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Parents in the dock: PEGI finally goes legal in UK

Monday, 30th July 2012 12:40 GMT By Patrick Garratt

PEGI ratings finally become law in the UK today, forcing parents to assume responsibility for their children’s gaming. Given how clueless even the most well-meaning mums and dads can be, says Patrick Garratt, it’s not a moment too soon.

“Jesus Christ. It’s scary to think his friends, who are ten and some are nine, are playing games like this. Lord help us all.”

PEGI is law. After four years since Dr Tanya Byron delivered her report on children’s use of games and the internet, the UK has finally adopted the PEGI system for games wholesale. Retailers must now refuse to sell rated gaming products to under-age punters or face large fines, and potentially prison sentences.

It’s about time. For all the bluster surrounding the debate – with plenty claiming that parents are well aware of what an age rating means and are more used to BBFC symbols – the truth is that many mothers and fathers have no clue as to the severity of content in adult games. Byron highlighted the problem in her report, which recommended that parents get more involved in the media their children consume.

I’m a parent myself, and I’ve been a games journalist for a long time. Over the years I’ve got to know other mums and dads with games-mad children who go goggle-eyed when I say I’ve got tons of promos I don’t need any more. Every time, however, I have to make sure people understand that an age rating on a game is a serious concern, that 18 means 18. For some reason, the fact it’s on a video game doesn’t have the same impact with some parents. They’d never let their 12 year-old watch a BBFC 18 movie, but a baffling amount will happily hand over a copy of Modern Warfare 3.

Last week, for instance, a friend got in touch with me to ask about a games system for her son. He’s ten years old. We had a chat about it and she ended up getting him a 360. I packed up a bunch of promos I have sitting on my shelf, just to get him going. He was over the moon, but he’s been asking her for stuff his friends are playing. Like Skyrim, GTA IV, Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty. She stripped the obviously violent ones off the list – she instantly saw that Assassin’s Creed and CoD weren’t suitable – but she wasn’t sure about Skyrim.

To show her the sort of content included in an 18 cert game, I showed her Skyrim’s Unarmed Badass video. She was stunned. She told me one of her son’s friends has been playing GTA IV for the last two years. He’s now nine years old.

“Jesus Christ. It’s scary to think his friends, who are ten and some are nine, are playing games like this. Lord help us all.”

“We are going to murder some prostitutes.”
Perfect for the seven year-old son in your
life.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, and I doubt it’ll be the last. There seems to be something about these products that gives well-meaning, completely responsible parents ratings-blindness when it comes to games. If your kids’ peers are playing GTA, then why shouldn’t your kids be able to? If your next door neighbours think its OK, then why shouldn’t you?

Now, finally, the British government is taking the matter seriously. Retailers can now go to jail for supplying games to under-age consumers, forcing the issue directly into the hands of the parents. There’s no excuse any more, and you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. If you know parents who are giving youngsters 18-rated games, or allowing them to play them regardless of where they got them, ask them if they’re aware of what they contain. Say something. You may very well find that they have no idea, and will be horrified when they do.

Ask your children what they’re playing, and be sure you approve of it. A seven year-old, logically, should not be playing Grand Theft Auto IV. As I said, I’m a parent myself. I have three children, the eldest of which is six. The thought of her playing something like GTA next year is mindboggling. I would want a friend to tell me I was doing the wrong thing if I wasn’t aware I was doing so.

If UK politics can try to be responsible, so can you. Be good to your kids: they only get one childhood.

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53 Comments

  1. bitsnark

    “..given how clueless even the most well-meaning mums and dads can be, says Patrick Garratt, it’s not a moment too soon.”

    In my considerable retail experience, ‘clueless’ and ‘well-meaning’ when it comes to the quality of parentage on show are rarely mutually-exclusive.

    If I was a parent, I would want to know EXACTLY what my sprogs would be playing/watching and decide accordingly.

    Its parental due diligence surely?

    Simply not knowing or being ignorant over something that they (the parents) themselves have no interest in is no sort of excuse.

    In fact it is what it is – poor parenting. No point in dodging the accusation here:

    “Are you telling me how to bring up my kid?”.

