should NOT be ashamed of admitting that we wish to consume entertainment products which have extreme content.

So yes Mr. Atkinson, I wish to consume products that contain things you find objectionable. You do the same. You are personally a Christian and I consider many of the ideas promoted by your religion objectionable. You are a member of the Australian Labor Party and thus you probably believe in economic ideas I consider objectionable. However, a civilized society with the civil debate you so espouse must retain the right of people to DISAGREE with eachother, which is why the State must not be used as a weapon of one side against other sides.

The First Ammendment to the US Constitution prevents the establishment of an official state church for precisely this reason: as soon as one side on any theological dispute gains control of the apparatus of the state, it is only a matter of time before all the heretics are purged.

So yes Mr Atkinson, I am proud to admit I want to consume objectionable content. This does not mean I in fact want to, in real life, rape and kill and inject myself with morphine. Any reasonable human being, even many young ones, can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. And additionally, you cannot say anyone with a fantasy of doing X would in fact do X. Quite a few human beings would like to kill specific other humans, but that does not mean they will in fact do so.

Following on from the above, a convincing argument can be made that being able to live out these repressed desires in a virtual world provides a ‘catharsis’ that stops people from having to do these things in real life. For example, you constantly bring up a Japanese game that allows you to rape people. If your “seeing X in a video game will make people do X in real life” theory were true, then Japan should have the highest rates of sex-crime in the world.

In fact, Japan has the lowest rate of sex-crime in ALL of the OECD countries! Japan also has graphic novels with a lot of pornography avaliable on mainstream newsstands. This pornography can include bestiality, pedophilia, sadomasochism, rape, homosexuality and bisexuality, it explores every avenue of perversity really, and yet Japan has the lowest rate of sex-crimes in the OECD!

The theory of replication (seeing X makes people do X) that you propose thus does not fit with empirical reality. It seems that the “repression theory” (strong social taboos against ANY expression (even fictional ones) of X make people desire X) fits reality more strongly. For instance, observe the American city of Las Vegas, which more or less exists entirely for people to indulge in their vices for a week before going back to virtue-land and living their normal lives. Europe, for instance, has much more porn and a much more socially liberal attitude towards sexuality, and like Japan it also has a lower rate of sex-crime than the United States (which on average has less liberal attitudes towards sexuality).

Thus, Mr. Atkinson, the evidence seems to indicate that the more people pathologize, repress and deny currently-unpopular natural desires and persecute NON-COERCIVE means of expressing them (i.e. the natural desire of many to inflict violence against their enemies, and the non-coercive means of ‘quenching this thirst’ by playing violent video games), the more people will find some way to quench these thirsts. And if all safe, noncoercive alternatives are removed from society, all that is left is the coercive ones.

The same situation exists with illegal drugs. By waging war on drugs, you create the ultimate forbidden fruit. Many people that do drugs don’t even do it for the drug, rather they do it for the joy of rebellion against prudes and wowsers. Same with youth binge-drinking (which the tax on alcopops won’t help, since now they will just get an older friend to buy vodka and they will mix it with coke (resulting in a stronger drink overall!!!)).

In conclusion Mr Atkinson, your theory of “saving the children” is based on a false “replication” model of human behavior. And even though yes, you aren’t even protecting the children (as pointed out by my fellow gamers) by opposing R18+ ratings, my concern is with the adult liberty you seem happy to sacrifice on the altar of “for the children.” Yes, I am proud to admit I wish to exercise my liberty to consume material you find objectionable. You consume material I find deeply objectionable (your religion) and I am more than happy to let you control what you consume. All I am asking is for you to acknowlege I have the same right.

15 thoughts on “A Rant Against Video Game Censorship

  1. I agree that Adults should have more options than non-adults, but I can point to something that supports some censorship. The recent killing spree by that german student seems to have been closely modelled on a video game that he had seen. He wouldn’t have been as bad if he’d only had access to Monopoly.
    So, adults, presumed mature, should be free to buy what they want for themselves.
    Kids, and anyone mentally immature, should not be allowed to buy anything.

  2. Nicholas; Whether he modeled it on a video game or not, he was going to do it. Without the video game he may have come up with something worse, possibly by modeling it on what he would like to do to those who were beating him at monopoly.

  3. Andrew: …no one has yet consistently defended the right of adult individuals to access any material…that they wish.

    Hey I did!

    What you are doing is wrong. It is unjust. You are stifling free speech.

    Put up as many straw men as you like in this debate by listing possible game scenarios and we will always bring you back to the truth: This issue is about one man who is trying to stifle free speech.

  4. Well said, too many people are apologists, shying away from defending the real principle, that adults may be free to do anything they want so long as it is not harmful to others. The same goes for opponents of internet censorship who are attacking it on technical grounds when they should be defending freedom from government coercion.

    Atkinson is a fascist, that is the only word for him. His true role is to facilitate the wishes of his constituents, not to capriciously impose his own precepts on an entire nation.

  5. The same goes for opponents of internet censorship who are attacking it on technical grounds when they should be defending freedom from government coercion.

