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Last Updated: Friday, 24 June, 2005, 19:54 GMT 20:54 UK
Parents 'ignore game age ratings'
By Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website

Screenshot from Manhunt
The Rockstar game Manhunt made the headlines last year
Parents tend to ignore warnings on games that say they are unsuitable for children, research shows.

A study commissioned by the UK games industry found that parents let children play games for adults, even though they knew they were 18-rated.

"Most parents think their child is mature enough so that these games will not influence them," Modulum researcher Jurgen Freund told a games conference.

The report reflects concerns about children playing violent video games.

Gore and carnage

The issue rose to prominence last year when the parents of a 14-year-old blamed the game Manhunt for his death.

Police investigating the murder dismissed its influence and Manhunt was not part of its legal case.

Parents perceive age ratings as a guide but not as a definite prohibition
Jurgen Freund, Modulum
But the case rekindled the debate over 18-rated games that appeared to relish in gore and carnage.

Like movies, all games receive an age classification. This works through a two-tier system involved the British Board of Film Classification and a voluntary European setup known as Pegi.

But the research presented at the Elspa (Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association) summit in London suggests that few parents pay much attention to the age ratings.

Magic number

Ironically, most people knew that games had age ratings, the study by the Swiss research firm Modulum showed.

US parent looking at video games
Video games have to carry labels with age ratings
However, parents were still letting their children play 18-rated games.

"Parents perceive age ratings as a guide but not as a definite prohibition," said Jurgen Freund, Modulum chief executive.

"Some may have not liked the content but they did not prohibit the game."

The research showed that parents were more concerned about children spending too many hours playing games, rather than about what type of title they were playing.

And to a certain degree, sticking an 18-rating on a game made that title more desirable.

"We called it Magic 18," said Mr Freund. "The 18+ label was seen as promoting the content, promising adult content rather then saying 'my parents will stop me playing this.'"

Leisure disconnect

Mr Freund suggested that the problem was that parents felt disconnected from the world of video games and so showed little interest in this aspect of their children's lives.

Screenshot from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was last year's best-selling game
"Parents are too divorced from what teenagers play," he said.

The study has not yet been finalised but it makes for uncomfortable reading for the games industry.

"It raises more questions than answers," commented Nintendo's UK boss David Yarnton.

"We need to look at solutions and as an industry we are quite united on this."

Ways of making parents more aware about the age ratings of games were discussed last December at a meeting between UK government officials, industry representatives and the British Board of Film Classification.

The number of games aimed at adults has increased in recent years, as the average age of gamers has risen.

Games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, last year's best-selling title, tend to receive most of the media attention.

But 18-rated games only make up a small number of software released each year.

Between January 2003 and July 2004, just 16 out of the 1,208 games on sale in the UK were given a 18+ certificate.

Around 1,000 UK adults were interviewed by phone for the Modulum study. A further 100 people who questioned after buying a video game and in-depth interviews were held with 18 teenagers.

Your comments

To allow an underage child to play an 18+ rated game is irresponsible parenting
Ian Morgans, Albrighton, Shropshire
I don't see why this is a problem for the games industry. They place age ratings on their games it is the parents who should be checking what their children play and what rating it has been given. To allow an underage child to play an 18+ rated game is irresponsible parenting, it is not the games industry fault that they ignore the ratings.
Ian Morgans, Albrighton, Shropshire

As a 15-year old who regularly plays 18-rated games such as Grand Theft Auto and Doom 3 I fail to see what the large problem is. 18-rated games are not singularly responsible for violence among children, so stop using them as a scapegoat! My parents are aware of the age rating on these games, but they also know that most of the content of these games is detached from real life. It is up to the parents to decide whether their child is mature enough to play these games. The game manufacturers cannot be blamed, because they fully comply with all regulations. The parents are to blame if they misjudge their child's maturity, because under-age children can not buy games with an age-rating they do not meet. When I was 14, I was prevented from buying a skateboarding game that carries a 15+ rating! The current system works, it allows parents to be directly involved in choosing what their child plays.
Aleks Lukic, Leeds, UK

With movies it used to be easy, if you were too young you could not enter the movie theatre to see that feature. Many parents stuck with this at home when film rentals became available. Now it's easier to ignore the ratings as no-one outside the home sets an example with video games. I think the industry would be wise if it raised awareness with ad-campaigns. Also, they should make more games directed towards the younger audiences and these should be made more appealing. I guess the market forces direct most of the development and advertising towards games for the largest audience which I believe now is young (male) adults. The arrival of the new generation consoles does not help either, as more revenue is needed to cover the development costs.
Tommi Markkula, Leiden, The Netherlands

Do parents ignore movie ratings? If not then why would they ignore game age ratings? They are exactly the same and appear in exactly the same places on a game DVD box as a movie DVD box.
Scott, Edinburgh