    “Yes, yes I am’.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Eregol

    Nice article Pat.
    It is a hard subject to broach with a lot of parents though.
    I was at a party at a weekend, and one of the attendees had brought all of her kids along. The 11 year old was moaning for hours that he wanted to play Call of Duty, and while I wanted to say something, I couldn’t.
    Turns out that the kid also has learning and behavioral problems, is it really right for them to let him play a game like that? Of course not. But they let him anyway, because it’s easier to say yes to a kid than say no.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Patrick Garratt

    I’m very careful about what my children see, yep. I think when it comes to games it gets really difficult in the 10-15 age group to control what they consume, but that shouldn’t be through ignorance. I honestly believe a huge amount of parents simply have no idea that games can be properly “adult” and contain anything other than cartoon violence.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Patrick Garratt

    @2 That’s it, yeah. It’s so hard to say no when your kids’ friends are allowed to do something. It’s not as easy as some may think to stop their children doing stuff they may not completely agree with.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. absolutezero

    I remember being that kid that had stacks of horror movies that no other parent would allow.

    Im a serial killer now.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. DSB

    I think there’s a critical distinction missing from the whole “GTA example”, and that’s communication.

    Kids might not be as developed as adults, but they are also capable of recieving things in a lot of different ways.

    I have no problem letting my 5 year old nephew play Saints Row, because I’m right there with him, making sure he doesn’t respond to any of it in a bad way.

    In most cases, he despises any kind of game with violence in it, it just doesn’t appeal to him, but as soon as a videogame is percieved to be a cartoon, there’s a significant buffer there where he’s just enjoying the fictional mayhem, as fictional mayhem.

    Kids watch Tom get fucked up chasing Jerry all the time. Or the Coyote chasing the Roadrunner. Or Yosemite Sam trying to murder Bugs Bunny with his revolvers and explosives.

    And I know that some would make the argument that that’s different, but it just simply isn’t, in any sense of the word. Something being cute does not make it less violent, least of all to kids. They know what they’re looking at.

    I was playing Commander Keen and similar games around that age, and it really wasn’t anything that affected me. The only real trauma I got from the media around that time was watching the war in Yugoslavia on TV, while governments like that in the UK were telling their soldiers to stand and watch as people were slaughtered in their own streets. That wasn’t a cartoon, and apparently Serbian snipers didn’t respond to age ratings.

    PEGI may be a very safe guidance for people who want to go that way. But enforcing fines, and especially jail time is incredibly excessive. Where’s the scientific basis for that? Signing prejudice into law has always been a bad idea.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Patrick Garratt

    I don’t think forcing retailers to ask for ID when selling adult content is excessive. I don’t see the point in putting ratings on stuff like this if it’s not legally enforceable.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. DrDamn

    @DSB
    “And I know that some would make the argument that that’s different, but it just simply isn’t, in any sense of the word.”

    Watching and controlling is very different isn’t it?

    #8 2 years ago
  9. absolutezero

    no.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. DSB

    @7 I think it’s a bad law, for the simple reason that it puts the blame on the retailer, instead of the parents. It just strikes me as scapegoating.

    At the very least there should be a component recognizing the parents responsibility, if you want to be fair.

    And then proceeding to punish them with fines of 5000 pounds up to actual prison time just makes it completely excessive. Are they packaging these games with crack cocaine and hardcore pornography in the covers?

    No one is going to die from buying these games.

    It’s just hysteria.

    @8 I don’t think it is for a kid. Their imaginations are very vivid anyway. A lot of kids will watch something on TV and proceed to draw it for themselves, making it up as they go.

    To me that shows them interacting with media every bit as much as a guy with a controller in his hand.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Patrick Garratt

    I think the reality is that it’s impossible to legally hold parents responsible for it. But they can hold shops accountable. You’re right, though, it’s hardly perfect. I can download anything onto my PC, and the only thing stopping me is an age-gate.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. bitsnark

    @11

    Age-gates are the most pointless things in the history of forever.

    Total waste of HTML.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Patrick Garratt

    Yesm.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. freedoms_stain

    Age gates: everybody is born on the 1st of January some year in the 80′s.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Eregol

    @11 spot on.
    for instance, it’s illegal for a restaurant to sell an alcoholic beverage to a teenager. But, a parent can purchase it on behalf of the child.

    When a child’s mind is still forming, still impressionable I wouldn’t let them watch or play something that can affect how their brain forms.
    I will let my 2 year old son watch and play Sly Cooper, and Sly 2, but I would in no way let him watch me play Uncharted, or Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerfall. I’d think twice about Kingdoms of Amalur too.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Da Man

    Exactly, I wouldn’t want to know a person who was playing Manhunt at the age of 12. Much like I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone drinking or watching porn since 12.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. PEYJ

    @16

    Very good point actually.

    Anyway, I can’t believe that so many people still are convinced that cartoon violence and adult violence are the same. It may be in quantity but not in “quality”. And interactive vs passive also makes a big difference.

