UK game ratings become legally enforceable

In the United Kingdom, recommended age ratings for games have now become required by law.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Retailers in the UK that sell game titles for consoles such as the XBox 360 or Playstation 3 that include ratings for children of 12, 16 or 18 now may be subject to prosecution if they sell these products to underage customers.

video gaming uk legal rating system

In the UK, video games sometimes are rated using the Pegi (Pan-European Game Information) system, in order to suggest a suitability rating depending on a child's age. However, making them legally enforceable means that retailers who turn a blind eye in order to sell a game may find themselves in front of a judge in the future.

In addition to standard age-rated warnings, packaging will also include other factors -- including bad language, drugs, discrimination, fear, gambling, sex, violence or online gameplay with others, according to the BBC.

A report published by the previous government in 2009, titled the "Digital Britain Report", first made the point that the UK's "dual classification system and two sets of symbols often made things confusing for the consumer". Therefore, in order to simplify the system, the current coalition government dropped a parallel ratings system run by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification), and will tighten up the rating system through video game sales through the threat of prosecution and a merged switch to one classification system.

Under the new system, the Games Ratings Authority (GRA) will take the responsibility for deciding how to rank video game titles under Pegi's criteria, ending the role of the BBFC in rating video game titles. The current ratings stand as:

  • PEGI 3: Suitable for all age groups. Some violence, usually in a comical context, is acceptable. The game should not contain any sounds or pictures that are likely to scare or frighten young children. No bad language is accepted.
  • PEGI 7: Any game that would normally be rated at 3 but contains some possibly frightening scenes or sounds.
  • PEGI 12: Videogames that show violence of a slightly more graphic nature towards fantasy characters or non graphic violence towards human-looking characters or recognisable animals, as well as video games that show nudity of a "slightly more graphic nature".
  • PEGI 16: This rating is applied once the depiction of violence (or sexual activity) reaches a stage that looks the same as would be expected in real life. More extreme bad language may be used.
  • PEGI 18: The adult classification is applied when the level of violence reaches a stage where it becomes a depiction of gross violence and/or includes elements of specific types of violence. In general terms this can be classed as the depictions of violence that would make the viewer feel a sense of revulsion.

The GRA can also ban titles, but only two have ever faced this decision -- Manhunter 2 and Carmageddon -- both of which were allowed for sale in the UK after appeal. Titles that are "inappropriate" for children under the age of three can contain warnings, but is not legally enforceable.

Image credit: CC Rebecca Pollard

Editorial standards