Today: Undoing the damage

Undoing the damage

Ariel Tam
Online and Technology Editor
ariel@mediacorp.com.sg

The establishment of Singapore’s video game classification system is happy news for all — the industry, gamers and parents.

The two-tier framework — an M18 restricted category and an age-advisory category for consumers 16 years old and above — lets games in, rather than keeps games out. It is an acknowledgement that gamers can be adults, and there can be games geared explicitly for this age group.

A blanket ban on a game that contains adult themes mistakenly assumes that minors make up the primary audience and hence need to be protected from such content.

Singapore does not want to be viewed as arbitrarily blacklisting games that contain what it judges to be “objectionable” content. Who can forget the uproar last November, when the Media Development Authority (MDA) banned Bioware’s role-playing game, Mass Effect, over a blown-out-of-proportion lesbian sex scene?

Amid the indignant howls from the gaming community, the MDA overturned the ban merely a day later, releasing the game under a stopgap M18 rating.

But the damage was done — Singapore was derided as a repressive nation with hair-trigger regulations and anachronistic sensibilities, and local gamers found it hard to hold their heads high within the global gaming league.

The rhetoric against adult-oriented computer game titles is often predicated on the assumption that its sole purpose is titillation. But that is not always the case.

Take Mass Effect, for example. The sci-fi game examines mature themes of artificial intelligence, greed and xenophobia, and carries wonderful literary references to poet greats including Walt Whitman and Lord Tennyson. The brief, hazy love scene is merely one of several outcomes that you arrive at after hours of game play and relationship-building among characters, and can hardly be considered pornographic.

With the classification structure, Singapore signals its maturity as a developed nation, and its readiness to keep up with new, digital forms of entertainment.

The MDA has drawn up a simple framework that shortens the classification process and reduces compliance costs for the industry. It’s also a co-regulatory system that shares the burden of responsible gaming with games distributors by requiring them to declare the content of games accurately.

A transparent classification regime is in line with the Government’s efforts to promote the Republic as an international gaming hub. The gaming industry is one that cannot be neglected.

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, the Asia-Pacific gaming industry is predicted to grow at a 10-per-cent compound annual rate, reaching US$18.8 billion ($25.5 billion) in 2011 from US$11.7 billion in 2006.

Several big studios like Lucasfilm Animation Singapore and Electronic Arts have already expressed interest in expanding their presence here. In February, Ubisoft announced plans to hire 300 game developers and open a development studio — the largest in the region — in Singapore.

In addition to encouraging industry investment, the classification system is a step towards making the digital world a safer place for minors, and should give anxious parents some peace of mind.

However, ultimate responsibility for the protection of our children, remains in our homes, and in the hands of alert parents.

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