British film board ready to review video games for younger audiences

The agency responsible for classifying movies in the UK wants more power to review and pass judgment on video games intended for younger audiences, and is answering critics who claim it would create a monumental bureaucracy.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) currently reviews 250 to 300 game titles, 500 to 600 movies, and at least 10,000 DVDs per year. Although movies are watched from start to finish, only the first five hours of a video game is played, with reviewers often times using cheat codes so material in later levels can be reviewed.

When reviewing movie titles, the BBFC evaluates its theme, language, nudity, sexual behavior level, violence, imitable techniques, horror, and drug and alcohol use. For the last six years, it's been rating films on a more granular scale than in the US, starting with the most general rating Uc (Universal children), then progressing to U, PG, 12A, 12 (no one under 12 can view or purchase), 15, 18, and the most restrictive R18 which is roughly equal to the informal "XXX" in the US.

The BBFC's role in rating some video games came to the public's attention after a report written by TV psychologist Dr. Tanya Byron indicated the group should be responsible for categorizing all video games to be sold to UK consumers. The agency hopes to have the Video Recordings Act lifted, or at least altered, so that a different group will rate only games that do not feature violence or sexual acts.

Cooke and the BBFC claim just a couple of people are responsible for rating video games under the Pan European Games Information (PEGI) group, which makes it difficult for them to accurately assess all games. The BBFC hopes to be able to handle all classifications for gamers 12 years and older, though today, it only classifies games that have an 18+ classification.

Electronic Arts and several other game studios have been vocal about the ratings debate, stating further BBFC control could lead to possible game delays as the organization isn't capable of reviewing more games. But Cooke said that although he has a team of 12 reviewers who would need to review an additional 300 to 500 games, they're capable of taking the added workload off of PEGI's shoulders.

"The trouble is that it is not clear who PEGI is," Cooke told the London Times. "Administration is handled by the Dutch film regulator, who subcontracts to a couple of blokes [the Video Standards Council] in Borehamwood."

The BBFC reportedly takes up to seven business days to review a game along with a fee close to $600. Game studios are worried that since the PEGI offers a European-wide classification, having to further assess games solely for the UK game market will push back game launch dates. Another concern is the possible analysis of all online media and downloadable game add-ons, which would also likely need to be reviewed by the BBFC before being released to gamers.

Game studios have very few legal options available to break free of the BBFC's growing power, with the organization continuing to affirm its willingness to work with game studios and parents.

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