Reviewed Ratings System Review Reviewed

By John Walker on June 17th, 2009 at 9:30 am.

CENSORED!

An interesting story from yesterday merits a brief comment, I think. The PEGI rating system for games in the UK is to become the industry standard, and legal. The current confusion, where the BBFC ratings are often voluntary but enforced by law, and the PEGI ratings required but not enforced, has been muddling parents and shop assistants for years. After the Byron Review, Tanya Byron suggested just one ratings system, more robust, and far more clear. And it looks like it’s now going to happen.

Eurogamer quote Creative Industries Minister Siôn Simon saying,

“Protecting children and giving parents a clear and robust new system has always been our starting point. The new system of classification follows the essential criteria set out by Professor Tanya Byron, who recommended a trustworthy, uniform and clear set of symbols that is flexible and future proof.”

Clearly there had to be some change, and hopefully this will replace the complete mess that’s currently in place. However, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the promised new PEGI logos to become as recognisable and semiotically powerful as the BBFC’s big red circles of doom.

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104 Comments »

  1. Wolfman says:

    As pointed out by John, I don’t think most non-gaming parents will realise what the PEGI rating system means. It is easy to understand the BBFC symbols as you see them everywhere from cinema screenings to DVDs. However with the PEGI system if you’ve not seen it before you might not notice it especially as its black and white on a nice colourful box.

    Does anyone know why they chose PEGI over making the BBFC certification a requirement?

    -wolfman

  2. Crispy says:

    I’m looking forward to the day where shop assistants, webmasters, poor parenting and Pegi are blamed for adult games getting into kiddies’ hands instead of the creators of interactive entertainment for the adult market.

    Eager to see what the new symbols will be, and just how prominent they are to be on the boxes/webpages (front or back? big or small? what about digital download pages?).

  3. Kast says:

    The old black-and-white age rating logos are out, actually: See PEGI’s page ‘What do the labels mean?’ – LINK

  4. Crispy says:

    I would guess they chose PEGI over BBFC because, although they are a younger organisation, they are dedicated to the games sector and also integrate with the rest of the EU, whereas the BBFC is domestic and, one might argue, ill-equipped/experienced to deal with the growing games industry on top of its principal remits and their evolving distribution channels.

  5. Meat Circus says:

    I was always impressed by the absurd utopianism of the notion of “pan-European” ratings system.

    As if this fractured, absurd continent could possibly find some useful moral middle ground on what is and isn’t age-appropriate.

  6. Jim says:

    This seems good, at least they’re not trying to block violent games like Germany are, a simple, clear, easy to follow ratings system is exactly what we need, gamers and parents both will benefit from this. Well done for not changing the games.

  7. Duoae says:

    Seems like a stupid decision to me. I wrote about it in my name link (above) but i’ll summarise here:

    - The new system leaves developers/publishers more open to legal proceedings because PEGI is primarily a self-assessment system and thus people can quibble about definitions regarding to content within a certain rating.

    - Historically PEGI rates the same games at higher age groups compared to BBFC (you can check in your own game library for this): games that the BBFC rate as 15 usually turn up at 16 or 18 under PEGI. IMO, this reduces the market to sell games in.

    - The new system allows for more censorship. The VSC has veto over PEGI on releasing games in the UK. As far as i can tell, the VSC has no history or knowledge in banning or rating videogames. Essentially they have two councils rating games now (like there was when both BBFC and PEGI were rating) but they overlap…. seems like a waste of money to me.

    I’m also not fond of the age gap between 16 and 18. It’s virtually none existant and is my main gripe about the ESRB rating system as well. The emotional and mental age between 16 and 18 year olds (after all these are both sixth form college ages) will be relatively small, whereas a 15 age rating makes the age difference more meaningful. I think this change in the age ratings is ridiculous.

  8. asdf says:

    and I thought our rating system in the US is screwed up. Sounds like you guys have it worse off.

  9. no says:

    What is the point of having a rating for 16 and then another for 18? Like there’s a huge difference in the ages? What, you can see be-headings and hearts torn out of chests at sixteen, but you can’t observe breasts until 18?

    As long as all other content is rated this way as well, I don’t have a problem. If, however, it’s legal to buy a book of questionable content (say the bible, Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers, Fanny Hill, etc) at ANY age (as you can in America) but you can’t buy a videogame with animated violence or a short skirt… then that’s a bullshit doublestandard.

    Of course, what it really comes down to is taking the role of parents in deciding what content is appropriate for what age groups and then frightened parents assuming that a titty is going to warp their tween for the rest of his life.

