Why The UK’s Turn To PEGI Is Not Necessary
Earlier this week, the UK government announced that PEGI would replace the BBFC later this year, giving the European organisation control of videogame ratings in Britain. Whilst this decision has been widely supported throughout the gaming industry, I do not think it was something that needed changing.
Amongst the gaming community, the BBFC is best known for the decision to ban Manhunt 2 in 2007. The controversy that followed this has meant that for many gamers it is impossible to disassociate the BBFC’s ban from any other news involving them. You need only look through GamePolitics.com’s BBFC section to realise how often the Manhunt 2 debacle is referenced in relation to other topics involving the ratings board.
Given that the animosity directed at the BBFC stemmed from their audacity to use the powers given to them is somewhat ludicrous. Admittedly, I do have my own issues with Rockstar, but the gaming community’s outcry in defence of a game that is mindlessly violent for the sake of mindless violence is objectionable. This reaction has led many to accuse the BBFC of treating videogames differently to films or DVDs, arguing that they were not qualified to rate games and were unfairly discriminating against them. Unfortunately, it is this viewpoint that was also adopted by the gaming industry and has been reflected through their support of the PEGI system used across Europe and the recent decision to implement it within the UK.
The first point I would like to address regarding the PEGI switch are the BBFC’s rating practices and whether they were fit to handle the position they held. It is commonly argued that those in charge of rating games were not ‘˜qualified’ to do so. In reality, the people rating the games were likely to be avid gamers with a strong background in them. I have just finished an A-level in Film Studies, which for part of the course involved studying the BBFC and its role. In doing so we had to watch a documentary produced by the BBFC, part of which dealt specifically with how it approached videogames. One of the chief officers dealing with videogame ratings had a gaming history dating back to the ZX Spectrum. If having around 25 years of gaming experience doesn’t qualify you to rate games then what does?
Secondly, regarding their supposed ‘˜discrimination’ against videogames, when the board certifies a film for release in Britain, a highly detailed report will be created justifying the rating. This also occurs for games. In the case of higher ratings (specifically 18s or above) they will contact those involved with the production in case they wish to make changes. Again, this also happens with games. It is fairly common for film companies to take the board’s advice and make a number of changes to the final product before it is released. However, linking once again to the Manhunt 2 controversy, the BBFC’s request that changes be made led to a lawsuit from Rockstar and cemented gamers’ hatred for the board. Even if the majority of those protesting the BBFC’s decision had no intention of actually buying or playing the game.
To further discredit the claim that the BBFC is biased against games I will use Mass Effect as an example. The BBFC rated Mass Effect as a 12 compared to the 18 and M awarded by PEGI and the ESRB respectively. If the BBFC truly were discriminating against games wouldn’t it be more likely for them to follow suit with the other major ratings boards and prevent more people from playing it?
This brings me to my next point. When the switch is implemented all ratings in the UK will correspond with the other European countries in which PEGI operates. The problem with this is that Britain tends to differ greatly from mainland Europe both culturally and socially. For example, what may be considered an 18 rated game on the continent could well translate to a much lower classification in the UK, as seen with Mass Effect. With the BBFC in control ratings were tailored to fit the tolerances of society in Britain, not the perceived views of the entire continent.
Given that the aim of both ratings boards is to prevent children from accessing unsuitable content, why is a change needed anyway? The BBFC functions already. Considering that many parents are already confused and ignorant of game ratings, the introduction of new symbols will undoubtedly lead to greater confusion. The symbols used by the BBFC are synonymous with UK residents but the proposed PEGI symbols look much less authoritarian. It’s almost certain that children will be able to use the excuse of ‘˜it’s a difficulty rating’ with greater ease once the PEGI system comes into effect.
The switch in rating boards also brings with it an issue of cost. It will require a number of legislative measures to allow for nationwide enforcement, which will be costly for the government. There will undoubtedly be an impact for retailers, especially with regards to existing stock and used games. This is a major area that will need to be addressed before the switch. Whatever the decision, the possibility of having stickers to indicate the PEGI rating or removal of existing stock from stores will be of high cost to retailers. This will inevitably be passed on to us in the form of price increases.
In essence though, the attempts to strengthen measures to prevent children playing adult oriented games isn’t going to have an effect unless the parents are educated. Until the outdated idea that games are solely for kids is disbanded parents are going to continue buying inappropriate games for their children regardless of the rating system in place. Turning to the PEGI system won’t stop children getting hold of 18 rated games. If the government and the gaming industry really want to keep kids away from adult content then they need to educate the parents. That’s the only way I can see that will have true success in tackling the problem.