Age ratings for games become law in UK

UK switches to PEGI ratings system; retailers selling adult games to underage customers subject to prosecution.

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Video game ratings have become legally enforceable for the first time in the UK as the country switches to the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) ratings system. The parallel British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) system has been dropped in the same move, as was planned in 2009's Digital Britain Report, following the 2008 Byron Review on child safety.

Games will now be age-rated by a single body for simplicity, with retailers subject to prosecution for flouting PEGI's 12, 16, and 18 ratings. Previously, the dual classification system was formally voluntary and, according to the Byron Review, "often made things confusing for the consumer".

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Under the simplified system, the Video Standards Council will award ratings for games using PEGI's criteria for violence and sexual content. Game packaging will also feature the PEGI emblems for drugs, bad language, and the like.

The UK's Trading Standards Institute will oversee the changeover and compliance of game sellers who, if found guilty of selling games to underage customers, may face fines and prison sentences of up to six years.

Dr Jo Twist, chief executive of the United Kingdom Interactive Entertainment Association (UKIE) says the new system is "more relevant to games" than the BBFC equivalent and carries more weight, calling it "strict in the same regard as [rules on] alcohol or cigarettes".

Dr Richard Wilson, chief executive of games industry trade body TIGA, says that though PEGI ratings will let consumers make informed decisions, "the purchaser must ultimately take responsibility for ensuring that the game which he/she has bought is age-appropriate".

Wilson also notes online stores and digital downloads remain exempt from age rating enforcement. "As both of these methods typically require a credit or debit card, parents can ensure their children play age appropriate games".

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