  10. Walter says:

    @asdf: Just Britain trying to iron out kinks in being part of Europe now.

    FYI PEGI has five categories and Finland for example has changed the 16+ to a 15+ (3+, 7+, 12+, 15+, 18+) so I’m sure Britain can too… if you really want to that is.

  11. {HERO SQUAD} itsallcrap says:

    I notice from the symbols that they’re claiming 16+, 18+, etc are trademarks of theirs.

    That can’t be allowed, surely? If it is, perhaps I should trademark the number 9 while it’s still available. Or maybe the semicolon. I’ll be raking it in.

  12. phil says:

    Hopefully this will at least cut down on the cost of BBFC assessment for games.

    I agree pan-European assessment would never work, German for one is insanely censor happy.

  13. Kohlstream says:

    Imagine all the money wasted, meetings and what not just to make this pointless decision. If your kid asked for a game and you went to a shop to get it only for a big ol’ 18 stamp in the corner, you’d think twice. Why change? How are 12/15/18 badges NOT clear?

  14. Jazmeister says:

    @meatcircus: I thought you wrote “fracturd”, there. That would have been awesome.

    Also, colourful symbols! They look like achievements. Imagine that, meta-achievements! Developers have to make a game that ticks all those boxes. It’ll be great.

  15. Dante says:

    @ asdf

    Believe me we’re much better off than you. The reason is simple, our ratings are legally enforceable, so everyone (bar a few crackpots) knows that if a kid plays an 18 game it’s the fault of the shop or the parent, not the games company.

    I would have preferred the BBFC myself, they had some dark days in the video nasties era, but they’ve moved with the times and are a very relaxed organisation now. We don’t really know PEGI, which makes us worry about having them decide what we can and can’t see.

  16. Waste_Manager says:

    I’m all for this decision. The system was was ridiculous as it was and the bbfc can be useless when it comes to games.

  17. ChaosSmurf says:

    Will it change anything?

  18. Tom Armitage says:

    I’ve always been sceptical of PEGI, especially given their close ties to the capitgal-I Industry. The BBFC, whilst it has a broad remit including film and video, is a surprisingly experienced and thoughtful organisation when it comes to certification, and is very much independent. Contrary to popular belief, they do treat games as games; their understanding of interactive media is sound, and the BBFC of the past 10-15 years is a very different organisation to it in the 1980s. And, as mentioned, they take titles that PEGI will blanket with an “18+” and go, “actually, really, when you think about it, what’s the problem?” and hand out a 12 or 15 cert. Of course, the BBFC is only interested in certifying the content of the game – theme/language/violence/sex, etc, rather than the gameplay. So, for instance, their cert for Manhunt 2 on the Wii paid no attention to the fact that you’re waving your hands around stabbing people, rather than hitting a button; they’re not set up to do that, and it’s not part of how they certify. Obviously, that would have been a thing under constant review, I’d imagine.

    So I can’t help but say I’m a bit sad about this; the BBFC really do know their shit, even if I know that development and production firms found working around their requirements – providing materials for cert, etc – a bit of a pain. Still, at least PEGI will become legally binding for retailers, which was, until recently, the one advantage the BBFC had over them.

  19. BigJonno says:

    The only real downside I can see to this is that the 12+ rating (which PEGI seems to stick on any game where you can hit something. For an example, look at the recent TMNT game) is becoming legally enforceable.

    Most 12-15 year olds go into town and buy stuff on their own. Many of these, at some point, will want to buy a game. How many 12 year olds carry ID? How many underpaid, overworked store workers can tell the difference between a 12 year old and an 11 year old?

    It’s getting bad enough with shops having a policy where they card anyone who doesn’t look over 25 when they buy cigs or booze, but policing the sale of saturday morning cartoon level violence to children under 12 is ludicrous.

    Once, in my long and illustrious retail career, I faced getting charged with selling an 11 year old a copy of Aliens. It could’ve meant a large fine and, if I recall correctly, jail time. It was all dropped because A) It didn’t happen and B) when it it was investigated it was discovered that someone using my till had, at some point during the morning, sold someone a copy of Aliens. Hardly a smoking gun. My own personal theory is that aforementioned child coerced some hobo into purchasing the DVD for her with bribes of cider money and Big Macs and then cried foul when she was caught with it at home. Even so, it was a bloody scary experience.

