The Pan European Game Information (PEGI) age rating system is a labelling standard (similar to the American ESRB system) designed to inform consumers and retailers whether the content of specific video games products is suitable for certain audiences. It was introduced in Spring 2003 to replace the existing ELSPA age rating system and the national systems used in some EU member states. PEGI is a voluntary system, although any publisher that is a member of an industry representative body such as ELSPA (effectively all of them) will be expected to make use of it. The PEGI system is run by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE).

The PEGI programme covers games distributed in the following territories:

You will notice that Germany is absent from this list, as the German authorities have a legally binding age rating system in place for all media. (Most games with violent content are banned or heavily edited in Germany, much to the benefit of importers in neighbouring countries.)

Submission and classification

The classification process consists of two stages. First the game's publisher will make an internal assessment of the target age group for the product and will submit an application to the ISFE. The ISFE can then pass the submission to one of the standards authorities they have contracted (the Netherlands Institute for the Classification of Audio-visual Media for mainland Europe, and the Video Standards Council for the UK) to verify that the assessment is accurate. All potential 16+ and 18+ titles are externally assessed. Once NICAM/VSE have classified the game, the publisher is then free to display the given rating on the front and back of the packaging.

The scheme has a formal Code of Conduct and a procedure for dealing with complaints. If a game is deemed to have been rated incorrectly, the publisher will be required to recall it and correct the age rating on the packaging (a potentially costly exercise which acts as an additional deterent to participants neglecting or abusing the system).

Categories and indicators

The PEGI rating is loosely modelled on Holland's NICAM rating system for video and DVD films. There are a set of age categories (3+, 7+, 12+, 16+, 18+), prominently displayed in white-on-black on the front of the packaging. (As opposed to the deliberately obfuscated 'rating letters' used in the ESRB system.) A secondary set of content indicators are represented by symbols, and applied to games that have particular kinds of content that could be deemed offensive or disturbing to certain individuals irrespective of the overall age rating. The content categories are as follows:

Discrimination: "Contains ethnic, religious, nationalistic or other stereotypes likely to encourage hatred." It seems highly unlikely that any commercial game (in the PEGI territories, at least) would contain deliberately racist content. It is conceivable that games based around real or fictional political events, historical settings (e.g. most recent conflicts), or games where the villians are portrayed as racist to provoke revulsion in the player could fall into this category however. Any game deemed to feature discrimination is automatically given an 18+ certificate.

Drugs: The glamourisation of illegal drug use gains an automatic 18+, whereas the mere depiction of illegal drug use, or encouragement to use tobacco or alcohol, only merits a 16+.

Fear: A category left almost entirely up to the discretion of the assessors, with the only explicit rule being that a game with sounds and images likely to scare young children must be rated 7+ or above.

Language: Mild swearing (damn, gosh, fiddlesticks) rates a 12+, whereas sexual swearwords and blasphemy call for a 16+.

Sex: "Explicit sexual descriptions or images" nets your game a 12+ rating (can you tell that this system originated in Holland?), depictions of sexual nudity or intercourse a 16+, and "sexual activity with visible genital organs" an automatic 18+.

Violence: The most extensively defined category, as with the ELSPA system, which is wide reaching enough to lead to be applied to most games with an element of conflict, unless their representations are highly abstract. Depictions of violence towards "fantasy characters" are viewed as less severe than the equivalent depictions against humans and animals. "Unrealistic humans and animals" can by killed, injured and subjected to "sustained violence" in a 16+ title (so that's the next Tomb Raider covered then). Violence at the 18+ level covers "dismemberment, torture, massive blood and gore, sadism; graphic, detailed and sustained violence toward realistic humans and animals; violence towards vulnerable and defenceless humans; sexual violence or threats; detailed descriptions of techniques that could be used in criminal offences".

The PEGI system appears to offer a greater level of accuracy and reassurance to the consumer, and is backed by a more effective and widely recognised organisation with the cooperation of the European Commission. Hopefully the system will help to reduce ill-informed tabloid scare stories and help continue to eradicate the misconception among the older generation that video games are solely aimed at and marketed to children.

http://www.pegi.info/

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