British Government Toying with Video Game Ratings

Dennis Faas's picture

The British government is considering treating video games in the same way it treats movies by imposing legally-binding age limits. At the moment, video games are covered by a voluntary industry code. The current administration says they could come under the authority of the British Board of Film Classification, which rates movies.

At the moment the BBFC only acts over video games which are so violent or sexual that they are banned from sale to anyone under 18, affecting 3-4% of games.

It appears the government is particularly concerned about games which, while having milder content, could cause problems for very young children who might imitate actions they see in games because they don't appreciate the real-life consequences.

Game manufacturers say BBFC involvement is unnecessary, and instead argue that the industry set-up, known as the Pan European Game Information system, should be given legal force.

The government is currently considering those options. They are also looking at the possibility of keeping the current system, where game ratings (other than those rated 18) are merely advisory and are not legally restrictive of sales. The final option is one allowing both groups to provide ratings.

Michael Rawlinson, the head of the Entertainment & Leisure Software Publishers Association, told the BBC it would be ridiculous to have two ratings on the same product. (Source:

While the government is asking for opinions, the BBFC option is the favourite. That's because it was backed by a report published this week by a Parliamentary committee investigating child safety in computing. It said the BBFC's system was better known by the public thanks to its movie work.

Politicians are also looking at whether ratings should be applied to online games such as World of Warcraft. That could raise more legal questions as the location of both the user's Internet provider and the servers hosting the games might affect whether or not it comes under Britain's legal jurisdiction. (Source:

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