  20. Richard Clayton says:

    I was in a local “Game” shop recently where a son was nagging his mother to get him a console game. She conceded and bought him the title (I believe from my eavesdropping that it was a sequel to somehting he’d played before).

    The mother went to the counter to pay and the young salesman had a lenghty discussion with her about the game.

    He informed her that it was an extremely violent game and intended for an older audience. She said, oh that’s fine he plays these types of games all the time. The shop assistant then said that he recommend that she think again before purchasing, it contains graphic scenes such as beheading and mutilation he says.

    No that’s fine brushes off the woman. Game assistant then explains that a) that she should actually spend time with her son while he played the game to evaluate it and b) that she could return the game without a quibble if she believed the title was unsuitable. He even added that he would not buy or recommend this title for a child of such an age (he was probably 11 or 12).

    As you gather I did not pick up on the title of the game but the mother, after all this, bought the game.

    The shop assistant basically did everything but refuse to sell her the game and he is to be commended. I don’t know how the law stands here but if the same thing happened in Threshers over a bottle of cider it would have been a different story altogether with the licence holder refusing to sell booze to the mother if it was intended for consumption by a minor.

    The ratings system is to be supported (as opposed to banning titles) but I really think parents need to wake up to the content within these titles. A game that starts sedately can often erupt into something very different at later stages and that’s generally what the rating system is there for.

    I also agree that the PEGI system is a little too draconian. What the hell “Some scenes of partial nudity may be permitted but never in a sexual context” means I can’t imagine. Bare arms, midriff etc? Remember kids, naked bodies / exposed flesh is BAD!

  21. mandrill says:

    The problem with age ratings on games was not that non-gaming parents were not aware of them, but that non-gaming parents didn’t think they actually meant anything. The prevailing attitude among non-gaming parents and grandparents etc, has always been that games are toys, meant for children. So in their minds there is basically no difference in suitability between GTA and Dora the Explorer.

    I may have recounted this tale before but when I worked at Game I was stunned by a mother coming into the shop and asking if there was a cheat disc available for GTA San Andreas. Upon being told that there wasn’t (the game had only just been released), but that a strategy guide was available she replied “Its for my son, who is four and he can’t read” I refused to sell her anything from that point on, and attempted to explain that GTA was an 18 rated game and only suitable for adults. She couldn’t comprehend that a video game was not suitable for her 4 year old. “Its a game.” was her repeated protest.

    It doesn’t matter what kind of rating system is plastered all over a game’s box. If parents can’t get their head around the fact that games are not just for children anymore then the ratings serve no purpose anyway.

  22. Lewis says:

    Whoever it was that said PEGI tend to rate higher than BBFC… is that so? I’ve never really paid much attention, but a browse through the PEGI ratings page suggests the exact opposite to me. The criteria for a 16+ game is that depictions of violence or sexual activity look as they would in real life, and/or there is sexual taboo language, drug use or criminal activity.

    It only becomes an 18 when the violence is likely to cause revultion.

    GTA would fit firmly in the 16 category, which strikes me as irresponsible.

  23. BigJonno says:

    “The shop assistant basically did everything but refuse to sell her the game and he is to be commended.”

    I’ve worked at Toys ‘R’ Us, Virgin Megastore and a little indie DVD rental place and almost every member of staff I worked with would have done the same. I can’t say that it’s the norm, but if someone was buying GTA and had a child with them, we would check that it was for them and not the child and were usually congratulated for our dilligence.

  24. Heliocentricity says:

    @mandrill You did the right thing, san andreas is a game ruined by cheating. When the 4 year old finally finished the game (after slaying thousands of gang bangers) he would really get a great sense of satisfaction.

  25. Monchberter says:

    Interestingly, the last few GTA games have had BBFC ratings on them. 18 across the board, Even the DS versions.

  26. Duoae says:

    @ Lewis. Criteria are one thing, looking at the actual data is another. Examples from one of my previous blog posts about PEGI’s suitability:

    “A game like Call of Juarez is a 15 game for BBFC but is 18+ for PEGI. Half Life 2 is 15 for BBFC but 16+ for PEGI. There are other examples too – especially notable where PEGI rates a game at 16+ but the BBFC does not deem a rating to be required at all.”

    I checked these from my own game library and you can also check them against the PEGI ratings on their site and, i think, the BBFC site as well.

  27. Fenchurch says:

    No One Lives Forever was rated 18! Why? Why was it rated 18?

