Memorandum submitted by The Video Standards
The VSC was established in 1989.
It is a standards body representing all segments of the video
and games industries.
From 1994 until 2003 the VSC administered
the UK ELSPA system of age rating for video games. From 2003 the
VSC has been jointly responsible for administering the PEGI system
of age rating applying in the UK and 27 other countries of Europe.
Both systems represent effective non statutory means of control
and giving information.
PEGI is a unique achievement and
is a robust and dynamic system of age rating which has the flexibility
to both meet European demands and national requirements and sensitivities.
A small minority of games (less than
3%) have to be submitted to the BBFC for legal classification
in the UK because of extreme content (usually gross violence or
sexual content) and receive the same BBFC classifications as are
used for films. This causes confusion.
There is a clear need to distinguish
between video games and films. They are very different products.
Watching a film is a passive experience. Playing a game is an
interactive experience. The PEGI system fulfils this requirement.
The methodology used for age rating
films is inappropriate for video games. The single use of a sexual
expletive or depiction of gross violence in a film may be justified
at a lower age level in a film because of context. There is a
different requirement for games as the expletive or violence may
be heard or seen many times over as the games player endeavours
to progress through the game. The PEGI methodology fulfils this
BBFC classifications are mandatory
and enforceable. The same force of law should be given to PEGI
Games with extreme content (those
having a PEGI 18+) should continue to be referred to the BBFC
who should retain the right to effectively ban such games in the
UK because of potential harm risks. If the BBFC do not exercise
such right then such games to retain the PEGI 18+ for the UK.
A UK or any other national approach
to the Internet and online gaming will have only limited impact.
The combination of PEGI, PEGI Online
and parental control software presents an opportunity to empower
parents, in their role as guardians, to control the content they
want their children to be exposed to.
1. The Video Standards Council (VSC) was
established in 1989 at the request of Government and is a non-profit
making body set up to develop and oversee a Code of Practice designed
to promote high standards within the video and video games industries.
2. The VSC is managed by a Committee made
up of representatives from all segments of the video and games
industries overseen by the President (Baroness Shephard) and Vice-President
(Iain Muspratt). Day to day management is undertaken by a Secretary-General
(Laurie Hall) and Operations Manager (Peter Darby).
3. Most games are exempt from statutory
classification in the UK under the Video Recordings Act with less
than 3% of games being legally classified by the BBFC because
of extreme content (usually gross violence or sexual content).
In view of this the industry introduced a system of age rating
which is effectively mandatory for all major games platforms.
4. From 1994 until 2003 the VSC was solely
responsible for the administration of the ELSPA voluntary age-suitability
rating system for video games in the UK. Had it not been for the
steps taken by the VSC and the games industry trade body (The
Entertainment Leisure Software Publishers Association)) there
would have been no age rating system in the UK for the 90% or
more of games that did not need to be legally classified under
5. From 2003 to the present the VSC has
been jointly responsible for the administration of the Pan-European
Game Information (PEGI) system of age rating that operates in
the UK and 27 other countries of Europe. The PEGI system superseded
the ELSPA system in the UK.
6. The PEGI system is owned by the Interactive
Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) and is jointly administered
by the VSC and the Netherlands Institute for the Classification
of Audiovisual Media (NICAM).
7. Consumers see a PEGI games content age-suitability
logo on the front of games packaging. Games will be rated at five
different levels: 3+, 7+, 12+, 16+ and 18+.
8. On the back of the packaging consumers
see content pictograms indicating the main reason/s why the game
has been rated at a particular level. Pictograms are used instead
of text as the PEGI system is pan-European. There are seven content
pictograms for violence, sex/nudity, discrimination, drugs, bad
language, fear and gambling.
9. The system relates to the content of
a game only and takes no account of the degree of difficulty in
playing the game.
10. The PEGI system of voluntary self-regulation
provides parents across Europe with an indication of the age ranges
for which a game is suitable. With the use of the pictograms it
will also give them a good idea of the content of the game. It
will also enable staff in games shops to be more helpful to customers
when asked whether a game is suitable for a child or young teenager
of a particular age.
11. Parents and others having responsibility
for the young are naturally concerned that children should not
be exposed to anything unsuitable. Parents today have themselves
grown up in an age of films, television and video and are probably
fully capable of deciding what their children should watch. They
have not grown up in an age of video games and sometimes it is
very difficult for them to check for themselves what exactly is
contained in a game. This causes anxiety. The PEGI system endeavours
to reduce this anxiety and give parents the confidence to decide
whether a game is suitable for their children, whilst at the same
time acknowledging that games and videos/DVDs are very different
12. Under the PEGI system a games publisher
enters into an agreement with ISFE and agrees to comply with a
code of conduct designed to ensure that the publisher uses the
system responsibly. The publisher has then to register at least
one "coder" who will be responsible for rating games
on the PEGI on-line registration site.
