Put away that new Xbox One or PS4 – it just might turn you into a compulsive gambler. That may not have been the message that the South Australian Government was shooting for when they created their latest anti-gambling campaign, but it’s the one that many gamers from Australia and around the world are taking away from it, especially considering that state’s previous stances that were seen as anti-gamer.
Gambling Is No Game
The new campaign is known as Gambling is No Game, and based on what the SA Government has said in the past, it appears to have a fairly well-intentioned meaning behind it. The idea is that children who play games that include gambling elements – like slot machines or poker games – may be more likely to take up gambling habits later in life, or even develop gambling problems in their adolescence.
But the final product offers a slightly different message. An image of a poster from the campaign was spread across the Internet this week, showing a girl looking at an iPad while sitting at what appears to be a poker table, complete with chips and cards. Above her there’s an ominous message: “Gambling starts with games.”
While the idea might be to specifically target games with gambling content, the poster immediately sent gamers around the world into an uproar, as it seems to be connecting gaming in general to problem gambling.
“We’d like to say we’re surprised at this type of hype from South Australia, but it’s unfortunately more of the same unsubstantiated moral panic that we’ve become used to,” said Ron Curry, CEO of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association.
Strict, Stricter, Strictest
That might seem like an overreaction if it weren’t for previous actions by the SA Government. For instance, South Australia was one of the major holdouts in adding an R18+ classification for video and computer games in Australia. Previous to this classification, the highest rating available for games was MA15+; any game that would have been rated R18+ was affectively banned from sale, as it was “Refused Classification.” The new classification was eventually agreed on by every state attorney general, and the R18+ classification was introduced at the start of 2013, which has greatly reduced the number of banned games in Australia.
South Australia still maintains their own Classification Council that can rate games independently for sale in the state. That plays an important part in the new campaign, as the SA government plans to introduce laws that would require games with simulated gambling content to be classified as MA15+ (or potentially other regulated classifications). This could affect a surprisingly high number of games, as even unassuming games – like some in the Pokemon series – have featured in-game slot machines. MA15+ games cannot be purchased or played by those under the age of 15 without the supervision of a parent or guardian.
These aren’t the only steps being taken by the South Australian government as part of their Children, Technology and Gambling policy. Other initiatives include the creation of a Watch List that will inform parents about games and apps that have gambling content, an emphasis on teaching “cyber safety” in schools, and a push to have simulated gambling be used as a factor in rating classifications at the federal level.