Given the generally balanced approach to censorship in the UK, the barrier as to what is and is not permissible within a enjoygamesonline is largely a decision for the publisher, depending on the market they are aiming for. The increasingly mature audience of the gaming market means that publishers may feel they can afford to release games that are restricted to the over 18 audience without taking a major hit in sales, as the Grand Theft Auto series ably demonstrates. If explicit sexual scenes are a feature within the game, the publisher can expect an ’18’ classification and be treated by retailers accordingly.
The BBFC publish guidelines on a regular basis and these should currently be the first reference for any developer or publisher wishing to have a better understanding of the likely classification of an intended release. Given the impending legalisation of PEGI, regard should also be had to PEGI rating system.
Because R18 material is reserved for highly explicit sexual material, it is difficult to see how any video game would fall into this category without a concerted effort on the part of the developer and publisher. Clearly any game featuring explicit sexual material must be submitted for classification by the BBFC.
The Current Regime
Whilst the “Hot Coffee” hidden mini game in GTA: San Andreas may have (and continues) to cause its publishers problems in the US, the game had already received an 18 certificate in the UK by the BBFC; there is nothing to suggest it would be treated differently under the BBFC’s guidelines if this material had been an intended part of the final game. This is in stark contrast with the reception abroad – in Australia and New Zealand for instance, two territories that closely follow UK law across a wide range of areas, the game was either banned or given an R18 rating in response.
Given that the fundamental basis of the age classification schemes is the protection of children, it follows that PG, 12 and 15 rated works will require greater scrutiny on the part of the developer/publisher to ensure that the game meets the required classification. Looking at the BBFC’s most recent decisions this is likely to affect magazine publishers who may bundle a mixture of demos and videos on cover mounted disks and wish to sell the magazine to the broadest audience available.
A comparison of “Psychonauts” – rated PG, “From Russia with Love” – rated 12 and “Resident Evil 4” – rated 15, shows that even strong violence may not automatically result in an 18 certificate. However, a title featuring strong sex/violence within a realistic setting, particularly featuring criminal related activity, for example the Grand Theft Auto series, will inevitably be aimed at an adult audience and be rated accordingly.
Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules as to what particular type of content will lead to a particular rating, but an awareness of the above issues will provide a better understanding of how the system works. Publishers and developers would be well advised to bear in mind the intended rating from the start of a project to avoid any future headaches further down the line.
Since the screening of Panorama’s investigation in December of last year into the addictive nature of computer games, there is now a suggestion that games publishers are to be blamed for the adverse consequences (eg. to health and/or career) suffered by gamers who play their games for so long that they fail to eat and sleep. Not surprisingly, no clear evidential and genuine link was established in this programme between addiction and video games, nor frankly is there likely to be. This situation is surely one of parental control: if parents permit their children to play video games day and night, just as if they permitted them to drink unlimited amounts of alcohol, a problem of addiction is clearly going to ensue. And for those over the age of eighteen, they should be old enough to take responsibility for their own actions