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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 December 2004, 14:29 GMT
Age rating under the microscope
Video games
Age ratings are shown on the front and back covers of video games
The government is calling for violent video game warnings to be made clearer in a bid to stop adult games falling into children's hands.

Trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt believes too many youngsters are playing games aimed at adults which show "high levels of violence".

There are guidelines in place to determine the classification of video games.


The Interactive Software Federation of Europe is responsible for developing the age rating system for most major console manufacturers, including PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo.

In spring 2003, the organisation introduced the Pan European Games Information (PEGI) age rating system across Europe with the aim of uniting all national age rating schemes under one body.

According to the PEGI website, the current guidelines are designed to ensure "minors are not exposed to games that are unsuitable for their particular age group".

Age ratings are labelled on the front and back covers of interactive video games and start from as low as 3+ right up to the age of 18.

Violent symbol
A fist symbol represents violent content in a video game
In a similar way to a film or a DVD, the games also display a series of symbols on the back and a description relating to the content in the game.

For example a fist represents violence, a needle refers to or depicts drugs and a speech bubble with edited expletives means it contains bad language.

A key symbol represents nudity and/or sexual behaviour or sexual references while a spider symbol is a warning to show that the game may be frightening to young children.

Voluntary system

The PEGI is a voluntary system under which game ratings are classified by manufacturers of the games industry itself through a self assessment form.

Ratings proposed by the publishers are checked by the Video Standards Council in the UK.

If the game contains realistic moving images which depict human sexual activity, mutilation or torture of humans or animals or acts of gross violence, it has to be submitted to the British Board of Film Classification for assessment.

Games which contain such content and pass the BBFC are usually labelled with an 18 certificate.

Popular titles such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, in which the protagonist steals cars, builds crime empires and takes part in drive-by shootings, or the Getaway, which shows scenes of torture, nudity, drugs and violent crime across London, often fall into this category.

James Bond

If the game shows graphic and detailed violence towards "unrealistic humans" or fantasy characters such as Halo 2 which depicts various shoot outs with aliens, it usually falls into a 16+ category.

Age symbol
The 7+ symbol is one of the video game classifications
A game which shows non-graphic violence towards people like James Bond 007:Everything Or Nothing, quite often falls into 12+ category.

Children's titles - such as Transformers and Finding Nemo - come under the lower age group which has two main categories: 7+ which is classified on the basis that pictures or sounds in the game could be frightening to young children and 3+ which may show some scenes of violence in a comical context.

Under the current law in the UK, anyone convicted of selling an adult game to a child faces a fine of up to 5,000 or a prison term of up to six months or both.

PM backs violent game inquiry
15 Sep 04 |  Leicestershire

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