Roger Bennett, director general of UK videogames publisher trade body ELSPA, has labelled as "complete and utter nonsense" a speech made in parliament yesterday by Labour MP Keith Vaz proposing new laws relating to videogame ratings.
"The fact of the matter is that it was complete and utter nonsense," Bennett told GamesIndustry.biz today. "His whole thrust with this proposed bill was about labelling, which he got utterly and completely wrong, in that he hasn't got up to speed with what has happened over the last three or four years."
Vaz was proposing an amendment to the Video Recordings Act 1984, which would make it mandatory for videogames to receive content ratings in the same way that films do - a role currently fulfilled by the voluntary PEGI ratings system.
He argued in Parliament that the current system, which sees the PEGI ratings being complemented by a rating from the British Board of Film Classification for the small number of titles which are rated 18, is "very confusing", and used a quote from Bennett in his speech to back up this point.
However, the quote in question was from an article in Readers Digest magazine in 2002 - four years ago - and pre-dates the introduction of the PEGI ratings system across Europe in 2003, which brought a standardised system with large, clear ratings on game boxes and advertising to the industry.
"There's a perfectly well-established and robust system of ratings which appear on both the front and the back of the boxes, which he was totally confused about, clearly," Bennett commented. "Not only that, but they appear in all advertising."
He lashed out at Vaz' motivation for introducing the proposed amendment, describing the Labour MP's speech as "the absolute epitome of the promotion of the Nanny State."
"The fact of the matter is that we're one of only two countries in the whole of the 27 states of the European Union who have mandatory ratings," Bennett explained. "Everywhere else in Europe , the ratings are on the boxes - the PEGI ratings - and they make informed decisions for their kids. The more you take the responsibility away from parents, the less responsibility they'll take. As soon as you take responsibility away from people, then they rely on others to do it for them."
"The whole process is mindless, in my view. At the end of the day, as long as the information is there, we should leave it to parents and guardians, to those responsible for young people, to make informed decisions about what they should or shouldn't watch. The blame culture in which we seem to live these days is as a result of the promotion of the nanny state, no question about it. It's always somebody else's fault, and they have to have somebody else to blame."
ELSPA now plans to speak to the relevant government departments to ensure that they are aware of the industry's content rating initiatives, but Bennett is adamant that the proposed amendment represents little threat to the industry.
"There's very little chance of it going any further anyway," he said, "given that the whole thrust of the content of his proposal is already established and has been for the last three years - so I'm not sure quite what [Vaz] is aiming to achieve."
Vaz represents the Leicester East constituency in which teenager Stefan Pakeerah was killed by an older friend two years ago, in a crime which was widely linked to Rockstar Games' Manhunt, although that link was denied by police who investigated the case. Subsequent to that case, he has argued on several occasions for stricter controls over access to videogames.
The current UK rating system applies voluntary PEGI rating labels to every game released in the country, but in accordance with existing laws, games which are rated 18 - an adults only rating - are assessed and rated by the British Board of Film Classiciation. These games carry the BBFC 18 rating stamps, the latter of which is legally enforceable, with retailers facing major fines for selling 18-rated titles to minors. For more information about the UK rating system, visit www.askaboutgames.com.