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Australia first to ban graffiti game

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#1 clarky3429


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Posted 18 February 2006 - 09:35 AM

Gold Coast Mayor and former Olympian Cr Ron Clarke is claiming the credit for stopping the Australian release of a computer game that its critics say incites the crime of graffiti vandalism.

The game, Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, was refused classification by the Federal Government's Classification Review Board earlier this week.

This means the game cannot be imported, sold, demonstrated or hired in this country, making Australia the only country in the world where the game has been banned.

The game was due to be released worldwide this week.

Cr Clarke said Getting Up promoted graffiti on public property, train-surfing, fighting and other anti-social behaviour.

"I am delighted the Review Board has voted in favour of preventing the potential escalation of these social and financial costs to our community," Cr Clarke said in a statement.

The decision was endorsed by the Federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, who had asked the board to review of the game's MA15+ classification in response to concerns raised by Cr Clarke and others.

Ironically, the game - which is set in a city of the future - features a world where freedom of expression is suppressed by a tyrannical city government.

Players battle the authorities to overthrow corrupt officials using only street fighting skills and graffiti.

"It's unfortunate that during this day and age a government will implement censorship policies which are tantamount to book burning practices from the past," the game's distributor, Attari, said in a statement.

"Banning any form of artistic expression suppresses creativity and begs the question 'Where does it end?'"

Atari Australia, said it would be examining all legal avenues to overturn the ban.

"We are definitely investigating all our options at the moment. If we can appeal it we will," said Mr David Wildgoose, public relations manager at Atari Australia.

Atari is unlikely to act until the board's findings are published in full next month.

If Atari does choose to appeal, its case would have to be made through the Federal Court.

While the company would not be able to launch an appeal directly against the Classification Review Board's decision, it could seek to pursue a case based on flaws in the legal process undertaken by the Board in reaching its decision.

The game's creator, millionaire New York fashion designer Marc Ecko, also criticised the board's decision saying he was "extremely disappointed" by the development.

"... to blame gaming for everything that is inherently wrong in our homes, in our schools and on our streets is much easier to do than to actually figure out ways to fix the systemic problems that exist within our culture."

Mr Ecko, who was himself a graffiti artist in his youth, said video gaming was a misunderstood cultural movement that was not about "teaching illegal activities".

"If a kid wants to learn how to write on the wall, he or she will figure it out. They have done it since prehistoric times, in fact."

Mr Ecko is the founder of the hip fashion label *ecko untld. His company has expanded into cosmetics and publishes a magazine focusing on hip-hop and urban culture.

The four members of the Classification Review Board who presided over this case were split 2-2 over the decision. Under the rules of the board, the convenor then gets a second, casting vote.

The convenor in this case was Ms Maureen Shelley who said it was the view of the board's determination that the game promoted the crime of graffiti. She said the dissenting view was that the game was fantasy.

Based on information provided on the Office of Film and Literature Classification website, calculations show that the average age of the four board members who presided over this decision is 43.5 years.

The President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Mr Cameron Murphy, described the basis of the ban as ""ridiculous".

"We don't ban films that include criminal activities - we would not see The Godfather if this policy was in place with films." he said. "The problem is clearly the Classification Review Board does not understand the technology."

Although this is the first time Mr Ecko's game has been banned, it has attracted its fair share of criticism.

Last year, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to have a graffiti-themed promotional party for the game banned claiming that it would encourage vandalism.

Mr Ecko planned to have 20 former graffiti artists decorating model subway cars.

However Mr Ecko won the day when Manhattan federal court Judge Jed Rakoff said the mayor's ban was a "flagrant violation" of First Amendment rights.

"By the same token, presumably, a street performance of [Shakespeare's] Hamlet would be tantamount to encouraging revenge murder... As for a street performance of Oedipus Rex, don't even think about it... ," the judge said.

The game had also stirred controversy in the US from authorities in New York, Florida and California, according to UK gaming website ferrago.com.

Politicans in Florida called for the game's release to be halted, or for Atari to fund an anti-graffiti campaign after its debut, the site said.

And the censorship row over the title in Australia could be heading for a second round with reports it is due to re-surface on the big screen.

Movieweb.com reported in December that MTV had bought the rights to turn Marc Ecko's game into a feature film.

By Stephen Hutcheon, Louisa Hearn and David Braithwaite

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