BBFC great says BBFC boss
Posted at 13:45 on 9th October 2008 - permalink

Age classification for games in the UK is currently undergoing an upheaval. Presently we have a dual system, with the voluntary Europe-wide PEGI system applied to all games, and the legally enforceable BBFC 15 and 18 ratings also used in cases which fall under the BBFC’s remit (i.e. games with graphic violence, sex and adult themes).

The government commissioned a television psychologist to assess the situation and make recommendations. She recommended that the BBFC’s remit be extended to cover 12-rated games as well. This was a kneejerk response intended to justify the cost of the report, and its benefit to the public was never clearly explained.

Now there are rumblings that the government want to hand the whole process over to the BBFC. The BBFC seem to be quite keen on the idea of having a government mandate to shake down the games industry for additional millions of pounds each year, regardless of whether this is in the public interest.

Edge Online have published a column by BBFC chief David Cooke. It’s commendable that Edge are giving both sides of the debate a platform as opposed to only giving PEGI, ELSPA and the industry’s views an airing. A shame then, that Mr. Cooke’s arguments are trivially weak:

“It’s often forgotten that some of the biggest games countries in the world are not in PEGI but do their own games classification: for instance, the USA, Japan, Australia, and, within Europe, Germany. The public understands that different countries have different national sensibilities that need to be taken into account.”

I’m sure it must come as a surprise to many to learn that non-European countries aren’t part of the Pan European Games Information scheme. America has it’s own voluntary system (ESRB) which is broadly similar to PEGI, but kept from being legally enforcable by cultural and constitutional issues. Australia has a universally derided government-backed system which does not have any mechanism for rating games for adults.

Germany, here cited as an example of PEGI’s inability to address local sensibilities, uses its own system because it has by far the strictest censorship laws in the Western world. The UK, and the rest of Europe, does not have such excessively strict censorship enshrined in law (much to our merit), so the comparison is specious.

“There’s nothing wrong with a multi-national approach like PEGI, but you can see the problems involved in trying to regulate and enforce across dozens of countries.”

This statement is conspicuously vague, possibly because the PEGI system works, throughout Europe, and has done for several years now.

Mr Cooke then gets onto the topic of whether the BBFC had the resources to perform this work (which is much less relevant than the issue of why it should be doing it in the first place, and whether it is qualified to do so).

“I really reject the notion that the BBFC can’t handle issues of scaleability. Look at the DVD market. In 1997 we had just over 3,000 DVDs to classify. By 2006 that had risen to to over 15,000, an increase of 460%.

“In comparison, we do about 300 games a year at the moment.”

An organic rise in DVD releases (which obviously occurred in tandem with a decline in VHS releases) over nine years is in no way comparable to the immediate jump of several hundred percent which would occur if the BBFC were tasked with rating most or all games. Most of this influx of new titles would be content (children’s and family games) that the BBFC has no prior experience in dealing with.

The piece wraps up with some claims about the expertise and rigour of the BBFC’s process. I’m sure they’re perfectly competent, but that doesn’t make them any less redundant (not to mention expensive, obstructive, needlessly time consuming and likely to have chilling effects on artistic expression and consumer choice) when we already have a system that works in PEGI.

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