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Film-style ratings for computer games

COMPUTER games will soon have to carry film-style age ratings to help prevent children being exposed to computer graphic violence, writes David Lister.

The Europe-wide scheme, endorsed by the Home Office in Britain, will be announced today. Stickers will be put on computer games showing whether they are suitable for the under-10s; 11 to 14s; 15 to 17s; or over-18s only.

However, the stickers will offer only guidelines to shop staff, parents and children and there is no intention for them to have any legal backing. Shops will be able to offer advice to parents but will not be able to refuse to sell games to young children.

The scheme comes from the European Software Publishers Association (ESPA) which commissioned the Video Standards Council to draw up certification.

The move comes after concern over recent computer games like the best-selling one of last year, Mortal Combat, which contains gory graphics. Some of these 'beat-em-up' games, as they are known, already carry warnings.

Ben Hill, spokesman for the ESPA, said parents did not always understand interactive entertainment and were sometimes unaware of games their children used.

He added that the hope was that the self-regulatory system would avoid the need for legally binding film-style certification.