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The EGTV Show: The Videogames Election - Episode 2

The Age-Ratings Debate.

Today Eurogamer TV airs the second part of our special documentary series on the UK videogames industry.

The Age-Ratings Debate focuses on attitudes from within and without the games industry to mature content.

We explore how seriously the industry takes the issue of protecting children, from development through to retail.

We also look at the law itself. Statutory responsibility for games classification is switching from the BBFC to PEGI, but when? And how?

You can watch Episode 2 of the Eurogamer TV series, The Videogames Election, below.

Episode 1 can be found elsewhere on the site.

Read on beyond today's video for an insight into how the show was put together.

Episode 2: The Age-Ratings Debate.

Videogames, as a relatively young entertainment form, have been a soft target for the more censorious sections of the media.

Nowhere was this more notable than in the opportunistic and irresponsible spinning over the tragic murder of 17-year-old Stefan Pakeerah in 2004 which, thanks to the dogged efforts of Keith Vaz MP and complicity of our dear friends at the Daily Mail and elsewhere, became - and remains - synonymous with Rockstar's Manhunt game, despite police dismissing its relevance to the case.

But what this episode also illustrated was an urgent need for the games industry to get its house in order - and a sober examination of the potential risks of mature content on kids.

Yes, games were subjected to a thorough - and at the high age-range, legally-enforceable - classification system. But there was widespread ignorance and confusion amongst non-gamers and parents.

This created the perfect conditions for the press and unscrupulous politicians to stoke these fears in pursuit of their own agendas, with games easily cast as 'video nasties' for a new generation.

Dr Tanya Byron's heavily publicised Review into child safety in a digital world, published in March 2008, was a major turning point. Independent of industry, Government-backed and authoritative, it tackled the issues in a manner the games sector could never manage by itself.

By bringing gaming and Westminster together, it acted as a vital catalyst in getting games onto the political agenda (a topic covered extensively in Episode 1 of this series.

Moreover, its conclusions helped shape and focus the industry's efforts to grow up, and improve its practices and relationship with consumers.

On the issue of age ratings, Byron highlighted the clear and obvious confusion that arises when you have two ratings bodies slapping different symbols on a box. Is that an age rating? Is it difficulty? Why is it BBFC 15 and PEGI 18? And anyway, WHAT IS A PEGI?

Byron's answer - a bit of a fudge, in truth - was a hybrid system, which ignited an undignified public slanging match between the BBFC on one side and PEGI and its industry backers on the other.

The upshot was that PEGI was chosen by the UK Government to become the sole classifier of videogames in the UK, replacing BBFC. Were it that simple.

Caught up in the Digital Economy Bill, age ratings only made it through Parliament by the skin of its teeth before the election. And now the industry is in a state of limbo. The ratings were passed, but are not yet implemented. What happens now? When will it happen? Will the BBFC continue to rate certain games? Who's responsible for what?

Each of these key questions is addressed in the Episode 2 - and to answer them, Eurogamer TV has had unprecedented access to the key voices.

They include the politicians and industry execs at the heart of the campaign and decision-making process; the Video Standards Council, which administers PEGI in the UK, giving its first full interview since PEGI was chosen; and the BBFC, to see how it rates games, how responsibility is being transitioned, and to discover why Modern Warfare 2 became the first Call of Duty game to receive an 18 rating.

With concerns raised that the PEGI system, established by the industry, is open to acting in self-interest, we also travel to New York to visit US classifications body the ESRB, a voluntary, self-regulating system with proven success.

Retail is the next link in the chain. How difficult is it for a minor to buy a game underage? To find out, I undergo training as a member of staff for High Street retailer GAME, and go undercover to work the tills and discover whether the systems really work in practice.

Finally, parents. The industry may have come a long way in the past couple of years, but parental attitudes, as I discover (to little surprise), continue to lag behind. The industry could wash its hands of the problem beyond the point of retail; argue that it's done as much as it can reasonably be expected to, and if parents want their kids to play Modern Warfare 2 (one freely admits on camera to allowing his four-year-old to play), then that's their business.

But the signs are that a large-scale consumer awareness campaign, joint-funded by the industry and government, is being worked on and will launch to coincide with whenever (September at the earliest, I'm told), the new ratings are in place. It is abundantly clear that this is essential and must be a long-term, high-profile effort.