When the first Brits crawled out of the primordial soup that is Blackpool's unpleasant beachfront, one oozing cataract of a creature looked at his fellows and gurgled, "It'd probably be sensible to have one legally enforceable age rating system for games." It's not clear whether any of the pioneering pustule's amorphous companions even disagreed but the fact remains that it wasn't until the dwindling days of July 2012 that the plan came to fruition. As of today, ratings using the Pegi system are legally enforceable and the BBFC certification for games has been dropped. The diagrams indicating areas of concern will stay, which is good, because they warn about things like drugs, sex and spiders.
Since the Pegi ratings have existed as 'recommendations' for some time now, there shouldn't be anything too surprising about the restrictions slapped on games. As with the film industry, where the BBFC is generally sensible (despite being very concerned about teenagers hearing language that is actually teenage punctuation), the adoption of a single system should provide guidance and information rather than harsh restrictions or censorship. The dual system was not only potentially confusing for consumers but could also cause difficulties for developers, with mixed messages about the acceptability of various types of content.
While it's something of a relief to see that the Kafkaesque process of making Pegi law is finally complete, the landscape probably won't shudder and change. It's hard to imagine the games industry following the path of cinema, with the decline of the explicitly violent action film of the eighties as studios sought the pubescent pound, but there is a further acknowledgement that (shock!) not all games are suitable for every age group.
Here's the rough outline of how the ratings break down:
Games are rated for 12-years and over if they include non-graphic violence to human or animal characters, a slightly higher threshold of violence to fantasy characters or significant nudity or bad language.
Games are rated 16-years and over if the depiction of violence or sexual activity looks the same as it would do in normal life. Drug and tobacco references also trigger the age limit.
Games are rated 18-years and over if there is a "gross" level of violence likely to make the viewer feel a sense of revulsion.
The Games Rating Authority are responsible for applying ratings and the BBC note that trade body Ukie, which has welcomed the move, has relaunched its Ask About Games website, which aims to provide further information to families.
Anyone breaking the rules and selling games to under-age customers can be fined £5,000 and there's also the possibility of up to six years jail time.
In other news, Britain is expected to pass laws governing wireless radio transmissions sometime in the 23rd century.