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UK Police calls for 'Adult Only' videogame age ratings - but do we need it?

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Jonathan Lester
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UK retail

UK Police calls for 'Adult Only' videogame age ratings - but do we need it?

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.

UK Police calls for 'Adult Only' videogame age ratings - but do we need it?

“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.

UK Police calls for 'Adult Only' videogame age ratings - but do we need it?

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.

Add a comment9 comments
CarlPhillips  Mar. 24, 2015 at 13:47

I'm not so sure we need a new rating if I'm honest. After all, in the UK it is legal to drink and vote at the age of 18, something I would argue is a right reserved for adults. So with that in mind, rating something at 18+ should surely make it "Adult Only" anyway, right?

I think the heart of the issue has always been about educating parents to what is included in games, and nobody has managed to successfully do it without either missing the point or overreacting to content.

Late  Mar. 24, 2015 at 13:52

So this is above the 18 limit? Which is already pretty pointless. My kids are 15 and 18, and I don't think I've ever seen a game that I'd baulk at letting the fifteen year old play.

What games are so damaging to teenagers that an 18 certificate (which I think most parents will happily ignore) isn't sufficient?

You're old enough to get married. You're old enough to have kids. You're old enough to join the army. But I'm sorry, you can't play the latest Grand Theft Auto / Call of Duty / Resident Evil / whatever.

Utterly ridiculous.
I'd call PCC Simmonds a moron were it not for the likelihood he's the sort of person to try and prosecute people who say nasty things on the internet, combined with the sort of person who likes to stir up a bit of fame by being slightly controversial.

BigOrkWaaagh  Mar. 24, 2015 at 13:59

Forgive me for stating the bleedin' obvious, but surely the current 18 rating already means "Adults Only".

JonLester  Mar. 24, 2015 at 14:00

@Late: Not quite. It's not another age rating, rather it's another content guidance warning that says that the game is extreme even when compared to other 18-rated games. It doesn't modify the age at which you can buy them, though.

And the fact that I've had to re-write that paragraph about five times before it made any sense proves how badly the rating system falls down in practice, though. :p

Last edited by JonLester, Mar. 24, 2015 at 14:02
Lemming  Mar. 24, 2015 at 14:10

Seems daft to me, with the censoring involved already nothing "that" extreme is allow to be released without heavy cutting. Look at silly things like the alien probing edits to South Park stick of truth. If they are bothered about content they need to put more pressure on the stores or parents.

We have friends who let their 7 year old play Shadow of Mordor, COD, Killzone and GTA V on the PS4. Went online the other day and he was doing a GTA mission in a stripclub! End of the day a lot of parents will just queue up to buy this stuff for their kids whatever the label says.

Last edited by Lemming, Mar. 24, 2015 at 14:11
Late  Mar. 24, 2015 at 14:11

To be honest, I totally shot myself in the foot when I said "an 18 certificate (which I think most parents will happily ignore)". Presumably this proposed rating would be intended to make parents at least think twice before automatically ignoring that 18 certificate.

Meh, bring in a new rating, then. Most folk will just use it as a vague guideline, same as they already do - and it'll maybe allow us to get gorier games than we currently get.

Tsung  Mar. 24, 2015 at 15:31

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING makes something more desirable that if you tell someone they cannot have it.

Parents should be capable to decide what their little darlings play. However, they should also be held responsible if their children decide to go out and stab someone or steal a car or rob a bank. Don't blame the game!

Last edited by Tsung, Mar. 24, 2015 at 15:31
JonLester  Mar. 24, 2015 at 15:52

@Tsung: Right with you there, every last word of it. But to play devil's advocate, you could argue that more explicit labelling actually protects games in this respect. If a game is clearly marked as being unsuitable for children, it really is only the parents at fault if they choose to buy it with absolutely no potential for scapegoating.

Again, devil's advocate hat well and truly on.

Last edited by JonLester, Mar. 24, 2015 at 15:55
Quietus  Mar. 24, 2015 at 16:25

I can't see it'll make any difference. Those that they're worried about clearly have a screw loose in the first place, so it doesn't matter if it's games, film, or books that they get their ideas from - it's not the source material that's the problem. I await the day that somebody is killed by having their skull crushed, and some kid says 'Mario does it to Goombas'. Are they going to ban Mario too?

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