Spot On: British game-ratings changes broken down

Restrictions to be harsher--and legally binding--under just-adopted PEGI system; new body being set up to focus on selecting which games will be banned in the UK.

When the British government presented its thoughts on how to keep Britain at the cutting edge in the digital age, gaming got its fair share of attention. As well as a number of issues around game development, the most important thing for UK gamers was the conclusion to the long-running UK ratings saga.

Currently, every game released in the European Union receives a rating under the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) system. However, not all games reach UK shelves with a PEGI rating attached. Depending on a game's content, UK law requires some to instead carry a rating from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) that is then legally binding. (PEGI ratings are considered advisory labels only.) Under the proposals outlined in the report, PEGI will now be the only source for UK ratings, and those ratings will now carry legal weight.

The old BBFC ratings (above) and new PEGI ratings (below).

Previously legally binding ratings, BBFC ratings were only needed for a minority of games that either had significant non-game content, were tied into film releases, or if they depicted or encouraged any of the following: human sexual activity or acts of force or restraint associated with such activity; mutilation or torture of, or other acts of gross violence toward, humans or animals; human genital organs or human urinary or excretory functions; techniques likely to be useful in the commission of criminal offences. These provisions were laid out in the Video Recordings Act 1984, which forms the legal basis for both criminalising underage sale of rated "video works," and criminalising the sale of such works that were refused classification.

The power to ban games by refusing UK classification will now pass to the Video Standards Council, a UK body that jointly administers the PEGI system with the Netherlands Institute for the Classification of Audiovisual Media. Also, every single game on UK store shelves intended for anyone over the age of 12 will now have a legally binding age rating on it, with stiff penalties in place for any businesses that sell games to those who are underage.

The single most significant change for UK gamers is likely to stem from the fact that PEGI has a history of rating games more conservatively than the BBFC. According to the VSC, since 2003, approximately 50 percent of PEGI 18+ games have received more lenient ratings from the BBFC. As of the end of last year, according to a PEGI statement at the time, 24 of 50 titles rated 18+ by PEGI had had their ratings reduced by the BBFC. Two of these--Mass Effect and PSP game SWAT - Target Liberty--were released in the UK with 12 ratings from the BBFC, but with a PEGI 18+ in the rest of Europe. The other 22 received 15 ratings in the UK--among them, big games, such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill 3, and the original God of War.

A number of 16+ PEGI games were also downgraded, including Call of Duty 3, Tomb Raider Anniversary, and Soul Calibur IV, which were all released in the UK with a 12 rating. Whether or not young teens will still be able to buy games with split ratings, such as Mass Effect and SWAT, remains to be seen and is a matter the VSC has told GameSpot it will be taking up with government.

The fate of Mass Effect is in the balance.

There are a number of reasons for these increased ratings; the first of these is the use of sexual expletives in a game. Such language automatically results in the application of a PEGI 16+ rating--which may then be upgraded, depending on other factors. However, under the BBFC's guidelines, occasional use of "the strongest language" only results in a 12 rating.

"A single act of violence in a film will be seen once," a VSC representative told GameSpot. "The single use of a sexual expletive in a film will be heard once. This being the case, it is entirely legitimate to put the act of violence or sexual expletive into the context of the overall film. This is not the case for games."

He went on to explain that while each instance of violence and vulgarity occurs once during the course of a film, players might be made to replay cutscenes and fights complete with all their objectionable content numerous times before advancing in a game.

"This being the case, it is not appropriate to put the act of violence or sexual expletive into context," the VSC representative concluded. "Once the act of violence or sexual expletive is there, it will attract the PEGI rating attributable to it."

The one other change that will be made is in respect to banning games. While the criteria for the refusal of UK classification will remain the same as it did when the BBFC was administering the process, the VSC has said it is to set up an advisory panel to which it will refer all games that it fears may need to be banned. Under the act, any game "likely to cause harm" to those viewing it, with special consideration being given to criminal behaviour; illegal drugs; violent behaviour or incidents; horrific behaviour or incidents; or human sexual activity would be referred. This does only apply in the UK, however, so a banned game in the UK would almost certainly still be released in the rest of Europe with a PEGI 18+ rating.

