Good Old Games may have inadvertently kicked off a ratings revolution when it made changes to its online location controls that effectively allows an untamed version of Witcher 2 to bypass Australia's strict censorship rules.
Taking the incident as a sign of things to come, UK's Video Standards Council, is now saying there may soon come a day when mandatory ratings are no longer effective. Assuming that day hasn't already arrived.
In its interview with Edge Online, the non-profit video and video game monitoring group said the advance of global online distribution channels has made it a challenge for individual countries to regulate incoming content, despite their best efforts, saying, “The more benign censorship/ratings organizations will probably move away from the mandatory model and replace it with an advisory systems which puts the onus on consumers to make informed buying decisions through the provision of detailed consumer information."
Recently, GOG made location-specific IP tracking voluntary on its online ordering site, thereby allowing gamers to be less-than-honest about their home country in order to circumvent censorship restrictions. In a follow-up interview with GOG's head of PR & marketing Trevor Longino, he said such workarounds were par for the course in a global market, stating:
"The flat nature of the Internet means that it is virtually impossible to censor information by domestic region...I don't think it's a question of 'are digital distribution systems circumventing domestic censorship,' but rather, 'does the internet allow people to circumvent domestic censorship?' The answer to that is an unequivocal yes, and as quickly as governments can come up with new ways to enforce censorship, free-thinkers will circumvent them."
Still, despite his further sentiments that consumers should have the final say as to the content they're allowed to consume, Longino said GOG does not outright support the kind of abuse its website update allows. Furthermore, he said countries had every right to form their own rules as long as said rules are enforced responsibly and in accordance with public opinion.
“What one country considers crucial, others may thinks is trivial. Neither country is right, of course, and each is entitled to its own way of doing things,” he said, adding, “If a country feels that a censorship agency is important for its people, then there's no reason why they shouldn't have one, even if it makes things inconvenient for those of us who don't live there. If enough people decide that needs to change, then it's an outdated concept for them.”
This is exactly the question VSC is now posing to countries like Australia; that is, do mandatory ratings still work? Either way, it stated there still exists a place for ratings in some capacity, adding:
"We believe [local certification bodies] remain very relevant even in this age of global distribution. As stated previously, it may be that the nature of censorship and ratings will change to a more advisory-centered system, but ratings systems continue to provide consumers - particularly parents of children - with very useful content information which we know they find very helpful indeed. We believe the public tends to trust the judgement and advice of the more independent, established and respected ratings organisations and will continue to do so."
One has to wonder if any form of censorship is effective when consumers now have the resources to experience pretty much anything they want. Is it time to re-open the censorship debate, or has current technology already rendered the issue moot?
[Source: Edge Online]
May 13, 2011
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