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New Video Game Rating System Proposed

October 28, 2008

The Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELPSA) is proposing a new “traffic-light” system to address the ongoing games rating controversy.  The new solution would augment and improve ELPSA’s voluntary ratings code, the organization said.

However, the new system has been dismissed by some, including the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), who believe Britain’s current two-tier rating is adequate.

A review by Britain’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is set to conclude on November 20, and seeks to establish standardized, legally enforceable ratings codes. 

The review was prompted by a government-commissioned report earlier this year by child psychologist Tanya Byron.  The report urged the games industry to help improve parents’ understanding of age ratings and to incorporate more parental controls into the games.

Many European countries currently use the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) age rating system, a voluntary system administered in Britain by the Video Standards Council. The PEGI system works by tagging games with age-appropriate ratings along with indicators of the games’ content.  However, the ratings are not enforceable by law.

In Britain, BBFC automatically reviews any game rated for those aged 12 and above, and has the legal power to impose age limits on games.  For example, if the BBFC finds a game’s content too excessive, it can refuse to classify it, meaning the game could not be sold in Britain.  Such a case occurred last year with Manhunt 2, although the ban was later reversed on appeal.

A DCMS select committee report recommended that the same body that assigns age ratings to films be in charge of video game ratings, although the games industry continues to support its own voluntary code.

ELPSA’s proposal would keep the PEGI procedure and age limits, but would add  ‘traffic light’ colors, with higher age limits denoted in red and more general audience games tagged in green.

“We’re offering this idea as a direct consequence of the Byron review; the system needs to remove the potential for confusion and this is what we’re doing,” Michael Rawlinson, ELPSA’s deputy director general, told BBC News.

“The system provided by PEGI is very robust, but we want to make it clearer that something that’s for adults only should have that warning color with it.”

However, BBFC spokeswoman Sue Clark rejected the proposal, saying that color is not the dominant issue in the controversy.

“Changing the colors of the PEGI symbols is not copying the food industry,” Ms Clark told BBC News.

“There is a system in place already which people know and understand and which in fact uses the traffic light colors, and it’s called the BBFC system.”

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