Northamptonshire police and crime commissioner Adam Simmonds has recommended that the videogame industry should force videogames with violent, explicit or disturbing content to display a US-style 'Adult Only' age rating.
Or face a ban.
Draconian killjoy or useful protective measure? Let's break it down.
As things stand, the PEGI age rating system puts strict age ratings on videogames along with trigger warnings. Retailers face stiff fines if caught selling age-rated games to minors, which in theory allows parents to effectively take charge of the games their children consume. However, Simmonds argues that parents aren't being as well informed as they ought to be, and that many buy games that are innappropriate. Hell, we've all been there: whether nagging our parents back in the day into buying a game we knew was properly gory, or giving into these aggravating demands just to get some peace and quiet!
So the senior police officer argues that the UK should introduce a new rating descriptor -- AO ("Adult Only") -- for games that go beyond what you'd usually expect from an 18-rated title.
“Controversy creates cash,” Simmonds argues in a new report. “Many parents might not be fully aware that these games contain such disturbing scenes. It is time for the industry to play a more proactive role in protecting young minds.”
“A new Adult Only rating alongside parental locks on consoles will better support parents in safeguarding their children. If companies fail to do this, games involving extreme violence or sexual content should be banned altogether.”
So that's the long and short of the proposed Adult Only rating, but do we actually need it?
To be perfectly honest, I think it's a common-sense idea... right up to the point where it totally collapses.
Personally I feel that parents should be able to bring up their kids the way they want, which includes the media they consume. As such, information is key and keeping parents informed about what videogames contain should be made as easy and digestible as possible, especially given how basic and bare-bones box blurb tends to be these days. While plenty of mums and dads are passionate about games and know their business, a great many more neither have the time nor inclination to properly research whether a game is potentially suitable for their darling sprogs, and every little helps.
Were this to pass into legislation, though, most games would probably wear it as a badge of honour. Very few games have ever warranted an ESRB AO rating since its US adoption, with only the likes of pre-edit Manhunt, post Hot Coffee GTA San Andreas and the recently announced Hatred. As such, you could argue that it's basically unnecessary anyway, especially since selling age-rated games to minors comes with a heavy fine.
Banning games, though? Come on Simmons. This ain't Australia. Besides, if this system becomes law, games will grin and bear it or just go for the edit.
Plus, you know, selling 18-rated games to kids is already illegal. Will another sticker make any difference? To be frank, I reckon this whole problem will simply disappear once an entire generation of gaming parents are making informed decisions and legislation, and it's already started.
Great idea, horrible precedent or just plain pointless? Have your say in the comments, and we'd love to hear from some parents on the matter.