Throughout the whole DayZ saga, the most misunderstood element amongst fans and social media was the key reason why the game was refused classification. As Kotaku Australia first reported, the game was officially banned — or refused classification — over the use of cannabis, which currently is only usable in DayZ through mods.
But partially because of the interest surrounding the game, and the unique circumstances whereby the game was classified and refused classification at the same time, the Classification Board has taken the rare stance of publishing a statement clarifying why the game was banned.
The statement from the board's director, Margaret Anderson, was published on the Classification Board website this week and confirms that the game was banned following local distributor Five Star Games' application to have the game classified for an upcoming physical PS4 release. As part of that application, Five Star noted that a feature in the physical release would be the ability to regain health by smoking a marijuana joint — denoted as "cannabis" in-game — which would also lower their temperature, while improving their vitals.
After the surprise banning of DayZ's physical sale, and the Classification Board's decision to overrule the existing MA15+ rating, one of the most popular survival games of the decade suddenly found itself removed from sale in Australia on all platforms. That ban, however, looks like it will be lifted soon. And the reason why is because developers Bohemia Interactive have opted to take the path of least resistance, one taken by Bethesda 11 years ago.
Throughout general gameplay, the player is able to collect and use a variety of equipment, supplies and weaponry, with one option to restore the player’s health being a marijuana joint, labelled “cannabis,” which is denoted by a cannabis bud in the player’s inventory. The player is able to select and use it when their vital statistics are low. When the player smokes the cannabis, their vital statistics of food and water increase and their temperature decreases.
Therefore, in the opinion of the Classification Board, cannabis use during the game acts as an incentive or reward to boost overall health and survivability. The Board noted that there was no instance of intoxication resulting from this drug use depicted within the game.
This isn't a surprise because of how the classification process works. Fans were aghast that DayZ was banned over a feature that, as far as they could see, didn't exist. But publishers and applicants for classification ratings have to identify any problematic content as part of the process: if they don't, and the Board discovers it after release or is alerted to any content that would have resulted or influenced a rating different from the one given, the game is immediately pulled from sale. So it's about as straightforward as you can get: the next major DayZ patch would let players light up.
Anderson's statement then clearly outlines the crux of the problem: the guidelines for classification of computer games, which was lasted updated in 2012 and explicitly bans any interactive illicit or proscribed drug use outside of the R18+ classification, and only permits drug use within the R18+ classification provided that use is "not detailed or realistic".
"Pursuant to the Games Guidelines, “drug use related to incentives and rewards is not permitted” at any classification level," the statement says.
The statement's important for two reasons. Firstly, it continues the trend over the last few years of the Classification Board basically telling developers — and pissed off fans — the simplest and fastest way of getting the game classified. Anderson notes that if cannabis wasn't a part of the game, it'd be rated MA15 — but the drug could also be renamed or altered so it didn't represent or look like a joint, which was the option Bethesda took when Fallout 3 was banned.
The second part is also a reminder from the Classification Board that the classification guidelines are changing, or at the very least governments are thinking about it. "On 28 June 2019, the Council of Attorneys-General agreed that the Australian Government will coordinate a public consultation process on reviewing the Games Guidelines to ensure they reflect contemporary Australian community values," Anderson wrote.
It's not the same as saying "we get it", but it's about as close as gamers will ever get from a senior public servant.