Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Great Divide?

We occasionally get gripes from consumers about the nature of the PEGI ratings system compared to that used by film regulators.  For example, the recent STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS film was rated ‘12A’ here in the UK and PG-13 in the US (the ratings are roughly equal.)  The game version, however, received a PEGI 16 – quite a step up from its movie cousin.  Some consumers quite reasonably ask how this can be so since, apart from anything else, movies are ‘realistic’ whereas video games are not.

The first thing to understand is that film and video game regulators are not only separate entities, but also view the medium they are dealing with in quite separate ways too.  This affects the method by which they are rated.  As an ex-film regulator, I speak from first-hand experience and must confess that I too was quite surprised by the differences in approach.

Perhaps one of the biggest contributory factors rests with the point that film regulators invariably make contextual judgments when arriving at their decisions whilst game regulators generally do not.  Since films are driven by story (on the whole), it is quite correct that elements within a narrative are taken into account and considered before applying a rating, otherwise there is the potential for a film to be rated for a wholly unsuitable audience simply because it may contain an issue which, at first glance, would seem unsuitable or inappropriate for a certain age group.  As a simple example, most of us would probably agree that illegal drug use is a bad thing and would not want images of such drug use being shown to younger people.  However, if the narrative thrust (and the accompanying images) relay a story that depicts a “drugs are bad” message then it is likely that such a message would be useful for younger people to see – the difference between “Trainspotting” (18) a positive endorsement of drug use, and “Traffic” (15) a negative endorsement of drug use.  Clearly, other elements would also be taken into account – bad language, sex, etc, but the above serves to give a rough illustration of the primary rationale behind a film rating.

Game ratings on the other hand, are approached from a more direct, non-contextualised perspective.  The origins of this being, perhaps, centred on the fact that early, arcade-style video games simply didn’t have discernible narratives, so there was little to contextualise.  For games, ratings generally boil down to the degree and strength of a particular issue – the amount of violence and how it was portrayed, for example.  This is notable in the extremes of MORTAL KOMBAT (PEGI 18) at one end and DISNEY INFINITY (PEGI 7) at the other.

This still rings true for PEGI, the ESRB and other worldwide games regulators and is why game ratings can appear to be more restrictive than their cinematographic brethren.

As games become increasingly sophisticated – many games now feature wholly discernible narratives as a major component of game play - there will probably come a point at which games regulators will have to reconsider their approach.  That, however, is beyond the scope of this wee blog.

In the interim, just bear this in mind and that you should never compare like-for- like as in the case of STAR WARS the film vs game.

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