In the last few days of July the PEGI rating system for videogames passed into law. That means that selling a game that bears a PEGI age rating of 12 or over to anyone younger than that is now a crime, punishable by a fine of £5000 and up to six years in prison. It also means that the BBFC ratings, those familiar circular icons that appear on films as well, will disappear from our box art.
This is a move that’s been far too long in coming, and one that will hopefully act as a final nail in the coffin to the confusion surrounding videogame content and its suitability for younger children. It is not censorship, rather it’s common sense, and it’s rare that we get to celebrate feats of common sense in this industry.
The PEGI system enables a parent or a guardian to make an informed choice about the games their children get to play, and it also gives retailers a stronger reason to refuse to sell products to people who aren’t mature enough to deal with the content they contain. But at the same time a stronger enforcement means a stronger defence when games come under fire.
In other words, there’s now recourse when a child is found playing something unsuitable, there’s a way to make sure that everyone involved in the purchase chain understands the consequence of providing a minor with a game they’re not ready for.
For too long some parents have equated the age ratings on games with the challenge level that they present. The ‘My Johnny’s playing this and it’s meant for much older people’ effect. The use of the BBFC symbols was supposed to act as a counter to that, but it largely failed, mainly down to a lack of enforcement on both sides of the counter.
With the new PEGI guidance that’s all set to change, but this is a move that’s not just about legal ramifications. Responsibility is going to have to play a large part in creating and sustaining a workable model of videogame distribution. Responsibility on the part of the retailer to make sure they challenge and question where necessary, and responsibility on the part of the parent or guardian to make sure they stay informed.
The danger with rating systems is they can deflect that responsibility, passing the buck from parent to retailer and back again. That’s why we need to encourage a system that doesn’t just point the finger when something goes wrong, but engages with both sides of the debate, creating a dialogue that others can learn from.
Videogames aren’t just for children any more, and never really have been (as any gamer will tell you). The PEGI decision will hopefully be the first step in a long journey towards the mainstream accepting that.
Yes, there are games that are designed for younger players, but this is a multi-billion selling industry with experiences aimed at everyone from your pet cat to pensioners, and we need a system that understands that.
More than that though, we need a system that encourages people to stay informed, and hopefully that’s something PEGI can do.