THE GAMES INDUSTRY has called on the Byron Review of video game violence to ban the British Board of Film Classification from taking any part in classifying games.
The BBFC gives a legally enforceable cinema-style age classification to video games that contain adult content. But the Video Standards Council, which represents games publishers, wholesalers and retailers in operating the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) rating system, that classifies the majority of games, wants to take on the BBFC's work.
"There should be one system, but we argue it should be PEGI," said Laurie Hall, secretary general of the VSC.
"The PEGI system has far more experience in rating video games than the BBFC, " he said. "We think there should be a separate system for video games. The system for classifying films is inappropriate for games."
Under PEGI, the games industry rates the majority of video games using a strict method of self-regulation. Those deemed by a set of fixed rules to be unsuitable for children are sent to the BBFC, where a legally-binding rating is awarded - one under which retailers who ignore it can be sent to prison.
TV psychologist Tanya Byron is expected to quell the re-emergent hysteria over violent video games when she publishes her government commissioned review in a matter of weeks. It is anticipated that she will recommend one system for classifying video games. That has clearly pitted the two censors against one another.
The BBFC published a survey in January that criticized the VSC's system of classification. Hall has responded with criticism of the BBFC that echoes Byron's published comments on video games classifications - that games should be rated differently to films because they are interactive.
"We think the method for classifying films is inappropriate for games," he said.
Film censors use context when deciding on a classification, noted Hall. So a love story that has a gross act of violence in the middle might only get a 15 rating. But a computer game player has to replay scenes in order to resolve them. They might have to attempt a cold-blooded cartoon murder 15 times, trying a variety of weapons, before they can progress to the next stage of the game.
PEGI understands this, said Hall, so "PEGI is stricter" than the BBFC.
"It constantly gives higher ratings in the UK than the BBFC. Of the games given a PEGI 18 in the rest of Europe, the BBFC gave 50 per cent a lower rating in the UK," he said.
PEGI is looking like the front-runner because it is employed elsewhere in Europe and backed by the EC. It poses in a problem, however, in that it is not legally enforceable.
Hall proposes a solution to that one: "We think PEGI should be made legally enforceable."
When the PEGI system was established in 2003, said Hall, both the BBFC and the VSC sought legal advice over "the gross violence line" - that is, what rules should determine which games were sent for a strict classification.
Both received the same advice, said Hall. Yet the VSC set its bar lower to allow for a margin of error. The industry, he said, "sees no merit in taking the slightest risk on the subject," and takes its duty of care seriously.
The only other problem a wholesale PEGI system would face is that its self-regulatory element has the puritanical anti-games lobby baying for blood. They don't trust the games industry and they would rather see games banned outright than adult rated.
They say, sensationally, that 90 per cent of video games are not legally rated, while the VSC says rather that 90 per cent of video games are suitable for everyone so can make do with a low-cost, no-nonsense self-regulatory classification.
But you can't win with these people: they are also in the habit of demonising games that have already received a legally enforceable 18 rating, call for and get bans on games that are inoffensive, and will not long be distracted by any bone Byron throws at them, no matter how reassuring her pedigree as a child psychologist. µ
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