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Gaming - what's appropriate for your child?

Gaming - what's appropriate for your child?

The Video Standards Council Rating Board is the national video games regulator. They have been rating video games for 14 years using the PEGI (Pan European Game Information) rating system on an advisory basis, but in 2012 they were formally designated as the legal authority for rating video games in the UK.

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What is PEGI?

The PEGI system is designed to inform the public of what’s suitable and what’s not for different ages. PEGI’s professional analysts look at hundreds of video games every year and determine what is suitable for different age groups using a set of criteria which have been established by experts in the field of child protection, psychology, the law and media.  These criteria help them to decide what game content is appropriate in each of five rating groups.

All games released in the UK will have PEGI ratings on the packaging; 3,7,12,16 or 18 meaning that games rated as such should not be played by persons below those respective age bars. Why? 

Because it’s quite possible that there may be content within the game which could potentially be harmful, frightening or worrying to developing children. Next to the age rating there are also pictograms to explain why the rating was awarded.

Is PEGI legally enforceable?

In the UK, the PEGI 12, 16 and 18 ratings are legally enforceable – meaning that retailers cannot sell or hire such rated games to those below these age bars.  However, this only applies to the retailer. It doesn’t stop an adult from buying such games for a child. Such rated games may seem harmless on the surface, “it’s only a game”, but don’t be fooled by first impressions.  Many games may appear benign, but they can feature isolated moments of strong, gory violence, horror, illegal drug use and even sexual violence on occasion.

If you want extra information about the content of a game, the Additional Consumer Information (ACI) provides age rating information for  particular games. Use the ‘search’ function to find a game and you will get a precise breakdown of the content: how much violence, sex, drugs, etc., feature in the game, how often/where it appears and how strong it is.  This is a great tool for confirming you are making the right choice in the games your child may be playing.

Occasionally you may come across a game which doesn’t carry a PEGI rating and may, instead, feature a rating from non-European countries. These ratings carry no weight in the UK or Europe and should not be taken at face value as their criteria may not necessarily be in line with UK guidance.

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Gaming consoles and apps

The VSC Rating Board also rate online games for all the major consoles, and in collaboration with other rating authorities worldwide they now also give ratings to apps on a number of platforms including; Google Play, Microsoft Store, Nintendo E-shop and Oculus. Here they  not only provide content information, but also details about whether the app features in-game purchase options or whether the app can identify your child’s location. It’s important to consider age ratings for these platforms as well as games bought from a store.

In addition to the numerical PEGI ratings, you will also see the ‘Parental Guidance Recommended’ rating for some non-game apps. This serves as a warning that these apps can offer a broad variety of user generated or curated content so it’s best to take a look at the app yourself to see how it’s being used.  Typically, this applies to products such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

Other factors to consider: 

  • You may have introduced boundaries at home about when and what type of games your child is allowed to play. Consider communicating these rules and what your expectations are if your child stays with family friends or with child care.
  • Encourage your child to talk to you about the games they play and how they feel after playing them. Children are sometimes frightened by games but won’t tell anyone in case they take the game away. Whilst children are still learning to distinguish between reality and fantasy, it’s important to talk to them about what they see in gaming.
  • If your children are playing games online don’t forget that you can also set parental controls on many devices to give you extra piece of mind.  Again, the VSC website offers full instructions on how to set parental controls for the most popular devices.  

One final piece of advice.  If you’re worried about children playing video games on their own, then why not join them? AskAboutGames.com is a fantastic resource for advice on gaming as a family.