Because the key point is the likelihood to cause harm, the advisory council is to contain a senior clinical psychologist and a senior media psychologist, as well as a senior media lawyer. According to the VSC, the panel will not make the final decision to ban a game, with the VSC only saying its advice "will be taken into account." This will, the VSC hopes, mean that if it does elect to ban a game, the decision will not be reversed on appeal.

It should be noted that the legal weight of classifications is only relevant when the supply of a video work is "for reward" or "in the course of furtherance of a business," and so games bought by others then given as gifts would not fall foul of the legislation, as they did not before.

It is currently unclear as to when the new system will come into force, as Parliament needs to approve some of the changes. The VSC confirmed to GameSpot that it plans to meet with appropriate members of government in the near future to work out a timetable.

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Discussion

243 comments
MrTakeda
MrTakeda

Why is this country run by idiots!!! Playing on Call of duty is NOT like going to the front line and blowing heads off real people its just an animation!

Hexagon_777
Hexagon_777

"Currently, every game released in the European Union receives a rating under the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) system. However, not all games reach UK shelves with a PEGI rating attached. Depending on a game's content, UK law requires some to instead carry a rating from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) that is then legally binding. (PEGI ratings are considered advisory labels only.)" That whole paragraph applies to Germany as well, except that they have the USK instead of the PEGI. And yes, Germany is in the European Union. Whoever wrote this failed to make a quick trip to Wikipedia!

Igrat
Igrat

Dante's Inferno = Boobies + killer babies Wonder what ratings that will have...

geoff-uk123
geoff-uk123

This sucks. Not only are we not going to see the BBFC ratings on games anymore, but we are probably gonna get lots of good games banned over here. Unfair.

Tracey8969
Tracey8969

You can all sign that petition below as pongley said.

-Katsuri-
-Katsuri-

Oh great, this is what we needed.....

Blu-Fan-Boy
Blu-Fan-Boy

don't hate the country hate the system

darklight4
darklight4

i signed that petition lets hope people take notice

darklight4
darklight4

has anyone seen some of the myths about video games they are ridiculous

tomskews
tomskews

Banning games? Pathetic. Yet another reason to hate the ignorant, lying, repulsive politicians that run the UK.

Rottenwood
Rottenwood

Damn you, British censors! Don't you get in the way of me having hot mind-sex with that blue chick.

furryfrump
furryfrump

Nerkcon forgot one little thing, being that the EU can call in the SAS, and generally don't fight wars, as that's what NATO is for. Anyway back on topic the irony is that are a lot of films/games rated 18 for sex, when children of all ages can see far worse things on the internet with the average age of porn watching in the UK to be 14-15, it's kinda stupid as this is below the rating, and far more graphic. .

jcoe85
jcoe85

God damn I hate this country, time for a revolt I reckon.

andyclass50
andyclass50

Here's to the dude who said this; "The single use of a sexual expletive in a film will be heard once. This being the case, it is entirely legitimate to put the act of violence or sexual expletive into the context of the overall film. This is not the case for games." ...That's just a load of rubbish! When I was little (about 5 years old), in secret I watched the scene where the main dude in RoboCop gets blown to bits many many times, frame by frame (lol, slightly twisted I know). 1) I have never done anything like that with a game. 2) Films are (usually) a lot more visually realistic and explicit than games. 3) You can watch a film as many times as you want. 4) There is a REWIND button if you missed that glimpse of nipple. 5) There is a PAUSE button, enabling you to skip frame by frame to watch any gruesome scene in great detail. 4) coolguy735 is precisely right. 5) It's a GAME you grumpy old ****.

jono2
jono2

does it really matter? just order the games online or get your parents to buy them for you.

coolguy735
coolguy735

Terrible. Games don't effect how people live unless they're mentally challenged. I for one will be making a complaint.

lucien86
lucien86

Hate to tell you all but the Tories are just as bad as Labour, even the 'Liberals' are no better. That only leaves UKIP, the BNP or the Green party - with first past the post might as well flush your vote down the toilet. V.....?

wars45
wars45

even if they ban a game .i will just inport it .the new ratings .dont see the point .it up to the parantes .have got an 8 year old son and a 1 year son and my 8 year old .plays gta iv and loves call 4 . .he khows its not real . and its just a game .i was watchin films that wher 15 an 18 .when i was 12 never did me eny arm

TheChaffa
TheChaffa

i feel bad for u fellow UK friends, i truly do :/ *american*

PEELEDbanana
PEELEDbanana

This makes me kind of wonder about, say ancient Roman kids. They probably watched gladiator matches. That is real. So were they screwed up in the head after seeing this? I am curious.

