BBFC vs PEGI debate rolls on

Film board accuses PEGI of "crying wolf"; ELSPA labels the claim "absurd"

The debate over the future of age ratings for videogames in the UK moved up a gear today with a series of sessions at the Westminster Media Forum that saw representation from both sides of the BBFC-PEGI divide.

While ELSPA director general Paul Jackson began the day with a strong defence of the PEGI system and a frank criticism of the BBFC's deficiencies, a later panel session saw the film board's head of policy and business development, Peter Johnson, hit back.

He accused PEGI of "crying wolf" in reference to a number of titles that the BBFC had rated less stringently - examples which Jackson previously pointed to in order to back up his argument that PEGI acted more strongly on the subject of inappropriate content.

"The BBFC's methodology is just superior to PEGI's - it's not just a self-assessment questionnaire, it's done through playing through a game, we have independent examiners, taking content into account," said Johnson.

"And that's why we do sometimes classify at a lower rating from PEGI, because we can tell that fantastic context doesn't justify the most proscriptive rating.

"We don't believe we protect children just by crying wolf too often - if you over-rate games then parents will disregard those ratings. You have to apply a rating that fits the content, and the content is dependent on the context."

But Tim Wapshott, director of communications and public affairs at ELSPA, labelled that claim "absurd".

"I'd like to talk about this suggestion that [the BBFC] rates games lower because it doesn't 'cry wolf' so often - frankly that's absurd," he said.

"The point is that across Europe if a game is rated '18', that game has material in it that is suitable for an adult - that is based on very strict criteria. It also means that people playing a multiplayer game use language and behaviour that are suitable for adults.

"Last year, the BBFC rated 42 games less than PEGI would have done - PEGI rated them '15', and in one case '12'. And half of those had an online capability, so there's a very realistic possibility that you're allowing children in Britain to play a game against opponents across the continent, and they'll be exposed to language or behaviour - or both - that is inappropriate.

"PEGI is trying to deliver a comprehensive system that rates all games, because there are significant differences between even '3' and '7'," he added.

The period of public consultation on the ratings recommendations of the Byron Review will begin shortly.

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