British rating board examines gaming

New report looks into how and why gamers play what they play, touches on violence and effectiveness of classification.

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The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) rates fewer than 7 percent of the games released in the UK (those with adult content are required to get a BBFC rating), but it wants to have 100 percent understanding of the medium regardless. To that end, the BBFC today released a report on its research into all aspects of games, from what gamers like and why to parental concerns and regulation.

The 107-page report is culled from a series of interviews on broad topics with a diverse group, from young and middle-aged gamers to concerned parents, game reviewers, and developers. One of the most interesting topics touched on in the report was that of violence in games, and it's one the report approached with caution.

"This is a difficult subject," the report reads. "A number of points may be made that, taken together, make the incidence of violence in games more comprehensible and perhaps less malign than may initially appear."

According to the report, many gamers see violence as a means to eliminate obstacles in order to achieve a goal, and not the end goal itself. And given that most games that involve shooting people also carry the risk of being shot, the report said gamers tend to be more concerned with saving their own lives than with ending others'. The report continues that giving gamers the chance to indulge in violence without consequences underscores games as escapist fantasy; they are fun because they depict things gamers wouldn't do in real life. Finally, the report says the requirement to keep interacting with a game in order to make progress makes it harder to become engrossed in than a film, and that seems to serve as a reminder for players not to mistake the game for real life.

As for the parental concerns, the report notes that parents who are familiar with games are more accepting of the medium.

"[Some parents] complain that children who play a lot of games become monosyllabic and unsociable, emerging from their rooms pasty-faced and zombie-like after hours of incomprehensible engagement with a fantasy world," the report says. "Parents who play are unsurprisingly better informed and less bothered than parents who have never played. Negative attitudes amongst the latter are often driven by bewilderment; games are a mystery and their negative image in much of the media means they are not given the benefit of the doubt."

Beyond violence in games, the report also touched upon how gamers choose the games they play. Some of the findings might surprise frequent message board visitors.

"There did not appear to be much brand loyalty to Sony or Microsoft as platform producers," the report notes. "Console brands do not appear to be cool in the way that games can be; a console is cool if it is very new on the market, but not because it is a particular brand. ... Despite its having produced some of the most popular of all games, Nintendo is mentioned less often by gamers than PlayStation and Xbox. On prompting it is sometimes regarded as pursuing a different strategy and its consoles are not subject to the same comparisons."

The report also reaffirmed the BBFC's own role in the gaming industry as a rater.

"There is widespread agreement that some regulation of video games is needed," the report reads, adding, "Regulation is needed not least because parents cannot be expected to play games themselves and come to their own judgements."

Despite that, the report did not absolve parents of blame entirely.

"If the classification of video games is indeed less vigorously enforced than film/DVD classifications, part of the explanation must lie with parents," the report says. "When they are interviewed in research many parents seem to agree on the need for a system. In practice, many do not make any effort to enforce it."

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