LONDON (Reuters) - Britain could give all computer games cinema-style age ratings to protect children from increasingly realistic and violent titles, the government said on Thursday.
British Culture Minister Margaret Hodge said the rise of adult-themed games with grown-up plots and advanced graphics had made the old warning system obsolete.
Ministers have come under pressure to tighten regulation with the release of violent games like “Grand Theft Auto IV,” a sprawling gangster adventure featuring car-jackings, prostitutes and drive-by shootings.
In March, psychologist Tanya Byron called for a more robust classification system in a government-backed report into the effect of video games and the Internet on children.
Under the current rules, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) sets legal age limits on games with sex and violence or ones that include film clips.
It rates games in the same way as films, with a scale ranging from “U” for unclassified, or suitable for anyone aged over four, to PG (parental guidance), and 12, 15 and 18.
The rating is clearly displayed on the front of the box in a colored triangle or circle.
The rest are governed by a voluntary industry code known as the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) ratings. The recommended minimum age for players, for example “16+,” is shown on the back of the box.
“The current system of classification comes from a time when video games were in their infancy,” Hodge said. “The games market has simply outgrown the classification system.”
She proposed four options to tighten regulation:
* The BBFC to rate all games.
* PEGI to rate them, but with new legal backing.
* A hybrid system where the BBFC would rate games for children over 12.
* A new code of practice for retailers and suppliers.
In a report published on Thursday, the influential Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Britain’s House of Commons said it supported a single system run by the BBFC.
“The widespread recognition of the BBFC’s classification categories in the UK and their statutory backing offer significant advantages which the PEGI system lacks,” it said.
However, the gaming industry said the BBFC system would offer no extra protection for children and might increase confusion between films and games.
The Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers’ Association (ELSPA), a trade body, said PEGI currently rates 96 percent of all games, compared to the BBFC’s four percent.
“The PEGI ratings system is the only one that truly protects children, understands the interactive nature of rating games and is the only system endorsed by the games industry,” said ELSPA’s Managing Director Michael Rawlinson.
“It offers a strict classification system, based on international standards and detailed criteria which is scalable and robust enough to cope with rating the explosion of gaming content.”
Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato