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. There has also been reporting that following this RC decision, the classification for the digital version of the game has been revoked.
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 forDayZ 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. Our latest research report, Digital Australia 2020 highlights that drug use is one the least concerning elements of media content to parents and adults in general. The DayZ decision highlights this problem even more given that cannabis has legal therapeutic value in many parts of Australia and is rapidly being legalised around the world.
The current Guidelines are also unhelpfully vague and inflexible. For example, given the drug type, the miniscule role it has in the game and the fact that the drug’s consumption has a ‘restorative’ rather than ‘boosting’ effect, we think that the applicant had a reasonable hope that the game could be legally classified even under the current Guidelines. The $10,000 fee to challenge classification decisions is also simply unfair for publishers and distributors selling boxed products. There is clearly a problem here and this decision highlights the desperate need for the reform of our Classification Guidelines and the importance of our classification regime to keep pace with community standards.
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. However, we are encouraged by the fact that the Australian Government has recently announced a review into the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games. Just like how IGEA drove the introduction of an R18+ classification category for games in 2012, we will advocate for a classification system that reflects contemporary Australian community standards so that Australian gamers can continue to play the games that they love.
A check of the National Classification Database today also confirms that the classification status of the digital version of DayZ, made through the IARC classification tool, have been revoked and replaced with RC. Let’s start by stating IGEA’s total support of the IARC tool – a tool designed by industry in collaboration with relevant classification authorities (including the Australian Government) and global digital storefronts to deal with the hundreds of thousands of games being released digitally. IARC has allowed hundreds of thousands of digital games to be classified since its adoption in Australia, thereby providing accurate and familiar consumer advice to adults and carers at the point of purchase.
The fact that the IARC system has operated for years and made hundreds of thousands of decisions with little fanfare shows that it is working. 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. 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.
Not only do we support IARC, but we have continually advocated to the Government that IARC (or an alternative tool) should also be able to be used for physical product. 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. It is simply illogical and places local Australian companies at a commercial disadvantage.