Thursday, 17 September 2015

Legal Loophole

Hello and welcome to what I hope is the first of many ratings related blogs.  I hope to be able to provide some insight, thoughts and information on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of video game ratings in respect of the GRA and PEGI.  Let’s get things right from the start; this is not a review blog – there’s enough out there already – more than enough in my view and written by more able reviewers than I could hope to be, so if you want to know how good, bad or indifferent a game is then you’ve come to the wrong place.  If, on the other hand, you want to know what makes us tick or are simply interested in the kind of stuff we deal with on a regular basis then you have most definitely come to the right place.

I can’t promise thrill-a-minute prose – some of the things we do are simply downright dull – but maybe you’ll come to understand the reasons why we do the things we do.  In return, I would be pleased to hear your comments on anything I’ve said – even if you violently disagree – but let’s try and be civilised about it, huh?  The abuse I see on so many other blogs really does nothing to advance the debate and neither will I respond to such comments.

I thought I’d start off with an issue that regularly rears its head for the games regulator and one which seems to be increasingly problematic.  As you probably know, here in the UK much entertainment media is regulated and video games are no exception.  Whilst the PEGI rating system in Europe is, by and large, a matter of consumer choice – that is to say there’s no legal enforcement governing the ratings – here in good old Britannia things are a little different. 

The PEGI 12, 16 and 18 ratings ARE legally enforceable; game stores risk prosecution if they sell such rated games to persons below the relevant age restriction.  The legislation places this responsibility entirely on the shoulders of the retailer and none on the consumer.  This means that there’s nothing which prevents mum, dad, grandad, grandma, aunt, uncle or Tiddles the cat from buying such a game and then giving it to an under-age child; no doubt you’ve worked out that this has the effect of completely under-mining the point of the legislation in the first place; protecting kids from inappropriate or downright unsavoury media.

Recently, a deputy head teacher rang us to say he had witnessed an example of the aforementioned flaw in his local game shop and wondered what we could do about it.  In the store he was quite staggered that despite the shop assistant’s best efforts to persuade the customer otherwise, the consumer insisted on buying an ‘18’ rated game for a child whom he guessed was around eleven years of age.  He was even more taken aback when I pointed out that this was entirely legal, if wholly inappropriate, and not that uncommon.  He told me that he was quite convinced that children he dealt with – primary school children – were aping the language and modes of behaviour to be found in the more popular 18 rated video games; something which he found very disturbing. 

It seems unlikely that any more legislation could prevent such incidents from happening and how would it be enforced in any case?  Others would argue that the rest of Europe seems to get by without the need for legislation so what’s the problem with Britain? Are we particularly attuned to the so-called ‘effects’ of popular media on impressionable minds, or are we like the ‘Overreaction Brothers’; leaping in horror at the merest hint that something’s threatening our kids?

Do add a comment if you have view on this.  You may think of something that should be glaringly obvious, but has simply been missed.  Sometimes you just can’t see the wood for the trees.


  1. Any chance for a change of the law on this, in the same way that adults can be prosecuted for buying cigarettes and alcohol and supplying to children?

    Retailers really should refuse to sell a restricted game to an adult if there is clear evidence (like the kid is standing right there) that it will be supplied to a minor.

  2. I understand the sentiment, but there appears to be little appetite for such a legal change in respect of video games until, of course, something goes horribly wrong.

  3. I agree with GRUK, parents know their kids and how mature they are but there DOES need to be more done to educate parents that games are NOT like they were in the 80s/90s and they are a LOT more realistic now!

  4. In my opinion, the problem with PEGI ratings is that they don't examine games on a case to case basis. They decide based on specific guidelines what rating it deserves. For example, a game like Star Wars Battlefront contains some realistic looking violence, but that doesn't mean it's unsuitable for 12 year olds. For this reason, the guidelines are too specific. I know you believe you are better than the BBFC as you are specialised in games, but the great thing about the BBFC was that their guidelines weren't too specific. For example, the violence is Assassin's Creed games got rated 15 despite being towards defenceless people partly because the player gets punished for killing defenceless people.

    Overall, I'd argue PEGI is too strict and has no 'wiggle room', which is bad as it leads to parents not taking its ratings as seriously, so when a game comes out this ACTUALLY deserves an 18 rating, parents may not care because of PEGI's other ratings being too strict.

    Please let me know what you think about my comments.

    1. Hi,
      We understand the point you are making, but there are subtle differences between how the BBFC and PEGI works. The BBFC is only responsible for the UK and since its history lies predominantly with film and video, their system has always been context-sensitive meaning that, like you have suggested, they can approach a work on a case-by-case basis. PEGI, however, is a Europe-wide system which means that contextual arguments cannot be readily used since what may be okay with one country may not be okay with another. As a result, we have to be rather more black and white in our approach with the criteria setting clear boundaries between what is permitted in one rating and another regardless of context. Hope that makes it clearer for you.