The Australian government has a dysfunctional history with video games. Any regular Yahtzee Croshaw follower can attest to that. The Parliament has established a series of unfortuante regulations that make games both highly taxed and overregulated in price. Bringing any goods all the way to an island in the bottom of the world is expensive to begin with, and new games in Australia can tip the scales at $80 or more.
Game censorship also has an ugly history down under. Games have been denied release by the government for everything from prositution (Grand Thefts Auto III and San Andreas) to gang violence (50 Cent: Bulletproof) to the relatively tame glorifying of illegal graffiti in Mark Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.
And yet, there's recent news that Sydney-based game developer Bubble Gum Interactive have secured $250000AUS in grants from two Australian government groups: Screen Australia Innovation Program and New South Wales Digital Media Initiative. Both of these groups awarded grants to a signficant numbers of game projects this year, and the Aussie government has announced tax breaks for game developers to complement them.
Clearly, the Australian government is not comfortable with games that contain anything resembling controversial themes. Perhaps it's appropriate then that two seperate goverment bodies there have put so much weight behind the wholesome project Little Space Heroes. Designed for children ages 6-12 and repotedly about to enter Beta, the game looks like a very cutesy sci-fi MMO with strict access options so parents can control their kids access to profanity, n00b-slaying, and other adult/trollish behavior.
Despite (perhaps slightly because) of their government's draconian attitude towards foreign video games, the Australian game industry has been showing impressive signs of life lately. LA Noire came proudly out of the land down under earlier this year, although developer Team Bondy's founder has taken flak for reporting making life a living hell for his employees.
While Little Space Heroes is unlikely to make an impact on most of our gaming lives, it is an important statement. The NEA recently started awarding grants to American game developers, and Australia following suit is a good sign. Governments and the media are always quick to scapegoat games for societal ills, but at least it seems like some of the more culturally-minded agents within them are starting to realize that not only are games here to stay, but are in fact a good thing.
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