Today (17th September) marks the date in many gamers’ calendars for the eagerly anticipated release of Grand Theft Auto V; an open world game that allows players to explore a virtual city and engage in a number of virtual criminal acts. The themes and content in the game are intended for an adult audience; and with games like Grand Theft Auto this is often easy to spot, but without first playing a game, how can you be sure that it is suitable for children?
This is where the PEGI (Pan European Gaming Information) rating system comes in. The system is similar to the one used by the BBFC for classifying films and DVDs, and uses a traffic light system in its age ratings:
Green – PEGI 3 and 7
Amber – PEGI 12 and 16
Red – PEGI 18
These ratings are displayed on the game’s case in store, on websites selling the game and on promotional material such as trailers and adverts. The age rating reflects the age a user should be for the content to be appropriate, rather than the ability level required. To provide further information about the game’s themes PEGI also display icons that represent different types of content. These include icons for swearing, sexual content, violence, fear, gambling, discrimination and also whether the game can be played online; which may allow a user to chat to other players online, some of whom they may not know. Online games may also allow your children to experience content in the game created by other users, and this may not always be age appropriate.
Since July 2012 PEGI has been the sole rating system for games in the UK, which also means it is illegal for retailers to sell 12, 16 or 18 rated games to under age customers; just as they wouldn’t sell alcohol or cigarettes without a valid form of ID, so too will they not sell Grand Theft Auto V to anyone under 18.
From the discussions we have with young people in schools, we know that children can and do play these 18 rated games, and that peer pressure and advertising can play a big part in influencing children’s choice of games. Staying informed about the titles your children may already be busily adding to their Christmas lists is very important to ensure they are not seeing inappropriate material in the games they play.
We have produced a guide about online gaming that explains the PEGI ratings and other useful advice about supporting your children to enjoy age appropriate titles.
We have also produced a ‘Parents’ Guide to Technology’ on the UK Safer Internet Centre site which includes advice and downloadable factsheets for keeping your children safe when using gaming devices.
Another useful website to check out is AskAboutGames, which provides information and advice about children and gaming, as well as the facility to ask questions and to discuss gaming with other parents.
It is also important to be aware that although it seems like the most wanted or hyped games are always rated PEGI 18, PEGI’s official statistics show that only 6% of games they have rated fall into this category. In fact, over 80% of games are suitable for age 12 or under so encouraging your children to explore and enjoy the thousands of games that carry these ratings can help ensure they are experiencing content suitable for their age.
Above all else, games are about having fun! Talking to your children about the games they want to play, and making them aware of how to be a safe and responsible gamer online will help them get the most out of their gaming experiences.
Pan European Gaming Information (PEGI)
Online Gaming: An Introduction for parents and teachers
Parents' Guide to Technology