Choosing Appropriate Video or Computer Games for a Child
Buying computer games and video games for children is a minefield – currently there are two classification systems in place, one of them is only a voluntary scheme and the other only applies to games which have certain adult themes.
A consultation on the subject was announced in July 2008, and a simplification of the system is on the cards, but for now it can be hard to tell if the game your offspring is clutching in his hand is suitable for him.
The new, legally enforceable system of age classification which is hopefully on its way will help parents to decide whether video games are suitable for their children.
Parental Guidance – The BBFC Ratings
Most video games for children are exempt from the BBFC classification, and have a rating that’s been decided by the PEGI voluntary ratings system. Video games for children should theoretically not need a BBFC classification – if your child brings home a game that has this type of rating, be very wary of letting them play it, as most video games for children are exempt.
Under the Video Recordings Act 1984, a computer or video game loses the exemption if it features scenes that depict:
- Human sexual activity
- Acts of gross violence towards humans and/or animals
- Criminal activity
- Drug use
Video games which feature any of these are obviously not going to be appropriate for children, and have to be legally classified before they can be sold or rented in the UK. However, to make things more complicated, at the moment some companies submit their games for classification by the BBFC even though they don’t have to, so you could still have a video game for children with an appropriate age rating – but classified in the same way as a game with more adult themes.
What do The BBFC Ratings Mean?
Ratings for children’s video games and computer games are there for parental guidance and to give parental advice on whether the game is generally suitable for a particular age group.
- At ‘U’, violence will be mild and usually cartoonlike. Language will be very mild and there will be no focus on sexual behaviour beyond kissing or hugging. There will be no portrayal of dangerous activities.
- At ‘PG’, violence may have a slightly greater impact but there will be no detail and it should be distanced from the real world by strong fantasy elements. Language will be mild and references to sex will be acceptable and not detailed. There will be no portrayal of dangerous activities which might be copied.
- ‘12’ rated games are only suitable for children over the age of 12 and it is against the law to sell or rent them to children under the age of 12. At ‘12’, moderate violence is likely, with fantasy settings. Strong language is unlikely to be acceptable because the nature of a video game allows for endless repetition. There may be references to sex and discreet portrayals of sexual activity.
The Pan European Games Information (PEGI) Parental Guidance Rating System
This ratings system was developed to help parents decide whether video games for children would be suitable – based on an age rating and a list of subjects that are covered in the game. These subjects, which are part of the parental advice, are:
- Bad Language – the game contains bad language
- Discrimination – the game contains depictions of, or material which may encourage, discrimination
- Drugs - the game refers to or depicts the use of drugs
- Fear - the game may be frightening or scary for young children
- Gambling – the games could encourage or teach gambling
- Sex - the game depicts nudity and/or sexual behaviour or sexual references
- Violence – the game contains depictions of violence
Bear in mind that this scheme is purely voluntary and producers rate their own games. Hopefully the new system that’s under consultation will simplify things for parents when it comes to buying appropriate video and computer games for children.
Of course, children love to push the boundaries so be prepared for arguments about “all my friends are playing it at home” if you put your foot down about an inappropriate game.