  28. Wollollo says:

    While I agree that 15 would be better that 16, I am not far past 18 myself and I clearly remember maturing quite a bit between 16 and 18, so I wouldn’t say it is pointless to have both. Also, PEGI seems a bit strict on language, at 12 Any bad language in this category must be mild and fall short of sexual expletives. I don’t like strong language much, – anything I say would be certified 12 – but not letting 14 – 15 year olds hear a single f seems both harsh and limiting.

  29. 7rigger says:

    As someone who has worked in games shops for many years, I am glad to see the move to a stable ratings system. PEGI may not be perfect, but it is understandable.

    I also have to say I have faced many situations similar to the kind that Mandrill explained; parents who just don’t care about the system – Including a father who threatened to hit me for dragging him away from the football to come buy a copy of GTA:SA for his 11 year old son.

    Ratings are a good start to educating the masses about the content of games, but I still wish for a more adult attitude about them in general. Something that’s never going to happen now the wii has taken over the mainstream games market.

  30. Richard Clayton says:

    I wouldn’t be at all offended if the next time (and each time after that) I bought a computer game I was asked “are you buying this game for yourself?” and if not have the option for the ratings to be explained to me. It might slow down the sales a bit but it’d be good if the norm was to explain the ratings system…

    I agree with other posters that parents who do not play games are (often so stupidly) ignorant of the content. It does us no favours at all as adult gamers. I see certification as a way to protect free thinking adults from the Daily Mail’s fear-mongering-shit-cannon.

  31. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    How will this work for downloads (eg Steam.)?
    I guess they might be able to get round it by demanding a credit card for everything, although if a kid steals their mum’s credit card to buy *Gratuitously Violent Killing Sim 4.0*, who’s in the wrong?

  32. Lack_26 says:

    I think what is deemed appropriate varies from area to area. To make a giant generalisation, some working class families might consider GTA to be appropriate to a 13-14 year old. While many middle-England families might be appalled that poor Timmy will ever see violence/sex before the age of 32.

    Of course, that is a MASSIVE generalisation, so don’t call be out on class-ism, because I know.

  33. Heliocentricity says:

    I’m a dad which plays the games i put my son in front of. Indeed i’ll be sat next to him unless i’m confident the game is totally safe and wont have any areas of frustration. But then, i’m a dad in my twenties raised as a gamer, i can’t expect a non gamer parent to understand. Its a shame the big red 18 is gone, its the only symbol many parents would pay any attention to. I feel sorry for the shops being fined and shut down for selling 12′s to 11 year olds though.

  34. The Sombrero Kid says:

    btw, the BBFC is state funded and PEGI is industry funded, the BBFC wanted to rate all games and get more money off the govenment for it the government didn’t like this.

    they should’ve went with the BBFC logos and the PEGI rating system though, it’s the best of both.

  35. Clovis says:

    Richard Clayton said:

    I also agree that the PEGI system is a little too draconian. What the hell “Some scenes of partial nudity may be permitted but never in a sexual context” means I can’t imagine. Bare arms, midriff etc? Remember kids, naked bodies / exposed flesh is BAD!

    Ha! You think that is draconian?? Check out the descriptions of the ESRB ratings! Partial nudity gets you an M in the States. That is the highest rating you can get before AO which practically bans your game from store shelves at major retailers. I’m pretty sure that nudity is bad for everyone here.

    Oh, and check out the associated age ratings. I kid you not, rated M games are intended for 17+, and rated AO games are intended for 18+. ONE YEAR. But, in the US that one year allows you to own a gun and vote (but not consume alchohol, of course).

    And there is a good chance that the dumb ESRB rules affect what games y’all get to play in Europe. The game designers know they can’t end up with an AO, so they have to design around it. Sometimes you might get a few things added in I guess, but I’m sure this has an affect on big budget games.

    We don’t have a reliable “this is for a Mature audience” rating in the US. The ESRB is doing something good though. Responsible parents can go to the website and it now gives a detailed description of why a game got rated a certain way. They sometimes contain spoilers though. But just banning rated M games from kids is a no go. My brother (12) would die if he couldn’t play Call of Duty. He’ll have to wait for GTA though. Both rated M, of course.

  36. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @phuzz it’s unlikely to change digital distribution much, you can already buy 18 cert games and movies of the internet, there are guidelines for determining peoples age which the whole internet follows i.e. ask them thier age.

  37. Archonsod says:

    The beauty of the PEGI system is it actually tells you WHY the game got the rating it did, not just what the recommended age is. You can see pretty much at a glance whether it’s there because of sexual content, violence or merely bad language.
    If parents can’t understand a simple system like that, then they have no business being parents in the first place.

