In the UK we have a rating system for electronic games and this is overseen by the communications regulator OFCOM however games are awarded classifications by the same body that classifies movies, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), however this body only examine games if they have “human sexual activity” or “gross violence”. A recent study, The Byron Review (2007), has recommended that this system be overhauled to include the full range of BBFG classifications in addition to introducing requirements for games publishers and ISPs to display classifications and enforce, as far as possible, that classifications are clear to allow the content to reach only those that that classification allows.
In my opinion, electronic games should not be rated in a similar way to movies as I feel that the movie rating system does not work. In my opinion there is a conflict of interest between classifications to allow access the largest commercial market, niche market or as a marketing tool (i.e. number of buyers) versus pushing the boundaries of what each classification allows from a content perspective. For example, if we go back in time fifty years and compare the classification that, say, a movie with mild sexual content would receive then and now, the result would have been from banned to X rated back then to a parental guidance classification today. Classification systems change with social attitudes and cultures, some classification bodies are more open to commercial pressure than others and are so wide ranging and different from country to country that there is no single reliable classification system in existence or possible.
With the advent of globalisation especially in the movie and gaming industries it is possible to gain access to any such media, despite country based classification, from a different country where controls are not as stringent or do not exist. Some countries use this lack of control as a means of attracting distribution networks, and therefore cash movement, into their economies; without a globally agreed and enforced system there will always be loopholes. In addition, because games are not controlled at the point of delivery (i.e. a game can be passed to an unsuitable audience as with DVDs, whereas movie theatres control access to the content by restricting those it deems as not permitted to view the movie based on its rating), the responsibility of ratings enforcement passes to those with the power to purchase; parents, guardians, siblings, friends, etc., many of whom do not take this responsibility seriously.
Adams & McGrindle, (2008) Pandora’s Box: Social & Professional Issues of the Information Age. University of Reading: Wiley.
BBC (2007) The Byron Review [Online]. Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7316700.stm (Accessed 28 March 2010).
BBC (2008) Video games face rating overhaul [Online]. Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7314751.stm (Accessed 28 March 2010).
British Board of Film Classification (2010) [Online]. Available from: http://www.bbfc.co.uk/ (Accessed 28 March 2010).