13. Age rating is carried out by the coder
on-line. The on-line rating procedure is comprehensive and straightforward.
The coder is asked to give yes/no answers to a series of carefully
worded questions relating to the content of the game. For each
question a help page is provided to assist the coder to answer
each question correctly. NICAM and the VSC are always available
to any coder who is in doubt or needs assistance. Once the answers
are given the system specifies the provisional age rating for
the game and the descriptor/s to be used on packaging.
14. Games applying for a provisional PEGI
18+, 16+ or 12+ require examination before being granted a PEGI
license. 18+ and 16+ games are examined by the VSC and 12+ games
are examined by NICAM. At present games given a 3+ or 7+ rating
are examined by NICAM on a sample basis but plans are in hand
to introduce the pre-examination of 7+ games.
15. If the VSC or NICAM consider that a
game has been incorrectly rated it will inform the coder of this
and usually the game is then re-rated by the VSC or NICAM. In
the event that the coder disagrees with the decision there is
a right of appeal to an independent appeals body. Experience so
far has shown that the large majority of games are correctly rated
by coders. Incorrect ratings have arisen from mistakes, misunderstandings
and incorrect interpretations. They have not arisen from any deliberate
misuse of the system.
16. Games at the 16+ and 18+ levels are
examined by the VSC to ensure correct rating under the PEGI system
and to deal with the UK legal situation set out in 3 above. Under
UK law some games must be legally classified by a Government appointed
body (the British Board of Film Classification) and there are
severe penalties for breach of the law. The VSC ensures that no
game enters the PEGI system for the UK if it should be legally
17. Under UK law (Video Recordings Act 1984
as amended) games are generally exempt from legal classification
by the BBFC. However exemption can sometimes be lost because of
the content of the game (usually gross violence or sexual content).
A game can also lose exemption if it contains video footage that
is not an integral part of the game (eg trailers, advertisements,
"making of" features). Both the VSC and the BBFC have
taken legal advice to establish the dividing line between exempt
and non-exempt games. The VSC regularly consults with the BBFC.
18. The VSC errs on the side of caution
and if there is any doubt as to whether a game is exempt the VSC
always ensures that the game is submitted to the BBFC. As a further
step towards ensuring that no mistakes are made games that are
given a PEGI 18+ for other countries are always submitted to the
BBFC for UK release. The PEGI 18+ is not used in the UK.
19. Historically less than 3% of games have
been submitted to the BBFC because of extreme content. A further
3% have been submitted because of video footage (usually non-controversial).
20. Games referred to the BBFC are classified
under the law in the same way as videos and DVDs. They are given
the age-restricted classifications 12, 15 or 18 or non age-restricted
classifications PG, U or Uc. For games given an age-restricted
classification it is illegal for a shopkeeper to supply to anyone
below the specified age.
21. The majority of games referred to the
BBFC because of extreme content receive a 15 classification from
the BBFC even if they have a PEGI 18+ for other countries. Very
few games are given an 18 classification by the BBFC. This is
because the system used by the BBFC adopts a different approach
to extreme content than the PEGI system. Extreme content can be
permitted at 15 by the BBFC if it can be justified by context.
This is not the case under the PEGI system.
22. There is a belief that games should
be considered in the same way as films on video and DVD. This
is certainly not true. Games are a very different product. Watching
films is a passive activity. The viewer watches the film from
beginning to end and probably never watches the film again. Games
are interactive (playing a game is not a passive experience).
Games present a challenge to the player which requires a degree
of skill and intelligence to overcome. In an endeavour to progress
from one level of a game to the next the player will confront
characters and scenarios more than once (sometimes many times
over). Each time the player enters a level of a game the characters
and scenarios may be slightly different requiring the player to
confront situations in a different manner.
23. There is a clear need to differentiate
between films and games and the use of the PEGI system achieves
this by providing a very distinct and different age rating system
which is there for retailers and the public (particularly parents)
24. There is also a clear need to adopt
a different and more appropriate method of age rating for games.
The methodology used for films does not work for games.
Justifying more extreme content at a lower age level on the
grounds of context does not apply. A sexual expletive heard
once in a film may be justified by context at a 12 legal classification
level. If the same word is used once in a game then it may be
heard many times over as the player endeavours to progress through
the level in the game concerned (the game will receive a PEGI
16+). Likewise a single act of gross violence in a film may be
justified by context at the 15 legal classification level. This
act of gross violence in a game may be seen time and time again
and each time it may be slightly different if different techniques
or weapons are used (the game will receive a PEGI 18+).
