By Marc Cieslak
Reporter, BBC Click
Two organisations share the responsibility for rating video games
Given that the average gamer is aged 23 or above, it's perhaps no surprise that a lot of games are rated over-18 only. But who are the guardians of taste and decency and how do they decide a videogame's age rating?
In the UK, video games are classified by two bodies - the Pan European Game Information system (Pegi) and the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) - both of which have overlapping roles.
"The Pegi system is the industry-backed system which classifies products by age for suitability to play," says Paul Jackson, director general of the games industry trade association Elspa.
However, about 10% of games in the UK also go to the BBFC.
"At the moment the only games that come to the BBFC are the ones that contain gross violence which is roughly the equivalent of an 18 certificate movie or certain types of games that contain linear material that can bring them to the BBFC attention as well," says BBFC director David Cooke.
"So that means we see two types of games. We see quite often games with adult content in, but we see games at all other levels as well because they happen to have this particular type of non-interactive material that means it has to come to us."
Debate about the way that video games are rated has been sparked by the recent review penned by psychologist Dr Tanya Byron for the British government.
Dr Byron recommends overhauling the video games ratings system
The report into the risks children face from the internet and video games was the first of its kind anywhere in the world. It arrived at a couple of conclusions which could have far-reaching implications for the video games industry.
"She has essentially said three things, and I think those things are very important," says Mr Jackson.
"She said firstly that the parents must be involved with their children's online and game playing usage, because they are the only guardians in the home. The second thing she said is where possible parental locks should be easy to use and should be implemented.
"And finally she said we need to have a clear age rating classification. I think we have got some more to do on that."
It is not just the issue of who classifies what. The differing approaches the two bodies take to classifying games has also raised questions in the games industry over which is better placed to tackle the job.
"The Pegi system is a classic self-regulatory system," says Mr Jackson. "Every publisher who is putting a game forward for publication reviews the whole game, every element of it, and puts together a report for the Pegi organisation.
"The Pegi organisation then uses a set of criteria to decide what age that is appropriate for. That is how it is published across Europe."
The BBFC use a team of two examiners. "These are people typically in their early 30s, not blokes in suits and bowler hats. They are people who in some cases actually come from the games industry," explains Mr Cooke.
"They will play the game and sample it at all levels. They will have help from the publisher, so they have cheat codes because it isn't necessarily easy if you are getting killed all the time.
"The other thing that's important is that we are able to look at context and tone. It's not just a matter of ticking boxes about such and such an issue of violence or such and such an issue of bad language."
It would seem that while consumers are well aware of the age rating system for movies, the same cannot be said for video games.
"I think there is a generational gap," says Mr Cooke.
"The Byron report found, and it's our experience and our finding as well, that games and games classification is not as well understood as film classification or DVDs.
"The games classification system at the moment is more complicated because there is a sort of split of responsibility between the BBFC and Pegi. There are a lot of reasons why that should be, but it does makes a lot of sense to try and raise the awareness levels to the kind of levels that you do find in films and for DVDs."
It looks like this issue will take a while to be resolved.
In the UK it has been suggested that the games industry needs to embark on a further 18-month consultation period with the government, to decide upon a unified strategy for video games classification.