It's up to the parents. The state discharges its responsibility by providing the certificate - the parents can then choose whether or not to abide by it, based on information which should be provided alongside the certificate, in a similar manner to the "menu" on videos. If they read on the box that a game contains strong bloody violence or sexual content, then they know what to expect, whether or not they understand or use the technology themselves.
Graeme Smith, Glasgow, Scotland

Perhaps more explicit warnings on the box would help
Pete, Warwick, UK
I think it is a lack of understanding of what is in these games. One particularly protective mother of my acquaintance lets her 9-year old play the GTA series, but if you suggested that she should let him watch a movie that encouraged rape, murder and drug dealing she would be horrified. Perhaps more explicit warnings on the box would help.
Pete, Warwick, UK

I am an avid gamer, but find it a disgrace when I see under 18's playing 18 rated games. Last week I saw a five year old kid being helped by his dad to play House of The Dead 3 arcade (you blow off zombies' heads with a life-sized shotgun). It really makes you wonder if parents care one iota about their children's wellbeing.
Mike, Nottingham, UK

This is something that gamers have known for a long time, and it is no different to age ratings for movies. Instead of blaming games, TV violence and society as a whole for bad behaviour, maybe parents should look closer to home and realise that a TV and a games console are not surrogates for a proper upbringing.
Andy, London

Parents not necessarily caring about the age rating of a game is one thing, but their under-18 children seem perfectly able to buy 18-rated games; that's more of a problem - the same stringency should be applied to game sales as to video/DVD sales. That said, my son has often had to prove his age to be able to buy 12-rated games, so it's not a general problem. Question: do the same parents also not care about the certificates of films their children watch at home?
Michael Sandy, Swansea, Wales

The trouble is the word "game". As far as most people are concerned, games are for kids and consequently games rated 18 can't possibly have as much adult content as 18 rated films. I've been a gamer for years (I'm 24), and the idea of Manhunt even made me uncomfortable - if I had kids, they wouldn't have been playing it.
Ben Taylor, Bristol, UK

This is just another example of parents not taking responsibility for their own children. The 18 certificate is quite blatantly on the cover of the box yet I have seen parents buying the game for their child with the child there at their side. How can the games industry make it clearer if parents are so disconnected from their children's lives that they can't even see the obvious?
Richard, Brighton, UK

Often media hype builds games up to be worse than they are
Kenny, Nottingham
The violence in video games is often of a cartoon nature. The outcry over Manhunt was laughable because the game was rubbish and wouldn't have sold at all but for the furore in the press. Often media hype builds games up to be worse than they are and by doing so makes them the 'must-have' game that they do not deserve to be. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is no different in theme to its two predecessors but it's notoriety ensured its success!
Kenny, Nottingham

Why not have a system like DVD players, where the console will only play games up to a pre-defined rating set by the parent. New games have the rating identified by a flag in a header somewhere, old games are identified by a unique ID of some sort (track structure, like audio CDs?) and ask for the rating the first time they are played. If you implemented a log on to the console of some sort, different players could have different allowed ratings.
Alan Edwards, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

We have had a lot of problems with this. My son is now 12 and has often come home with games he has swapped/ borrowed from his friends that are not suitable. I have returned games to the shop when I have found that the game was rated 18. It appears that peer pressure to have the latest game overrides any parental common sense.
Mark, Horsham, West Sussex

I definitely agree with the idea that an 18 certificate on a game makes it more desirable. My stepson is instantly drawn to the games that he is not allowed to play - and it is a problem amongst his peers. In fact it makes it an even greater problem when they are allowed to play these games at friends' houses with the blessing of friends' parents but without our knowledge or consent!!
Vicki, Glasgow, UK

Yawn. Everyone who works in the games industry or plays games has known this for years. The responsibility has always rested with the parents, not with the games developers. Since the introduction of ratings on videogames parents have had a responsibility to protect their kids which very few have been fulfilling.
Nick Goodyear, Cambridge, UK

To me it is not surprising at all. I work in a children's ward and I have trouble remembering how many times I have asked an eight year old to switch off GTA (Grand Theft Auto - rated at least 15 if not R/18) because there were younger kids in the same room. Their answer? "My mom and dad let me play at home'.
Saqib, Glasgow

I suspect many parents consider games to be so abstract that they are not comparable with video nasties. This was the case as recently as 10 years ago, but not anymore. Graphics and sound are getting ever closer to video quality realism. The interactive nature of games (and the extended exposure to content that may only last a few short minutes in a film) can only have a negative effect on children. I have witnessed a store assistant trying to dissuade a woman from buying the original Grand Theft Auto when she was quite obviously buying it for the two pre-teen kids by her side.
Russ Newman, Berkshire, UK

Game makers face up to the future
21 Jun 05 |  Technology
Parents face video game lessons
10 Dec 04 |  Technology
Video game campaign is 'working'
06 Jun 05 |  Leicestershire
UK turning into nation of gamers
01 Sep 04 |  Technology

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