25. A single system for the age rating of
games in the UK is desirable but it needs to be separate and distinct
from that used for the age rating of films in order to recognise
that games are very different products and to avoid any possible
confusion. The PEGI system fulfils these needs.
26. The use of the PEGI system for all games
would be generally supported by UK retailers. The PEGI system
has been accepted by retailers but the fact that some games still
carry a BBFC classification symbol does tend to cause some confusion.
Adopting PEGI across the board would remove this confusion and
at the same time preserve the Europe-wide approach which the VSC
believes is essential to form the basis of a meaningful means
of control for online gaming.
27. The easy option would be to apply BBFC
classifications to all games but this would be avoiding the present
need for a separate system and ignoring the future when games
move out of high street stores to online supply. It should noted
that the fact that the Video Recordings Act 1984 covers games
was almost accidental as games as they exist today could not have
been contemplated at that time. It should also be noted that BBFC
classifications cover only a minority of screen based entertainment
(video) and that most mainstream entertainment (television, cable,
satellite) does not come within their remit.
28. Until the early nineties almost no games
were legally classified by the BBFC. Since this time the BBFC
have legally classified only a small minority of games with well
over 90% of games being rated under the ELSPA system between 1994
and 2003 and under the PEGI system since then. The VSC administered
the rating of games under the ELSPA system and jointly administers
the PEGI system. The 13 years of experience of those involved
with the ELSPA system and now the PEGI system should not be underestimated.
29. Age-restricted classifications given
by the BBFC are mandatory and enforceable. It is illegal to supply
a game given an age-restricted classification to someone below
the specified age. It would be relatively straightforward to apply
the same force of law to PEGI age ratings.
30. It is recognised that the need for UK
national sensitivities to be addressed is important. At present
the BBFC have the power under the law to ban a game from sale
in the UK if they consider that the potential harm risks are unacceptable.
If PEGI became mandatory and enforceable there would be a need
for this power to be retained. Currently all PEGI 18+ games are
submitted to the BBFC. This procedure should continue with the
BBFC deciding whether any games should be excluded from sale in
the UK. If the BBFC decide that a game should not be excluded
then the game should retain its PEGI age rating. A similar approach
has been adopted in other European countries to deal with national
31. The need for a separate and distinct
system for the age rating of all games is clear and the VSC would
commend the PEGI system. When it comes to control of Internet
gaming (games played or downloaded from the Internet) an international
viewpoint must be adopted as any UK or other national approach
to this matter will have only limited effect. This is because
UK legislation can only be enforced where the servers hosting
the game are based in the UK. It must be recognised that UK consumers
will be accessing games from across Europe.
32. In the summer of 2007 ISFE launched
PEGI Online. PEGI Online is a system whereby operators of websites
and portals through which games can be played or downloaded sign
a code of practice designed to provide the safest online environment
consistent with game playing. It is aimed at giving information
to parents about the inherent dangers of playing online. Such
dangers include chat rooms, bad language, bullying and requests
for personal details.
33. Website operators signed up to PEGI
Online will only make available games that have been age rated
for Europe under the PEGI system or other established European
34. The strength of PEGI Online is in the
fact that website operators sign an agreement to a stringent Code
of Practice. Those agreeing to the Code are granted the right
to display a PEGI Online label. These are individually numbered
to prevent fraudulent use. Prior to their use being permitted
each website is checked by the PEGI administrators (VSC and NICAM)
to ensure compliance. This Code of Practice lays out the minimum
safety measures that must be complied with to protect minors.
35. The PEGI Online label also contains
a hyperlink to the PEGI Online web page which contains details
of the generic risks attached to online game playing. This is
an endeavour to further educate parents to potential online harm
and methods of avoidance.
36. Negotiations are being held between
ISFE and Netnanny for the provision of a parental control filtering
system for Europe. This will be similar to those available on
Microsoft Vista and so called "next gen" consoles which
have a provision for filtering physical product. Once this system
is installed on a home computer it will enable a parent to ensure
that children can only access games websites registered with PEGI
Online and to restrict access to games below a certain age level.
It is anticipated that this filtering software will be available
37. The introduction of such a filtering
software system has been deemed economically viable on an international
basis. If business models have to be revisited, it is very unlikely
that any such system will make economic sense on a national basis.
38. PEGI and PEGI Online represent a unique
achievement to the extent that they have established a common
set of standards for the age rating of games and website approval,
acceptable across most of Europe.
39. They also represent the future. Any
system of age rating and controlling games (and indeed films)
on a national (UK) basis is already outdated and will rapidly
become redundant with the advent of more diverse means of delivery
to the consumer. The supply of games is moving out of the high
street shops and on to the Internet. The Internet cannot be controlled
on a national basis.
