I follow Australian content regulation via the wonderful “Somebody Think of the Children!” blog, operated by Michael Meloni of Brisbane, Australia. (Mike, if you’re listening, you have at least one big fan here in the U.S. and thank you for keeping the rest of us up-to-speed about censorship developments on the other side of the globe!) This week, Mike reports that another video game (“F.E.A.R. 2″) was refused classification by the Australian government’s Classification Board. Apparently, the “refused classification” designation is the equivalent of a ban in Australia. And F.E.A.R. 2 is the fifth game to receive that designation in 2008. (Other games that have been censored, or subject to some sort of political investigation or pressure, are inventoried at the “Refused Classification.com” website.)
First, let me just say that this again reminds me how lucky we are to have strong free speech protections here in the United States thanks to the First Amendment of our Constitution. I do so much bitching about efforts to regulate speech and media content (especially video games) that I sometimes fail to step back and appreciate how fortunate we are here in the U.S. to not have to worry about an official government ratings body overseeing all game releases. This really hit home for me when I read that “Fallout 3” was one of the 5 games banned this year. It’s a brilliant game and I just can believe it would be censored such that the Australian public could not play the same version of it that I can.
Second, I’m wondering how well these bans work in Australia. A big part of my research on speech regulation is focused on the practicality of censorship in the modern Information Age. [See my "End of Censorship" essay.] Thus — taking off my advocate hat and putting on my academic hat — I would be very interested in hearing from Australians about how effective these regulatory schemes are in practice. Can you still get games from overseas and play them on consoles and PCs in Australia? Do you download uncensored versions (either legally or illegally)? Does the government take steps to stem the flow of unregulated content? Or, are most citizens willing to just played the censored version of games that the Australian government eventually authorizes? Have there been academic studies done on the practical side of content censorship in Australia?
You get the idea. Any input would be greatly appreciated.
[Note: I have also been following the Australian government's big recent push for centralized Internet filtering. Would be interested in input as that as well from Australians citizens.]