SYDNEY — Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is at it again. Following his campaign for a "Great Aussie Firewall" and blacklist of sites, the senator now wants to prevent access to adult video game websites.
Unlike most other industrial nations, Australia does not have an R18+ classification that restricts game purchases to those who are 18 and older. Any titles that don't meet MA15+ requirements — i.e., containing extreme violence or sexual content not suitable for mature 15-year-olds — are banned by the country's classification board and cannot be sold in stores.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a spokesperson in Conroy's office confirmed the senator's ongoing filtering plan will now include online games in order to apply those same classification standards. As a result, all downloadable games, online games and retails sites selling games that don't meet MA15+ standards would be banned. Period.
Even Australians of proper adult age would not be allowed to access the designated websites, including online role-playing arenas with adult areas, such as Second Life or certainly RedLightDistrict. Fantasy games with violence, such as the immensely popular World of Warcraft, might also be cut off.
According to the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia (IEAA), the average age of most Aussie gamers is 30, double that of the country's highest user age rating.
IEAA Chief Executive Ron Curry called the move by Conroy's office part of an “unacceptable situation” and said his industry has been fighting for years to see an R18+ classification established in Australia.
“It’s through the introduction of an R18+ classification that adults will have access to age-appropriate material and parents will have the full tool kit to understand the suitability of content for their children,” Currey told the Herald.
Many Internet rights groups, civil rights groups and gaming rights groups believe Conroy has stepped well beyond his stated mission of protecting children on the Internet. Frankly, they think he's gone mad.
“This is confirmation that the scope of the mandatory censorship scheme will keep on creeping,” said Colin Jacobs of Electronic Frontiers Australia. “Far from being the ultimate weapon against child abuse, it now will officially censor content deemed too controversial for a 15-year-old. In a free country like ours, do we really need the government to step in and save us from racy Web games?”
Currently, nine Aussie ISPs are participating in Web filtering trials — called censorship trials by opponents — in concert with the Australian Communications and Media Authority. A report is expected in July.
Meanwhile, in the U.K., Australia’s Conroy was nominated for the Internet Services Providers Association's annual Internet villain award “for continuing to promote network-level blocking despite significant national and international opposition.” The European Parliament and French President Nicolas "Three Strikes" Sarkozy are also nominees.
“We would be delighted if Mr. Conroy wishes to attend the awards and collect the trophy should he win,” said ISPA press officer George White.
Surely it's hard to imagine politicians, even at their most conservative, attempting such full-scale bans in the U.S. But then again, it's a whole different world Down Under, mate.