    The technical grounds are a valid concern in this argument, as well as freedom is. We can use the support of these people even if they give priority to another effect of this policy. We cannot afford the luxury of rejecting the support of others with valid reasons just because they are not our reasons, unless they are stupid enough to attack our reasons.

  6. As a gay man, I don’t feel all that comfortable being lumped into the same category as pedophiles, rapists and offenders of beastiality. >_>

  7. Nick, something you neglected there was that we don’t see it often enough to confirm a correlation. I know a lot of gamers, and not one of them has gone rogue. Just yesterday, I was playing Call of Duty 5, throwing racial slurs at the screen and blasting everything in sight into little globs. I’ll never do that in real life, there is the difference between fantasy and reality

  8. Steve, how old are you? I did make the point that kids, not adults, should be regulated. I play Doom and Wolfenstein, and wouldn’t know how to handle a real gun, nor do I feel inclined to go ‘postal’, an American expression for a killing spree.
    As for the influence of porn, it used to be more violent, suggesting that women ‘wanted’ to be brutalised. I don’t thik it is like that any more, though it still should not be available to kids.

  9. This topic was covered last year by the ABC talkshow Difference of Opinion.

    Just about every spokesperson was in favor of censorship. An audience member asked the plain and simple question to Nick Xenophon – “If I’m an adult wanting to play violent computer games in the privacy of my own home, who is harmed ?”

    Nick Xenophon responded something vague about “I see a valid role in protecting society from disturbing material”

  10. Good article Andrew.
    Censorship is a violation of proper individual rights and I’m glad to see someone draw attention to this.

    No where have I yet seen a moral argument presented against internet censorship for example. (Because pragmatist philosophy dominates our society).

    The large majority of forced government censorship is wrong and has negative consequences on the innocent.

    Both Atkinson and Xenophon are enemies of freedom.

    It’s maddening. I’d love for these a–holes to one day wake up and realise they are hurting Australians. the biggest problem is introducing immoral laws but there are of course practical consequences: eg/ lowering business profits, extra tax payer expense through regulation and fines, degrading of legal standards, wasting time, encouraging black market crime etc.

    The majority of people get what they ask for, and they get it good and hard.
    But it’s such a pity when this type of unnecessary destructive populist bullshit is dished out on the innocent.

    I encourage people to circulate Andrew’s article.

  11. “Some people slam the Jerry Springer Show for its unpleasant content, yet Sophocles dealt with the subject of incest in his play “Oedipus Rex.” I am not arguing that Jerry Springer is Sophocles, or that Tobe Hooper is as much of an artist as Sandro Botticelli: I am simply arguing that the presence of extreme content DOES NOT automatically make something an artless piece of trash.”

    That is actually brilliant Andy.

    Keep up the good work.

  12. Sometimes you need a Jerry Springer just so you can really appreciate Michael Parkinson!

  13. Ben,

    Apologies for not acknowledging your stance. I will point out however that the vast majority argued against Atkinson on the basis of “R18+ protects children” rather than stand up for the principle involved. So yes, I concede that not EVERYONE capitulated to Atkinson’s premises, but a majority did. Again, apologies if my language was overly exclusionary.


    I wasn’t intending to suggest that homosexuality and bestiality etc. have the same moral status. For the record, I consider someone’s sexual preference (as long as its between consenting adults) morally neutral, regardless of whether its a matter of nature, nurture or free choice. The reason I described it as part of a series of sexual tastes that ‘explore every avenue of perversity’ is because Michael Atkinson would probably (given his conservative Christian values) consider it perverse.

    Jim Fryar,

    I agree that technical grounds are valid and do not necessarily detract from our argument. However, what disappointed me was how few people even attempted to make a principles-based argument. Instead, the vast, vast majority accepted Atkinson’s principles and debated on them. If these people offered a technical argument as well as a principles one, I wouldn’t be so disappointed.

    And yes, I do consider the technical argument valid. I just don’t believe it is the essential issue.

    Tim R and Mark Hill,

    Thankyou very much for your kind words. They are greatly appreciated!

  14. This is horrible.

    These video games protrayed to our people is dusgusting and pathetic. and i’m sorry but it truely disgust me how Japan allows rape games. What kind of world is this? RAPE GAMES? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Who in thier right mind thinks its ok to make money on a game, which objective is to RAPE someone! I am not a very judgmenal person, but to any one who owns these games: you are pathetic and sorry and you really need a life. you have to have no concious to own that peice of crap. and as a girl, I am offended that such images are allowed to be seenby eyes of tto many people. Its basically posting a video of a girl being raped on youtube. why is the world is this not illegal? If its illegal in real life, what makes it right in this form? This world is so jacked up.

    Julia (13 years old)

  15. “why is the world is this not illegal? If its illegal in real life, what makes it right in this form?”

    Did you read the article properly? The reason virtual rape games shouldn’t be illegal is because no-one is raped in the making of a game, any more than people are murdered in the making of a violent video game.

    Virtual crimes are victimless.

    By your standards, it seems you would support the banning of games involving murder too, and would equate not banning a violent video game to posting a snuff film on Youtube.

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