DredWulf
DredWulf

yeah but look at the results of todays parenting...Children today aren't the children of a generation ago, the media and parents who don't have the proper skills are what raisings modern youth.

alexLmx6
alexLmx6

yes, lets let the government decide how to raise our children because we're too stupid and lazy to and we never wanted them in the first place...

Nerkcon
Nerkcon

I'm going be honest about two things 1. I agree with restrictions, this looks like a good change. Banning the most violent games (AKA the good ones) from public stores only stops little kids and complete noobs who can't (or aren't smart enough) to go to online or special stores from getting the game. But... 2. They're treating their people like weak minded fools (or maybe they are, with how stupid their news media is). Mass Effect is too violent for them? :| I guess it sorta makes sense, they're afraid of all things combat and warfare in real life. ( Off topic but I was wondering, How strong is the European Union's overall military?)

Strategygamer22
Strategygamer22

Why should anyone (other than the console developer and game developer) be able to say that we can or can't play a game. It is a personal choice given to each person.

Poshkidney
Poshkidney

Just stick a sticker saying whats in and how much of it and if you're offended by well you were warned. Censorship is a bad thing as it stops us knowing the facts and makes us feel as if the content will go over our heads.

gormo4
gormo4

@william123451 dumb noob.. that's not download speed, it's internet speed, they're different.. O_0

capitancahonas
capitancahonas

Jesus H Christ! I am almost at a loss for words..What the hell is wrong with the current system? Another F***ing quango to judge the socio/psychological effects of video games?!! The self defeating thought police have finally made me snap..I don't know about games causing violence and deviant behaviour, but this article makes me mad enough to go grab my hedgetrimmmer and hurl myself at random strangers with it!! Arghhhhh death to the VSC/PEGI/RSPCA?/NASA and any other damn acronyms I can find.. Death to the acronyms!!

laggylad2
laggylad2

PEGI ratings can be very confusing, everyone I know can recognise a BBFC rating and quite frankly I feel that the BBFC do a far better job at classifying games than PEGI. The BBFC base their decision on not just content but the context in which it is presented. And yes I think the pause and rewind buttons will come as a horrible shock to these people.

Mr_Jimmeh
Mr_Jimmeh

I can't understand this, PEGI ratings tend to be over the top, but BBFC tend to be quite sensible. Under no circumstances can I understand Mass Effect being rated 18+, it isn't logical. Anyway, they do realise this will not change the fact that kids can get games that they don't classify for online, or in the same way minors buy alcohol or get into clubs. Another thing, banning games? Are they serious, that is utterly ridiculous, give it an 18+, a sensible human being should be able to buy a game if they wish. Isn't just a kicker when they try and pass all the blame for the worlds problems onto video games...

badstyle
badstyle

As a 10 year old youngster, my parents did not allow me to watch any 18 films at least until I was about 15 however that didn't stop other children the same age being allowed to watch them at home if their parents allowed it. It also didn't stop me watching the Exorcist (still x-rated and banned at the time) or other 18 rated films (Robocop, Aliens, Nightmare on Elm Street etc) at a friend's house. The point is, the only changes this will affect will be that in the mind of responsible parents who don't wish to expose their children's minds to (in their view) simulated moral dilemmas/violet/sexual content before they are capable of understanding it. (I know of plenty of 18+ year old people who still aren't capable of understanding the implications of the above.) Furthermore it would make retailers think twice before exposing children to visuals arguably deemed inappropriate for them (sans parental consent). It will NOT stop kids getting hold of and/or playing this. Banning games however, appears to be pretty pointless, it certainly wouldn't stop games being imported or bought online digitally from "internationally located" e-tailers, surely?

