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Video game ratings using the Pegi (Pan-European Game Information) system have become legally enforceable in the UK. This moves means that retailers could be prosecuted if they are found to sell titles to children below the age limits of 12, 16 or 18 accordingly.

To prepare for the move, the government has dropped a parallel ratings system that it had been running.  The new rating scheme also features small diagrams intended to show whether a title contains references to sex, drugs, fear, gambling or online gaming with others.  Also included will be diagrams for foul language, discrimination and violence. Pegi says it will help families to make informed decisions.

Under the new system the Games Ratings Authority (GRA) – a division of the Video Standards Council will be responsible for rating titles.  They will use Pegi’s criteria:

Games are rated for 12-years and over if they include non-graphic violence to human or animal characters, a slightly higher threshold of violence to fantasy characters or significant nudity or bad language.

Games are rated 16-years and over if the depiction of violence or sexual activity looks the same as it would do in normal life. Drug and tobacco references also trigger the age limit.

Games are rated 18-years and over if there is a “gross” level of violence likely to make the viewer feel a sense of revulsion.

Under the new system GRA will have the power to ban a title if it deems it necessary, although it has said it expects to only do this ‘very rarely’.

To publicise the move the group has launched its Ask About Games website with information to help parents to make informed choices. The issue may become even more acute next year when Microsoft and Sony are rumoured to unveil next-generation versions of their consoles capable of more detailed graphics. But Prof Tanya Byron, a consultant clinical psychologist and author of the report which led to the change in law, has stressed the positive benefits of the technology. “Video games can be a great educational resource that can also fuel children’s creativity,” she said.

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