40. In contrast, the combination of PEGI,
PEGI Online and parental control software presents an opportunity
to empower parents, in their role as guardians, to control the
content they want their children to be exposed to. The software
will restrict access to approved PEGI Online websites and restrict
access to games up to an age level pre-set by parents. Although
this software could theoretically be developed to accommodate
all national rating systems such diversity and complexity is more
likely to act as a deterrent to most parents using parental control.
41. Without a European rating system and
appropriate parental control there will be no practical and effective
means of securing the safety of minors when they play online games.
The UK consumer (parent) will be confronted with hundreds (if
not thousands) of online games websites originating from anywhere
in the world. There would be no ability to establish whether they
are legitimate or whether the games have been age rated. It would
be perfectly feasible for dubious websites, posing as game sites,
to provide links to pornography, gambling etc (without parental
knowledge). Parents would have no ability to control what games
their children play and at best will have to rely upon a US model
based on ESRB ratings and American culture. This would be particularly
noticeable with games containing violence.
42. PEGI Online is dependent on the continuing
operation of PEGI as without the underlying PEGI system PEGI Online
will become dysfunctional. Rejection of PEGI by the UK is likely
to lead to a domino effect amongst other countries and could possibly
bring about the collapse of PEGI. The PEGI age rating logos and
descriptors will be seen online and if the UK consumer has not
met them previously through retail the propensity for further
confusion is great. It is very important that the UK and other
European countries recognise this.
43. Public awareness of PEGI has grown rapidly
since its launch. From a zero base in 2003 familiarity with PEGI
in the UK, at 43%, is the highest in Europe (Nielson Survey 2007).
44. Although it is acknowledged that work
remains to be done to reach the same level of awareness as that
of the BBFC classifications that awareness only applies to the
film watching public who are not necessarily games players. The
level of PEGI awareness amongst games players and parents of games
players is nonetheless a major achievement in such a short period
45. However there is a gap to fill during
the intervening period. In this respect the VSC has played its
part through its retailer membership. The VSC represents most
of the major retailers of games. They are supplied with display
and staff training materials as well as a staff training DVD all
of which feature the PEGI system.
46. Industry efforts could be greatly helped
by Government assistance to access schools and other educational
establishments in order to accelerate awareness and understanding
of the PEGI system.
47. Education and greater awareness is the
key. In the end it is parents and other guardians who decide what
children watch or play. The law can only go so far. If parents
and other guardians are made more aware of the PEGI and PEGI Online
systems then they will be in a better position to make more informed
choices for children.
48. Having a law to prevent the supply of
age-restricted products to children and young teenagers is one
thing. The practice is another. To the extent that the Video Recordings
Act is being enforced it is being selectively enforced. Trading
standards authorities tend to concentrate their efforts and test
purchase campaigns at high street retailers (the very retailers
who are making an effort). Little or no effort is made to enforce
the law where the real problem is in secondary outlets and in
particular car boot sales and markets. In these locations children
and young teenagers can obtain almost anything they want free
49. Visiting car boot sales and markets
is a major UK leisure time activity but these places are "hotbeds"
of criminal activity where amongst other things illegal and counterfeit
videos, DVDs and games are sold. This activity is having a devastating
effect on the legitimate industries. It is no wonder that the
enforcement of age restrictions tends to be overlooked.
50. Some games do contain violence but the
extent of this is very often overstated. It is extreme violence
that causes public anxiety and Government concern. There is a
great difference between the cartoon violence (Tom & Jerry)
permitted at the PEGI 3+ level and the gross violence at the PEGI
51. All games containing gross violence
are submitted to the BBFC for UK release and the PEGI 18+ is not
currently used in the UK. For countries outside the UK the PEGI
18+ is used. However it should be noted that only 5% of games
have been given a PEGI 18+.
52. Research is divided as to identifying
any causal link between playing violent games and physical aggression.
Some researchers in Japan and the USA believe they have established
this link. Professor Sakamoto: "Videogames play promotes
aggressive behaviour. Influence was the strongest when games had
both high rewards and realistic qualities". By contrast Professor
Kassis from the University of Basle takes a different view: `There
is no linear combination between violent games and the violence
of teenagers in reality.
53. It is also worth noting that most European
researchers consider that findings based on laboratory research
54. Notwithstanding the lack of any reliable
link between violent games and violence in real life the games
industry in Europe took the responsible step of introducing PEGI
and PEGI Online. They are essentially information systems enabling
adults to make up their own minds as to the games they wish to
play. They are also systems enabling parents and other guardians
to decide what games children and young teenagers are permitted
to play and with the aid of filtering software to restrict access
to approved games.