In the last three months, the Australian Classification Board has “refused classification” for at least four video games – effectively banning them in Australia. The latest is zombie-survival shooter DayZ. Despite being previously available on digital storefronts with an MA15+ rating, it was banned when its developers tried to get a retail version of the game classified.
The reason: players could use marijuana within the game.
The Australian Classification Board’s willingness to ban games can be traced back to a time before there was an R18+ classification in place. But did that hard won rating change the way videogames are treated?
The 2019 tally
Since its ban, DayZ’s developer has modified the game globally to remove depictions of marijuana, and the game has been re-classified MA15+.
Survival-horror game We Happy Few was banned in Australia last year due to the centrality of drug use to the game’s themes and mechanics. The Classification Review Board eventually overturned this decision, re-classifying the game to R18+. Now, the game has been banned again, for the same reason, after the release of a new expansion of the game required the classification process to be undertaken again.
The 2019 bans have reignited concern among Australian video game players about the country’s guidelines for classifying video games, which seem out of step with what is considered acceptable for film and television.
The game so far
Australia has a long history of banning video games that are readily available elsewhere.
Until 2013, Australia was one of the few countries with no R18+ video game rating, the highest possible rating being MA15+. This meant any video game released would be available to 15-year-olds, or to no one at all.
In 2001, Rockstar’s blockbuster Grand Theft Auto III was available for many months with an MA15+ rating, while in most other countries, it was only available to people over 18. After a media outcry over the in-game ability to sleep with sex workers and be violent towards them, the then-named Office of Film and Literature Classification banned Grand Theft Auto III entirely, since no R18+ rating was available.