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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 17:27 GMT
Game ratings under more scrutiny
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Manhunt 2
Manhunt 2 will be released with an 18 certificate
Game ratings are under increased scrutiny following the decision to give Manhunt 2 an 18 certificate in the UK.

The game was approved for release after a nine-month battle between developers Rockstar and the the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

Its release comes as the UK games industry awaits the Byron Review into the impact of technology on children.

A Private Members Bill proposing more government oversight of the BBFC was tabled last month but was talked out.

Julian Brazier, Conservative MP for Canterbury and Whitstable, who introduced the bill, had said he wanted to "legislate against video nasties". Writing on his blog before it was talked out, he said: "My bill aims to make the British Board of Film Classification accountable to Parliament.

"It would give a Parliamentary committee the power to review and veto key appointments and the guidelines the BBFC works to."

Mr Brazier told BBC News: "The problem is that the Video Appeals Committee needs sorting out: it always sides with the industry and only the industry itself can appeal."

Dr Tanya Byron is due to deliver her review into the internet and video games and their effect on children at the end of March.

The BBFC sets a world-wide gold standard of game certification
Margaret Robertson, games consultant

Games consultant and former Edge magazine editor Margaret Robertson said the Manhunt 2 overruling came at a bad time for the BBFC.

She said: "Whatever the merits of this specific decision, what's frustrating is that the BBFC's system remains a very robust approach to classifying games, in that it's based on an independent party viewing and playing the game, and taking into account context and tone."

She added: "I still feel the BBFC sets a world-wide gold standard of game certification."

She said that the BBFC's system was superior to the European voluntary approach of Pegi, which runs in parallel to UK-specific classification.

"Compared to the Pegi system, which is based on a questionnaire filled in by the game publisher, the BBFC system is clearly a more sophisticated and nuanced approach."

Dr Tanya Byron
Dr Tanya Byron's report is due at the end of March

She added: "As games become more complex, and start to tackle more diverse and challenging themes, we need an intelligent, sensitive ratings system which is alert to the fact that games can and do have a subtext to what they portray, just as film and television can."

Ms Robertson said that a much wider debate was needed about how the BBFC was run and how much oversight was appropriate for government.

Only a small percentage of games, those that contain violence or sex, are referred to the BBFC.

A spokeswoman for the BBFC said the body continued to work to the rules laid down by the 1984 Video Recordings Act.

She said there had been no suggestion from government that its role as a video games classifier was about to change.

Developer David Braben, head of Frontier Games, said self-certification of games by developers was a potential solution.

"We've heard reports that the Byron Review will say that the classification system is not entirely working.

"The law is a very blunt weapon. The real problem is that games are quite complicated and are a non-linear media, and are therefore much harder to rate.

We feel that the same standards that apply to films and TV should apply to games
Richard Wilson, Tiga

"There is strong argument for self ratings. For me, the Pegi system has worked well.

"Developers intimately know the content - whether its cartoon violence, nasty violence, or has sexual elements - and can apply ratings directly.

"The issue is almost whether you need something above 18, which Americans have as 'Adults Only', which is used for porn and cannot be on public display."

He added: "We need a system that is very clear to all of us. At times I fear the BBFC feels it is powerless."

Richard Wilson, chief executive of Tiga, the national body which represents the commercial interests of developers, said members were seeking consistent standards for games, films and TV.

He said: "The whole ratings system is going to be under review because of the Byron Review.

"Whatever was going to be the outcome of this particular case with Manhunt 2, the government has initiated the Byron Review and that will supersede that decision

"We feel that the same standards that apply to films and TV should apply to games."

Manhunt 2 wins battle for release
14 Mar 08 |  Technology
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29 Aug 07 |  Technology

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