    Children are NOT as capable as adults in interpretating narratives and semiotics. In many violent games (as opposed to cartoons) you are given the opportunity (not always filosophically deliberate) to explore are nurture your dark sides, and THAT is definately a bad thing.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Yoshi

    My little cousin, aged 7 now will sometimes come over and play some GTA4. However I’m always there watching while he plays and I turn the volume down so he doesn’t hear the constant swearing. To put it into some perspective, he might play it for 2/3hours every 2months sort of thing. If I’m honest, in this scenario I don’t see anything too wrong, I know there’s killing etc but I know my cousin isn’t a complete dipstick. I make sure he does understand it’s just a game.

    He actually wanted to take it home with him to play but I refused and just told him he can play it when he’s over here.

    His mother’s not too bad, but also not the brightest when it comes to ratings. She does seem to look somewhat, as he only has one fps, which is an AA ww2 game

    #18 2 years ago
  19. PsychoboyUK

    Excuse my “Censored” French but about FRAGGING time!!! And weel said Patrick mate could not agree more with your comments!!!

    #19 2 years ago
  20. Dverg1

    I hope you told her that you can’t actually rape people in Skyrim, after showing the video of the unarmed badass?

    #20 2 years ago
  21. magnumfinger

    Wow, so what if daddy and mommy let their 9-year old junior play GTA?

    #21 2 years ago
  22. OlderGamer

    Would also be nice if mature games were actualy made for mature gamers. It seems to me that a lot of the so called mature games are not only filled with content that appeals to underage gamers, but also often times marketed at them as well.

    I have said it many times, the industry needs to grow up. On several levels. And while I also fully believe in parental responsibility, I say good move with the legel bindings regaurding game ratings.

    Now, I wonder what will happen with pubs…do they make an extra push to have their games listed in a less then mature catigory? Is Teen rated games the new sweet spot?

    #22 2 years ago
  23. Ireland Michael

    Personally, I take a case by case approach with my kids. I tend to keep the super-violent stuff out of their general view, and they’re more inclined towards creative games anyway, but sometimes something with a high age rating isn’t all that bad when you look at the content in context.

    Then again, one of my best friends started drinking, smoking and doing drugs by the time he was 12. He turned out to be one of the most educated, qualified and successful people in my family, and he’s an intelligent, cultured and decent guy to boot.

    So maybe all this “protection” stuff is a load of old bullshit and doesn’t make a lick of difference. Who knows?

    #23 2 years ago
  24. Talkar

    Parents should be more responsible yes. But with that being said i think it is up to each individual parent to educate themselves and decide what games to buy or not. The government shouldn’t interfere here. And even if a kid plays an extremely violent game i highly doubt it is going to have any kind of affect on him. When i was a kid i played games such as Manhunt and Hitman. Think about it, a kid spending hours planning how to murder someone, yet i’m not a violent person. The most violent thing i do is headbanging when i’m at a concert ;)

    #24 2 years ago
  25. Da Man

    Depressing internet attention whore is depressing, #24. That someone might be struggling with heroin and dementia and successfully beat it doesn’t negate the fact that.. you see the less number of times you get ill the better.. You don’t have to stick your head up your arse to figure it’s smelly there..

    Amazing, really.. Nothing is certain, everything is allowed, to infinity and beyond. Then again, you never came across as a bright guy.

    Oh well.

    #25 2 years ago
  26. OrbitMonkey

    As long as they never bring in a restriction based on maturity, I’ll be ok :-)

    #26 2 years ago
  27. Da Man

    Oh, and..

    Did you know the Colorado guy had an account on Adult Friend Finder, where he said that he’s a nice guy with whom you can have fun, #25? Some of your posts are messed up enough anyway..

    #27 2 years ago
  28. Talkar

    @28
    True, but are they ever violent?

    #28 2 years ago
  29. Da Man

    No, #29. But you missed my point.

    Whether those kind of activities lead to a definite kind of behaviour or not is a different topic. Whether they traumatize and negatively affect kid’s psyche is obv to any sensible person over 22. And I don’t mean in the sense of age.

    Some things are still good and bad, despite all this technical progress.

    #29 2 years ago
  30. Talkar

    @30
    It is so obvious is has yet to be proven scientifically? yeah sure you’re right, screw science!

    #30 2 years ago
  31. Da Man

    #31, science is a way of interpreting some things in a certain kind of form. As an example, by the end of XIX century only people who thought there’s a guy with a beard up over there looking at you from the sky were patients of mental asylums, if that’s the most you can figure about theism then oh well, keep playing video games.. That science can’t explain psychiatric/ psychological issues is obv to anyone with half a ‘brain’ as you like to put it.

