12 February 2008

Ratings shenanigans...

Some interesting turns of events have recently unfolded over here in the UK. First off we had the whole Manhunt 2 banning by the BBFC (by them refusing to rate the game) which was a none-event for me because the ESRB gave the game an AO (adults only) rating in the states which basically amounts to the same thing.

Anyway, moving on from that shit-storm of a statement (I've found that US citizens don't like me saying that), Rockstar changed the game in some minor ways to make it more palatable... this revamped version was still not allowed by the BBFC (but was rated as M by the ESRB). This new version was sent to the Video Appeals Committee by Rockstar to try and overturn the ban - which initially succeeded until the BBFC had that decision overturned in a counter appeal. A summary of which can be found here.

Meanwhile, the Byron review - a study into the effects of videogames, their place in society and the effectiveness of ratings on protecting children from inappropriate content - has been ongoing. Recently, it has been noted that the Byron review is in favour of implementing a rating system that is legally required - for ALL games rather than just 18+, as is currently the case.

There have been reports of PEGI - which is the non-required or legally binding European ratings system (similar to the ESRB) - being criticised by the review:


Also, apparently, PEGI itself has been under review by the EU and has found to be working well though perhaps with some areas with improvement to be made.

Now, these events set off an alarm in my head - several actually. Sometimes i feel like Sherlock Holmes in my mental agility - even if there is no hard evidence to back up my conclusions :) - of course, conspiracy theories are not popular no matter how close to the truth they might be.... but here goes with my theory surrounding these events:

The BBFC had realised that the government commissioned the Byron review to placate the constituents that felt that games were bad for our culture/society and that the obvious way to placate someone who is complaining is to bring in regulation. Regulation means that you need a body to supervise and rate these games. Whichever organisation is granted this power will probably be given funding from the government to carry out the procedure and will also hold the keys to whatever content makes its way through the rating system and into mainstream society.

The BBFC is a waning power and they gained that power from the controversy surrounding violent or provocative film. Games are largely not rated by the BBFC and are instead rated by PEGI. If the EU commission decides that PEGI is fit for the job, they will make it the official organisation for monitoring and rating games. This would bypass the BBFC's control over even 18+ rated games and would render that portion of their organisation defunct. However, if the Byron review suggests that mandatory, legally-binding regulation would be good for games (and it will) the BBFC has a chance to retain and expand its power over games distribution.

Basically, the whole reason that the Manhunt 2 event occurred was to show that the BBFC had the 'balls' to be able to control and rate games released within the UK. It's the reason that they managed to get Rockstar's/Take Two's appeal overturned... why they needed to get it overturned, as if they didn't it would undermine the ability of the BBFC to rate games appropriately and thus have a good chance of being handed the reins to one of the biggest growing pasttimes in our society....

What do you think?

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