“Recently the Australian Classification Board issued a ‘Refused Classification’ (RC) for the boxed version of the video game DayZ, despite the game being available digitally within Australia with an MA15+ classification,” said the IGEA in a statement published on its site. “Over the last few days we have been in dialogue with the local distributor of DayZ as well as the Classification Board to clarify the situation and we would like to provide an update. Regarding the RC decision, based on the Classification Board’s decision report we can confirm that the version of the game submitted for classification was RC due to cannabis in the game which, when consumed, the player’s ‘vital statistics of food and water increase and their temperature decreases.’”
“While there has been some media and community criticism of the Classification Board for this decision, we can see how the Board felt it had its hands tied in this situation as the Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games 2012 states that ‘illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards’ will be RC. The RC determination for DayZ therefore rests on the use of drugs for incentives and rewards, a classification quirk that is unique to Australia and, to our mind, not representative of what a reasonable Australian would see as a reason to effectively ban a piece of creative content.”
According to the IGEA, its recent Digital Australia 2020 research report indicates that “drug use is one the least concerning elements of media content to parents and adults in general,” and is even more outdated considering “cannabis has legal therapeutic value in many parts of Australia and is rapidly being legalised around the world.”
Citing the miniscule role the drug has in the game and asserting the AUD$10,000 fee to challenge classification decisions is “simply unfair for publishers and distributors selling boxed products” the IGEA says the decision highlights the need for continued classification reform in Australia.
“IGEA has continually called for Australia’s Classification Guidelines to be agile enough to adapt to changing community standards, which is very difficult when our regime is tied to such specific legislation and the difficulty that brings for timely amendment,” continued the IGEA statement.
The MA15+ rating for the digital version of DayZ has already been revoked and replaced with RC.
“While it is not clear why the IARC decision was revoked in this instance, if it was due to an ‘incorrectly’ answered question about the drug use we are not surprised given the Guidelines around drug use linked to incentives and rewards are nonsensical to anyone outside Australia,” said the IGEA. “Nevertheless, the speed at which the revocation was made shows that the system is responsive, and this revocation is therefore more a reflection of outdated Guidelines, rather than a problem with the system itself.”
The IGEA stressed its total support of the IARC tool, which has allowed “hundreds of thousands of digital games to be classified since its adoption in Australia” and reiterated its belief that the IARC or an alternative should be able to be used for physical releases.
“The high cost, lengthy process and compliance burden that local companies face with the traditional Board applications, compared with the speed, efficiency, and low cost of digital classification through IARC, places an unfair impact on local applicants” explained the IGEA. “It is simply illogical and places local Australian companies at a commercial disadvantage.”
The IGEA has previously advocated for the games industry to handle the classification of its own content. An industry-led, co-regulatory classification program for the Australian games industry wouldn’t be unique; free-to-air TV shows are actually rated by their own TV stations (a scheme established by the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and overseen by the Australian Communications and Media Authority) and recorded music is monitored by the Australian Record Industry Association. Additionally, earlier this year the government approved a two-year trial allowing streaming giant Netflix to classify its own content between G and R18+.
For its part, Bohemia Interactive told IGN last week that it was “looking for the best solution to keep the game on the Australian market and pass the classification according to all regulations.”
Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. You can find him on Twitter every few days @MrLukeReilly.