    #31 2 years ago
  32. Talkar

    Science is funnily enough also the way you get a result from objective tests and procedures, whereas you seem to draw your conclusions from subjectivity which is just about as good as a politician promising no taxes during an election period.

    #32 2 years ago
  33. Da Man

    ‘Funnily enough’, Manhunt is a videogame about a guy being put by a sadistic perv into circumstances where he’s being hunted and it’s either he’s brutally killed or he kills himself. There’s absolutely zero about it which would make it a murderer sim or anything like that. It isn’t about exploring your darkest mental states, it isn’t about digging up your latent killer motives.. It’s the opposite.

    Kids, however hardly understand a diff between Carmageddon and Forza..

    That, my dear is not ‘subjective’. And I don’t need some Newton laws to prove that. Much like I don’t need that to state that the Colorado shooter was a mentally ill pos..

    #33 2 years ago
  34. Talkar

    So how do you explain that i knew the difference between gran turismo and flatout back in the day?

    #34 2 years ago
  35. DSB

    @23 Good point OG. I never really thought about that. A lot of “mature” games are really extremely childish.

    @31 That’s certainly how these politicians feel. There’s absolutely nothing to suggest that videogames are more damaging to the psyche than reading Catcher in the Rye.

    When Brenda Ann Spencer brought a gun to school and started killing her friends in 1979, was that because she played too much Pacman?

    There’s a huge lapse in cause and effect when it comes to this law, which would seem to have more to do with the media “forgetting” about all the other school shootings that have happened before the time of CNN and Doom 2.

    I think it’s worth asking the question, before you start fining people and throwing them in the gaol: Are these very few, very famous violent people fucked up because they play videogames, or do they play videogames because they’re fucked up?

    They even tried to blame a techno band for Columbine, even though those two guys were obviously exposed to several components of public humiliation and social isolation.

    Cause and effect is a pretty important consideration when it comes to this sort of thing. It’s a shame that it seems to have been competely ignored in favor of political grandstanding.

    #35 2 years ago
  36. Da Man

    You might knew, but not in the sense that I mean.

    A kid might at the very best figure that it’s a violent videogame that has nothing to do with real life.

    This is why internet discussions are lacking. Non verbal skills aren’t found anywhere. Too scientific.


    D-Sub is another good example.

    #36 2 years ago
  37. Talkar

    @37
    And isn’t it enough for a kid to know what is real and what isn’t real? I would think so. In the end most kids when playing a game that is either to violent or scarry for them, they will just stop playing it. I think that it is better for them to learn themselves instead of being “protected” all the time by parents, family, government and whatnot. Of course that is just my opinion.

    #37 2 years ago
  38. Da Man

    When you visit Disneyland, you get memories. Positive memories. They pop up sometimes now and then. When you continously play a video game (and kids have a tendency to do that) you get memories too. That’s what happens to every single person. Only thing that can be different is the extent at which it affects you. Crushing someone’s skull with an axe is that.. no two ways about it.

    So one guy might just shudder and another might have nightmares, and the third one might be severely traumatized. The negative is there, anyway.

    I would ask a better question: why do kids need some unnecessary, potentially negative questionable entertainment. It’s not like playing some computer videogame where you rip people apart would add to anything. Why not play Mario instead? Sadly, many don’t even actually care about the subjects.. instead making themselves feel more ‘free’ in their minds by fighting video games ratings.. Sad but true, and you don’t need any kind of science here as well.

    #38 2 years ago
  39. DSB

    First of all, no two kids are the same, they all have different tolerances.

    Some might have nightmares from watching Bugs Bunny, let alone GTA, and most probably won’t have an interest in a game that they percieve as genuinely violent.

    None of them “need” videogames that feature violence. None of them need videogames at all. Just like they don’t need sweets, or trips to Disney Land. None of those things are a formative part of their understanding, unless there’s some form of context there.

    But just like sweets and Disney Land, videogames are a part of our society, there is a context to those things – lessons to be learnt – and while it should be handled with care, I don’t see a need to hide it away at all costs.

    Should it be shoved in their faces? Obviously not, but if they are able to handle it, then they might benefit from learning the difference between fictional situations and real ones.

    Kids do need to be challenged in a lot of different ways. It’s not about wrapping them in safety foam and keeping every inconvenient truth pleasantly out of reach, or playing to every weakness they have. That’s how you end up with entitled brats who don’t give a fuck.

    How often have you seen a kid raised on a rigid set of principles go the exact opposite way as soon as they discover themselves? Parenting isn’t that simple.

    #39 2 years ago
  40. Talkar

    ^This.

