Games and Liberty Part I: Australian Censorship
Liberty is the right we are all granted equally, but it’s the right we must be so vigilant in safeguarding. Through the natural course of things, our fellow citizen may try to infringe on it, our government limit it, and foreign threats seize it. It is the universal charge that we defend our liberty, and if possible the liberty of others.
Liberty unites us. Across all religion, ethnicity, gender, or age, liberty remains of universal benefit. We are all free to follow our own will, without violating the liberty of others.
Thomas Jefferson defined liberty as such:
“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”
For most of my life I considered myself centrist, because I concluded that some amount of policy from the different ends of the political spectrum would provide the best result for everyone. That seemed fair. But a little bit of debasing currency, robbing citizens of value rightfully earned is not fair, no matter what political agenda attempts to justify printing money. A little bit of legislating social issues, dictating how people live their lives is not fair, no matter which end of the issue you’re on. A little bit of taking from one citizen to give to another is not fair, no matter which social programs you support, and which you oppose.
When political agendas argue, and you are a centrist, you’re often advocating some form of oppression for someone, namely the side that loses. Or trying to balance matters to minimize the losing.
Instead we should advocate for a government that doesn’t pick sides, that defends the liberty of all equally (as it was, equally granted). We should advocate for a government that takes no action valuing one person’s liberty over the other.
The easiest way to force your views on someone is to have the government help you. If we advocate for a government that doesn’t pick sides, doesn’t help one neighbor plunder another, doesn’t settle your argument but instead leaves you to peacefully persuade others to your cause, then we have greater liberty for everyone. Less government is more liberty.
Gaming and liberty
The need for liberty is everywhere. In every part of our lives we should be guided by the principles of liberty for ourselves, and for others. There isn’t a place where the discussion of liberty doesn’t matter or doesn’t belong. Not even entertainment, not even video games. Art, entertainment and specifically video games benefit from liberty.
It’s important that you as a citizen — whatever nation you’re in — and as a gamer, consider the cause of liberty, and the ways in which it affects something as simple and essential as art and pastime.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll briefly touch on a few areas that demonstrate the need for liberty in the gaming industry. This week’s topic is the…
Australian Classification Board
It’s not enough to say that adults have the right to view whatever material they want; that view is a fundamental misunderstanding of liberty. Adults do not have a set, limited amounts of rights that the government keeps track of and grants them. Free people have free-will, limited only by the equal rights of others. We can do whatever we please in a free society, as long as we don’t harm a person, their property or in any way infringe upon their liberty.
So when the government starts to impose rules, and classify what is acceptable and what’s not, no matter what guise of public interest they purport, it is a step towards censorship, and an attack on liberty. No matter what concessions they grant as appeasement, if they are taking the position that they have the right to determine what is acceptable for a free person to view, they are oppressors. That they are willing to allow people the freedom to watch certain things under certain classifications is a distortion; they haven’t the right to class what is acceptable or not in the first place.
But the Australian government has been doing this since 1970, when the ACB was established. And in 1995, new legislation was passed granting further power to the Commonwealth Parliament, and a Commonwealth Classifications Board — power essentially given away by the states and territories.
The ACB does not include an R18+ rating for video games, but they do have it for books and film. Australia is the only western nation to allow an R18+ (or equivalent) rating for books, and film, but not games. The introduction of the R18+ rating was announced, originally scheduled for the end of 2011, delayed, and now pushed to January 1, 2013. There’s already evidence to suggest R18+ rated titles will be expected to conform to old MA15+ restrictions, and games refused classification before, will still be refused even with the new guidelines.
The ACB has a long history of refusing games classification, and any titles with a Refused Classification label, are illegal to sell in Australia. They ban games that don’t conform to their pedantic notions of acceptability. Titles have been known to receive the “RC” label for reasons outside the classification criteria. This results in preemptive, and sometimes clumsy cuts by content creators, who essentially have to guess at what might cause their game to be banned. It’s a form of imposed self-censorship, and it’s dubious especially because it’s vague. In 2006, Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, originally classed as MA15+, was reclassified and banned for promoting “anti-social behaviour”.
I’ll stress again that this is a deep issue, with lengthy history that’s been written on a great deal already. I’m including it as a prime example of how a lack of personal liberty affects gamers.
To relegate the fight for liberty to the realm of politics, to dismiss it from our conversations as something impertinent to our wider discussion of games is to forget that our unconcern with government and politics can only occur when it stays properly out of our day to day lives. We shouldn’t be overly concerned with politics if our interest is in play, narrative, and art. But any pursuit can be threatened without liberty. In this case we see it most egregiously — in the outright banning of games.
Moreover, as Americans have learned recently, this threat of censorship does not only loom over Australia. Next week, I’ll look at the role the ESRB has played, the contrast of a self-regulatory industry group versus government intervention, and the push for censorship of games in America.
You can learn more about Libertarianism at Libertarianism.org