  38. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @Clovis
    it definitely does have an affect but so does the German or Australian Ban Fanatics.

  39. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @Archonsod
    as much as i agree i don’t think we’ll be able to get our current crop of resignation happy spinless lizard men to start dishing out vasectomies to the illiterate.

  40. Clovis says:

    Oh, I also wanted to say that I don’t understand why movies and games can’t use the same system. The US movie ratings (MPAA) aren’t that bad really. When a movie is rated “R” it is a pretty good indicator that kids shouldn’t watch it. Everyone knows the movie ratings, so just apply them to games in a similar fashion. That way something like Halo could get a “PG-13″ (instead of M) and Saints Row 2 can get an R.

  41. Some Guy says:

    i did like how CoD4 was a 16+ with PEGI, yet the special edition was a 15+ BBFC as it had a cocumentery in it.

    also 16+ ratings are a pain, im 17 yet there is no ID except passport or that citizen card(more data for UK goverment to lose). It means that i cant buy games in store so i have to use the web.

  42. Ziv says:

    i think the age thing is stupid. not all kids at the age of 13 know that the violence on screen isn’t real. not all kids at 16 knows that the sex in the movie isn’t real. not all the 8 year olds understand that cursing is bad. I think the new system should not enforce age but be a series of icons with each one means another aspect of the game and each colored to show how significant it is. ie: mass effect would get a yellowish icon for racism and some fantasy gunplay and maybe a redder icon for some mild sex reference.
    gta on the other hand would get a series of red icons for mass murder of civilians and police officers on the streets. prototype would also get a red “ton of blood on screen” icon but shouldn’t be limited to 16 y/o because there are houses where the kids are more mature and capable of hadling this kind of stuff when they’re 12.

  43. Ginger Yellow says:

    ” Also, PEGI seems a bit strict on language, at 12 Any bad language in this category must be mild and fall short of sexual expletives.”

    That’s not much stricter than the BBFC’s 12 guidelines for films. You’re basically allowed one “fuck”.

    One of the reasons that the BBFC and PEGI ratings differ is that you don’t get a BBFC certificate if the only “objectionable” content is language. You can swear all you like in an game about fluffy bunnies eating carrots. You only have to get a BBFC rating if your game features “gross violence against humans or animals, human sexual activity, human urinary or excretory functions or genital organs, or techniques likely to be useful in the commission of offences”

  44. Ginger Yellow says:

    Incidentally, I love the way kids have to be protected from urinary and excretory functions, like they’ve never had a piss or shit before.

  45. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @Ziv in what way was mass effect racist?

    Thinking about it, i like the idea behind the new system:
    uninterested/Busy/Stupid parents can just look at the redness of the icon and say no,

    semi interested/those wishing to appear interested can look at the number and compare it to how long it’s been since they had sex and see which ones greater

    and parents who like computer games and their children long enough to decipher the hieroglyphics on the box can make an informed choice.

  46. Clovis says:

    @Ginger Yellow: That reminds me of everyone’s favorite kid’s book: Nobody Poops but You. I’m pretty sure that’s from Family Guy.

  47. Zero says:

    I also agree that the PEGI system is a little too draconian. What the hell “Some scenes of partial nudity may be permitted but never in a sexual context” means I can’t imagine. Bare arms, midriff etc? Remember kids, naked bodies / exposed flesh is BAD!

    Considering that’s in the 7+ category, I think they’re referring to stuff like showing Dexter’s buttocks in Dexter’s Laboratory. Basically nudity for the purposes of slapstick humor.

  48. Tony says:

    Some Guy: Get a provisional driving license, man.

    I’ve used mine since I was about 16 to get bloody everywhere. And I still don’t know how to drive.

  49. Andrew Dunn says:

    I remember NOLF getting an 18 from the BBFC. Had to send the game back as my parents were not happy.

    Bought it again a couple years later, when it had the 18 removed and was simply an ELSPA 11+.

  50. JC says:

    Government quote:
    “The new system of classification follows the essential criteria set out by Professor Tanya Byron”
    “We will now work with PEGI and the VSC to agree exactly what the new symbols will look like”

    Byron Review Summary, section 36:
    “I recommend a hybrid classification system in which [..] BBFC logos are on the front of all games”

    The Byron Review *specifically* stated that the BBFC logos should be kept because *everyone* is aware of them, and said that introducing new logos would be confusing and counter-productive. I don’t see how they can claim to be following the review’s recommendations with a straight face.