Monday, 12 July 2010

PEGI & ERSB - What Those Age Ratings Really Mean...

This is the PEGI visual descriptor of a game which depicts violence


 You are wandering around your favourite video games store with some friends who happen to not be avid gamers and you spy a new sports game that you think will be good to try out. However, before you can even take the game from the shelf, your companions point out that the aforementioned game has a PEGI  3+ rating.

Your friends are horrified: "A 3+ game?! At your age?"

 You are then forced to try and save face by purchasing the latest 16+ title - full of violence and bad language instead, when all you wanted was to have a good football game etc. This has happened to me on two separate occasions now, and both times I just crumbled with embarrassment.

Most actual gamers will recognise that the PEGI rating of 3+ does not refer to age or ability of the intended player, but to the game's Individual Content Rating, which shows that a very young child (from the age of 3+) could quite happily view this game without seeing something that they shouldn't.

However, PEGI (Pan European Game Information) who are the main censorship board for videogames in the UK, are the first to admit that this rating does not take into account the actual ability of a child to play the game, so most 3+ games are well beyond the intellectual ability of a normal toddler.

The lowest age rating in the PEGI system (3+) includes games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, whose complex game controls and visual style is meant for older gamers, gameshow tie-ins like the ever-popular Deal Or No Deal,  or a quiz game tie-in such as Countdown, which, as any viewer of the afternoon quiz could tell you, contains conundrums that are hard enough to stump the average thirty year-old, let alone a very young child!

You might say that this is pedantic of me, and argue that gamers shouldn't  care what other (non-gaming) people think about their particular tastes, but the fact is that the PEGI rating is often confusing to parents and guardians when trying to choose games for young gamers. I have heard several people talk about games in the following way:

"It says 12+ on the box, but he's very intelligent for his age, so I think he'll find it easy to play the game..."

The trouble is that, (especially in the UK) we are used to seeing age ranges on particular toys. These ratings usually tell us what age group the product is intended for and thus, we know better than to buy a toy aimed at 'ages 4 and over' for an eight year-old and vice versa, but this knowledge does not work in quite the same way when applied to video games.

PEGI rates video games in the following way:

This icon means that a game is suitable for everyone, (regardless of age or ability,) and contains very mild unrealistic cartoon violence, no horror, no bad language.

This icon means that a game is suitable for viewing by slightly older children and it is usually applied to games that contain mild, (but realistic), cartoon violence or mild horror and scary scenes, which may cause upset to younger children. 

This icon denotes games which are not suitable for children younger than twelve years old to view. Games with this age rating may contain some mild action violence, sexually crude humour and themes of gambling.  Games which contain theme songs that are mildly suggestive will automatically be given this rating.

 Games with this rating can contain strong, explicit action violence, and often deal with story themes which include implicit drug-use, racial or sexual discrimination, criminal behaviour and sex. They should not be viewed by anyone who is younger than sixteen. 

Games with this icon are seen as only suitable for adults (those aged 18 or over). Although games aimed at this age group are rare in the UK, graphic violence, strong sexual content, explicit references to gambling or drugs, criminal behaviour and vulgar language (spoken and used in song lyrics) are permitted in games with this rating.

The PEGI system of videogame classification also provides several Content Descriptors intended to give details about what type of themes a particular game might have (such as the 'violence' descriptor at the top of this post).  These are useful as they instantly give a visual representation of why the game has been given the age rating that it has.

Nevertheless, only the age rating appears on the front of the box, so the descriptor is unlikely to be seen until later and this may explain why some people still assume that the age rating refers to the age of the intended player and not to the game's overall content.


The ERSB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) who are responsible for rating games in America and other countries outside the UK, has its own set of age ratings and content descriptors for video games. Their ratings range from E for EVERYONE to AO for ADULTS ONLY.  The ERSB  rating system is very clear to understand and means that there are likely to be less misunderstandings about who the games are actually intended for. There has been some debate over the past few years about whether the UK could benefit from a new ratings system - a combination of ERSB age ratings with PEGI content descriptors, but as yet, no new rating system has been proposed. Further details about the ERSB rating system can be found here.

Of course,  there needs to be some measure of which games are suitable for which age groups, but is an age rating alone really enough information to decide whether a game is suitable for the intended gamer?

It has to be said that both the PEGI and ERSB rating systems are dependent on the watchfulness of shop keepers or guardians alike, whose decision to allow the purchase of a 12+ or 16+ game for a child who is underage - simply because they think that the age range refers to the ability of the player - could end up having a detrimental effect on young gamers who are then exposed to violent and suggestive themes.

Here at Mini Gamers we know that gaming can be a very enjoyable pastime, but we all have a duty remember that some games are not suitable for a younger audience.


What do you think of the PEGI age rating system? Have you ever been put off of buying a game with a 3+ rating? Is ERSB an effective way to show which games are not suitable for younger gamers? Are videogame ratings easy to understand? Whose responsibility should it be to censor certain videogames?

Here at Mini Gamers, we are interested in hearing your views. Please feel free to leave a comment in the comments box by clicking the 'comments' link at the bottom of the post and share your thoughts on this issue with others.

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