July 31, 2008

Debate Soars Over Video Game Ratings System In UK

The British government said on Thursday that Britain could give all computer games cinema-style age ratings to protect children from increasingly realistic and violent titles.

Culture Minister Margaret Hodge has announced a consultation on whether the ratings for games should replicate the system for movies.

"The rise of adult-themed games with grown-up plots and advanced graphics had made the old warning system obsolete," said British Culture Minister Margaret Hodge.

Violent games like "Grand Theft Auto IV", a sprawling gangster adventure featuring car-jackings, prostitutes and drive-by shootings, have Ministers under increasing pressure to tighten regulation.

Psychologist Tanya Byron called for a more robust classification system last March in a government-backed report into the effect of video games and the Internet on children.

The British Board of Film Classification's (BBFC) current rules sets legal age limits on games with sex and violence or ones that include film clips.

Games are rated the same way as films, with a scale ranging from "U" for unclassified, or suitable for anyone aged over four, to PG (parental guidance), and 12, 15 and 18.

Ratings are displayed clearly on the front of the box in a colored triangle or circle.

The rest are governed by a voluntary industry code known as the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) ratings. The recommended minimum age for players, for example "16+", is shown on the back of the box.

Hodge said the current system of classification comes from a time when video games were in their infancy. "The games market has simply outgrown the classification system."

Hodge proposed the following four options to tighten regulation:

  • The BBFC to rate all games.
  • PEGI to rate them, but with new legal backing.
  • A hybrid system where the BBFC would rate games for children over 12.
  • A new code of practice for retailers and suppliers.

The influential Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Britain's House of Commons published a report on Thursday saying it supports a single system run by the BBFC.

"The widespread recognition of the BBFC's classification categories in the UK and their statutory backing offer significant advantages which the PEGI system lacks," it said.

However, the gaming industry said the BBFC system would offer no extra protection for children and might increase confusion between films and games.

The Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers' Association (ELSPA), a trade body, said PEGI currently rates 96 percent of all games, compared to the BBFC's four percent.

"The PEGI ratings system is the only one that truly protects children, understands the interactive nature of rating games and is the only system endorsed by the games industry," said ELSPA's Managing Director Michael Rawlinson.

"It offers a strict classification system, based on international standards and detailed criteria which is scalable and robust enough to cope with rating the explosion of gaming content."

"What we are asking for is the government to empower Pegi with legal backing," said Rawlinson.

"We would like to remove confusion and have Pegi rate all games under the umbrella of the Video Recordings Act," he said.


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