THE GOVERNMENT has floated plans to bolster the system for rating video games because it fears children could be deranged by virtual violence. Details of the plans were leaked to The Guardian newspaper today, a month before tasty TV psychologist Tanya Byron is due to publish her government review of violent video games.
According to this teaser, children are to be protected from "damaging games ", though the debate over whether video game violence does cause harm is still raging. The government line was that 90 per cent of computer games, "many of which portray weapons, martial arts and extreme combat" were not legally rated.
The current system requires distributors to submit their games to the British Board of Film Classification for rating if they depict virtual acts of "gross violence towards humans or animals, human sexual or excretory activity*," or scenes that would show people how to commit a crime.
Retailers can already be sent to prison if they sell games to people below the age specified in its BBFC rating. About 10 per cent of games are typically required to be controlled in this way. The other 90 per cent being highlighted by the government are also already policed by law: video games producers can be prosecuted if they fail to get a BBFC rating for a game that should have been adult rated. The others should therefore not matter, at least in theory. They are still rated, however: by the voluntary PEGI system.
Implicit in the government proposal is the idea that this voluntary system is failing. But a spokeswoman for BBFC told The INQUIRER that she was unaware of any game that had not been BBFC rated that should have been.
"No-one is suggesting that distributors are not sending games to us when they should," she said. Yet she conceded it might be possible that some slip through the net. Research published by the BBFC last month found that parents thought the PEGI rating system indicated not whether a game was suitable for children, but how difficult it was to play. Parents were therefore buying PEGI-rated games for below age children unwittingly.
One possible way to patch the rating system might therefore be to merely launch an awareness campaign for PEGI. But the BBFC also criticised PEGI for being too complicated. The indication is also that since the video games classification was introduced as part of the Video Recordings Act in 1984, a time when video games violence was so primitively animated that it did not raise many hackles, it might be time to bring it up to date. Giving all games to the BBFC might be a simple solution.
Though the BBFC was shy in its submission to the Byron review to suggest such a thing, it did say it would be honoured to take on the added responsibility should the good sirs in their wisdom and munificence, etc.
Nevertheless, said the censor's spokeswoman, such a solution would be very simple: "To amend the Video Recordings Act to require all games to be sent to the BBFC, you would simply remove the line that says video games are exempt". Job done. That would stave off a possibly insoluble debate about whether computer game violence causes harm and if so how realistic and how violent must the action be for it to deemed unsuitable for teenagers.
Ministers told The Guardian that the debate had become " increasingly polarised and based on prejudice" and that they hoped the Byron review would calm things down. Quite.
Opponents of the cartoon violence seen in video games - including MPs - tend to cite examples of games that already receive a legal BBFC classification when they talk about the need for violent video games to be given a legally binding classification. Which PEGI-rated games are deranging our kids though? µ
* Emphasis added for purely puerile reasons
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