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Understanding PEGI ratings

PEGI ratings on games

Video games bring a lot of benefits.

Alongside entertainment and enjoyment, they enable players to visit other worlds, create ambitious constructions, connect with friends, find calm, discover new sports and hobbies and interact with people all over the planet.

However, it’s not always easy for a parent or carer to know what the benefits and dangers can be. Unlike films and books, you can’t quickly skim through to assess what your children will be experiencing.

The PEGI ratings are a good step towards a better understanding. They are the mandatory way UK video games disclose how old a player should be for the content of the game and are a legal requirement on any video game box. Additionally, PlayStation, Nintendo, Xbox and Google require them for any game sold for their systems.

How do PEGI ratings work?

Game publishers complete a questionnaire and submit game footage to the Games Rating Authority about their game. It then determines the age rating and related Descriptors that appear on the box or online. Here’s an overview of the process from the VSC Rating Board:

The PEGI ratings offer a traffic light system of age ratings. Games suitable for over 3s and over 7s are flagged with a green age icon on the box. Games only suitable for those over 12 or 16 are flagged with an orange age icon, and games only suitable for over 18s have a red age badge.

On the back of the box are another set of icons that depict why the game got a certain age rating. This may be for ‘Language’, ‘Violence’, ‘Drugs’, ‘Fear’ or other reasons. Further information is then available on the PEGI website and VSC Rating Board website.

A recent additional Descriptor is for ‘In-Game Purchases’ that discloses whether the game offers players the chance to extend their experience by spending real money. Games that offer ‘loot’ boxes are listed as including ‘Random Purchases’ that are purchased without first knowing the exact item or rarity value of what players are getting.

Additionally, some games are rated via the IARC system. This is a cheaper alternative for developers and applies a rating based solely on a questionnaire. For popular games, this is then usually checked by the VSC Rating Board.

Ask About Games offers further detail about game ratings in its guides. The Family Video Game Database, supported by Parent Zone, provides in-depth overview of game content along with information examiners noted when rating a game. It lets you search for games by specific PEGI, ‘Loot Box’ and in-game purchase criteria:

The page for each of these games also offers alternative younger-rated games for a child who isn’t ready for the older-rated experience. Again, this is a good chance for parents and carers to talk to the child about the game experience.

The VSC Rating Board has also created a PEGI app that offers another way to search all video games they have rated. This also provides additional information about Descriptors and setting up parental controls.

Understanding the PEGI ratings enables you to make informed choices about the games you purchase. This not only avoids unexpected negative aspects of unsuitable games, but helps connect you with games that your family will get the most from.

All modern consoles, computers, smartphones and tablets offer you the ability to block games by their PEGI age rating. This requires you to put a password in before any older-rated games are played and creates space to discuss the content with your child before they play. Here’s guidance from the VSC on how to set-up your console:

What the age ratings mean

PEGI 3

Games given this rating are considered suitable for all age groups. They may contain some violence in a comical context or child-friendly setting. There may be nudity if shown in a completely natural and non-sexual manner, such as breast feeding.

PEGI 7

Games may contain some possibly frightening scenes or sounds. Games can show violence as long as it's unrealistic and directed towards fantasy characters. There may be some non-realistic violence towards people or violent actions (eg: bombing of cities or non-human targets).

PEGI 12

Here, you may see more graphic and realistic-looking violence towards fantasy characters. Violence towards humans mustn't look real unless it's showing trivial injury. Horror, including dread, strong threat and graphic injuries, is allowed.

Sexual innuendo, sexual posturing, references to gambling and some bad language can also be shown, although the latter must be mild.

PEGI 16

The game can feature death and injury to humans, including gory and bloody violence if the game is ‘arcade style’ (ie: not too realistic). Smoking, drinking alcohol, the use of illegal drugs, glamourised representation of crime and strong bad language can be shown.

A PEGI 16 game can also contain erotic nudity and sexual activity, excluding the showing of genitals.

PEGI 18

These games can show ‘gross’ violence. This includes graphic methods of death or severe injury, including torture, decapitation and dismemberment, violence against vulnerable characters (including children), sexual violence and threat.

It may also include ‘criminal techniques’, glamourise illegal drug-taking and show sexual activity featuring visible genitals.

Content labels

As well as the age rating, there are content labels, known as ‘Descriptors’, to explain why the game was given its rating. These black and white images are displayed on the packaging of the game to indicate the kind of content featured.

Andy Robertson is the editor of AskAboutGames.com and has recently written the book Taming Gaming for parents

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