King_Louis51
King_Louis51

I am 18 so this doesn't really affect me. I think it's a good idea to increase restrictions and therefore allow developers to get away with more without the fear of a media backlash for "harming" minors. But BANNING games? F**k that. No game needs to be banned. When's the last time the UK banned a film? I think it was 14 years ago when Kids was released, but even that is unbanned now. Last time we banned a game? NEVER... Carmageddon and Manhunt 2 were only banned for short whiles. If a game gets banned then it does affect me, so i can't agree with that. Adults aged 18+ should be allowed to make their own decisions about what they play. And the labour government is allowing this!? they're supposed to be more liberal than conservative -- conservative never did anything like this! maybe it's time for the lib dems to have a go.

einarabelc5
einarabelc5

@ dogpigfish So you agree with Characters chainsawing their limbs and guts out but you call the only thing that supports humanity: Sex, trash. Yep. I think you've had too much time on your hands. Keep it up buddy you're doing great. Seems to me that no matter what, no matter where. Everyone that comes into crossing with power wants more and more every time. Are you willing to give away your power to them?

blakeney
blakeney

@ NEO-HAWK If think these kinda things are decided in the house of commons...which is pretty much the same regardless of whos "in" at the time, like alot of laws ect... As a side note.....all those that have brashly thought this is a bad move.....you must be either 12 and upset because you cant legally play your GTA ect.......or you simply havnt thought this through.......in the "laws" eyes if its illegal for a 12yearold to buy for example a GTA game, R* will get away with alot more becuase the "law" will really see it as no 12year olds would be playing it so why wrap it up in cotton wool(too an extent ofc). I think they should follow this up with a simular law where a parent of a 12yearold that buys their child a game such as gta should get some form of caution or even just a wrist slap, much in the same way it works with cigarettes. The harder it is for young kids to get thier grubby mitts on adults games, the more free developers are to create games as they desire(again too an extent ofc).

NEO-HAWK
NEO-HAWK

This government really doesnt want to get in next election, does it?

andalore
andalore

Hopefully this is the beginning of the end for annoying little kids voices ruining my cod4 :)

darklight4
darklight4

just been thinking why is it they never consider who the game is aimed at all i i ever hear in these kind of storoes is how people believe kids get freaked out by content when most kids dont. if this is to help stores to not sell violent games to parents who are buying them for kids ill support but if banning becomes the norm there will be hell to pay

mightycloud
mightycloud

Whoo hoo. The readers of the Daily Mail and the Red tops rejoice. Your children are now safe to only receive the games they tell you to buy for them! This won't change a thing, kids will still get to see content not suitable for them because their parents will buy them, mainly due to mis-info and hype, and unless the parents are told "this is bad! Do not let our children play this filth." Yet they're quite happy to let them support war and the BNP (the Bloody-minded Nonce Pricks). We're looking at you william 123451.

WasTeDMinD86
WasTeDMinD86

...not this again....Death to Censorship....i will not take this and lay down...

Stabby
Stabby

This isn't over, I'll barrage the VSC will emails and letter from multiple parties if banning becomes the norm like Germany.

Markie75
Markie75

To William123451 .... You voting for the BNP itself shows your intolerence! lol ..Lets hope PEGI are not as bigoted.....

Markie75
Markie75

*"A single act of violence in a film will be seen once," This is not the case for games."*..Depends how many time you watch the film ?? MIKE_LABECKIO - it is mate...but very very softcore!!! lol

Mike_Labeckio
Mike_Labeckio

Just curious, is porn legal in EU? This artical just makes me question, considering there are a lot of porn stars from EU.

brainsurgonist
brainsurgonist

@william123451. You do realise that the bnp dont just want to be out of europe. they want every single person who is not english out of the country.. i quote 'Aids is a good disease as it kills black people' i dont think ill go into the more disturbing one's. btw i think these new ratings are stupid. i hope you realize what you voted for.

deejaykay18
deejaykay18

argh, the EU sucks so much. Keep BBFC, screww PEGI

Dr_Bob_UK
Dr_Bob_UK

To william123451, I hope you know what you voted for.

Ewangotkool
Ewangotkool

i agree with william123451. These stupid pegi ratings will destroy the gaming industry and more money will be lost for all gaming company's.

william123451
william123451

Yea wait to see what happens now. They start banning games, the game industry loses money. People start downloading pirated, cracked versions of games. Size won't be a problem either. The internet is growing, speeds increasing. Virgin already have at least 20 meg and in some places 50 meg. Won't take long to download games at that speed. Who wants to be part of europe anyway? That's why the BNP got my vote. Anyway well done on destroying the gaming industry. We'll all be left with the wii bowling, viva piniata and mario. Thanks a lot.