With only a few weeks to go until the ‘power’ of game classification become PEGI’s sole responsibility I figured it’d be a good idea to take a look at what hurdles still lie ahead for the ratings board and what it means for games and gamers.
In early 2009 a report commissioned by the British Government to look at age-ratings, public awareness and advertising standards for computer games and the internet. At the time Margaret Hodge, the then Culture Minister, said;
“The UK videogames industry is a real success story and the internet is now part of our lives in a way that we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago…
But just because these technologies are fast-moving and exciting doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have appropriate safeguards.
By taking forward Dr Byron’s recommendations we will help children to safely navigate the internet and allow parents to make informed decisions about what is appropriate for their child.”
The resulting Byron Review ultimately suggested that Trading Standards needed to get more involved in ensuring that games weren’t being sold to under-aged children, that awareness of age ratings needed to raised and that the age rating system itself was to be reviewed.
The review that resulted from the action plan of the report (POLITICS!) has led us to this. PEGI, which stands for Pan-European Game Information, will become the legally enforceable sole regulator of games for Britain. What started off as an industry opt is now in charge of classifying and monitoring game content. This means that much like it’s illegal for a kid to buy a film rated 18 by BBFC, it will soon be illegal for a kid to buy a game rated 18 by PEGI.
So whilst this doesn’t seem to be too much of a huge change, with games already being regulated by the BBFC, it does pose potential problems. For starters, recognition of the PEGI logos is much lower than recognition of the BBFC logos. People know what they’re getting when they see the BBFC’s 18 certificate, but when it comes to PEGI’s logos there’s too many of them and this transition involves having the general public learning something new. Teaching the public something new is always risky and always expensive.
Worryingly, it seems that these ratings aren’t doing their job even when they’re recognised. Reports show that a large portion of parents just don’t worry about buying their kids 18 rated games, with 64% not even checking the age rating. Even with the highly recognisable and easily interpreted 18 and 15 BBFC certificates are all over GTA 4 and Call of Duty respectively, these two games are being consumed by and bought for children throughout the UK.
People may think that publishers and developers are happy with these under-age sales, especially when you consider how juvenile some of the marketing in games is, you could even say they actively encourage it, though I really don’t think this is the case. As quick as publishers seem to be to grab the easy money, even the most short sighted company can clearly see that the uproar caused by this issue isn’t healthy. Plenty of groups exist that are more than eager to promote their anti-game agenda, often making up problems that doesn’t exist, so giving them a REAL reason to be upset is hardly the best of ideas.
There is hope that this ignorance will be a thing of the past, with parents often being gamers themselves and so more aware of content. Whilst I’m doubtful of the impact that this transition to PEGI will really have, what with weak parents ‘giving in’ to their children no matter what the labels say on the box, I’m happy there’s an enforceable ratings system, unlike in America.
Until then, enjoy 12 year old brats on COD and petulant toddlers on your GTA online. I’m kidding. No-one plays GTA online…