    #40 2 years ago
  41. Da Man

    Whether two kids are the same or not doesn’t take away from what’s positive or negative. Yes it is that simple. If you have nightmares after watching Bugs Bunny chances are (very much) there’s something wrong with you.

    Now as for videogames being a part of our society, that’s no offense but laughable. They are not. Every single pathetically shallow lesson you might learn from computer entertainment software you should be able to see in books made of paper or at least cinema, where real people play, who have artistic/charismatic expressions.

    Now as for stuff like ‘inconvenient truths’, exactly. There’s no need, hardly any of that in God of War now, is there?

    Videogames do not actually challenge them. Even table games do, and in lot more sophisticated ways. We don’t need to go from Byron to Half Life and from Alice in Wonderland to some pathetic Fez.

    Actually.. of all things the fact that someone would choose videogames as something challenging and erm, enlightening for kids.. Ludicrous that.. There’s the gym, and the musical school.

    #41 2 years ago
  42. Da Man

    Also, in regards to ‘inconvenient truths’ and the such..

    One thing is when a 10 year old goes to his grandma funeral whilst being raised in faith. Yes, faith. Another is dragging him along whilst the best he ever did in regards to human psyche subject was playing Heavy Rain on the sofa.

    #42 2 years ago
  43. DSB

    Well, there’s certainly no cure for that type of schizoid thinking.

    Speaking of kids I wouldn’t like to meet, it’s one that has been raised according to something like that.

    Everything isn’t either extremely harmful, or extremely beneficial. There’s a context to everything, which is often what kids are lacking on their own. That’s where a parent should come in, but I suppose you can just tell them that there’s no context, only a pigfaced notion of right and wrong, ultimate good and ultimate evil.

    George W. Bush did make it all the way to president thinking that way, so maybe you’re onto something.

    #43 2 years ago
  44. Da Man

    You won’t surprise me with describing what i said that way, not after all your soul– sorry liberal stuff.

    Same here, I’d rather live with Hussein than your relatives, buddy.

    Also, what I said was that there’re things that at least for adequate folks supposed to be positive and not. Sure there’s nothing wrong if you cry when see clowns at the circus. Cause they’re completely retarded. Again though, you won’t surprise me with your hyperboles, straw men and misinterpreting leading to putting words into others’ mouths.

    Fight the system. Raise rebels.

    Oh, and for the record I ‘m fully aware that very often strict raising of kids leads to opposite results. Nothing to do with what I was saying. There’s a good phrase ‘Kind intentions lead to hell’ (sorry for the hell word, paraphrase that whatever you enjoy. modern guy).

    #44 2 years ago
  45. DSB

    Yikes :D

    #45 2 years ago
  46. Da Man

    xoxo

    I recall a kid in our school who laughed while watching some Tarantino movie at the age of 13. Sadly, he ended in a bad place.

    #46 2 years ago
  47. DSB

    Well obviously. How could it have gone any other way, laughing at a Tarantino movie when you’re 13? That sick fuck.

    #47 2 years ago
  48. Da Man

    Yep. He was a true rebel, Fought the system, liked Nirvana.

    I, for one, didn’t listen to grunge up until 18.

    #48 2 years ago
  49. Talkar

    I always smile while watching SAW. That doesn’t make me a psycopath. I think… o.O

    #49 2 years ago
  50. Ireland Michael

    Just out of curiosity Da Man, are you a parent?

    #50 2 years ago
  51. Da Man

    Just out of morbid curiosity, O’Connor are you for real?

    I really don’t like answering with a question. But surely you don’t expect me chatting with you. You really shouldn’t.

    #51 2 years ago
  52. absolutezero

    Beautiful.

    Just beautiful.

    #52 2 years ago
  53. ManuOtaku

    I think that individual genetic characteristics is what dictates one persons behaviors and or likings including the way that person react to any given situation , external factors might incide in the way a child develops, but genetics will dictate his/her overall performance in all aspects in life, therefore childs that have a very kind nature will not become killers for just playing or watching something violent on any media, the same as a child with very bad genes might not become a good person just for o good raising environment,theres something more than external factors that rules a child development.

    Also i do agree with OG comment, i also do believe that mature games are not targeted at mature or old gamers, are targeted at teenagers, most of the time mature is just for blood and gore and very especific situations, but not for mature teams, or mature subjects on games, therefore something like this law is not that important when in reality the clasification of games is not that accurate, i wonder if a game with strong mature content, with mature subjects, actions and blood and gore, hits the market, what clasification will have, AO?, i dont know but something is not right, and this law as good as it is, it is based on something flawed.

    #53 2 years ago

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