FROM January 1, Australia will have an R18+ classification for computer games, bringing the country into line with the rest of the world for the first time. Unlike videos, books and other entertainment, computer games is the only category that does not have an R18+ rating, although 92 per cent of households play games.
The new category has been such a hot issue that the Attorney-General's Department received 58,437 submissions, three times as many as on the Bill of Rights, when it released a discussion paper on the category in 2009. Of those, 98 per cent supported the change.
The addition of the R18+ rating would prevent minors purchasing unsuitable material, and better inform parents and retailers, the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, Jason Clare, said.
''The reforms also mean that adults are able to choose what games they play within the bounds of the law,'' he said.
Until now, the highest rating available to buyers of computer games was MA15+. That is because the classification system was last changed 16 years ago when computer games were sold in toy shops and it was a ''distant thought they would need an adult classification,'' Ron Curry, the chief executive of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, said. Today, the average age of a gamer is 32 and 47 per cent are women. More than 83 per cent of parents with children under 18 play games.
The absence of an adults-only rating had encouraged piracy and placed adult material in the hands of children, Tim Colwill, a gaming enthusiast and editor of Games.on.net, said.
''We've had a situation where Australia has a lot of games created by adults for adults to play,'' he said. ''But we gave them an MA rating, and parents buy them and get home and think 'holy shit! That's pretty bad'.''
Gamers who wanted adult content either had to buy a watered down version, pirate the game or bypass it online where it was ''pathetically easy'' to get at the ''gory parts, '' Mr Colwill, who created r18games.com.au to campaign for the changes, said.
A gamer who posted on The Age website seemed to agree: ''I'm almost finished playing through Max Payne 3 and don't understand how the ACB rated it MA15+ with its adult themes, drug use and excessive graphic violence (multiple head shots in slow motion),'' the gamer wrote.
Elizabeth Handsley, the president of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, said the government also needed to make modifications to MA15+ if it was protect children.
Experts said because of the absence of the adult classification, many MA15+ games contained adult content more appropriate to an R18+. Only three video games out of 807 have been refused classification in the past year.
States and territories, which agreed to the reforms last year, are expected to pass their own legislation.