Thursday, 15 September 2016
We occasionally get gripes from consumers about the nature of the PEGI ratings system compared to that used by film regulators. For example, the recent STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS film was rated ‘12A’ here in the UK and PG-13 in the US (the ratings are roughly equal.) The game version, however, received a PEGI 16 – quite a step up from its movie cousin. Some consumers quite reasonably ask how this can be so since, apart from anything else, movies are ‘realistic’ whereas video games are not.
The first thing to understand is that film and video game regulators are not only separate entities, but also view the medium they are dealing with in quite separate ways too. This affects the method by which they are rated. As an ex-film regulator, I speak from first-hand experience and must confess that I too was quite surprised by the differences in approach.
Perhaps one of the biggest contributory factors rests with the point that film regulators invariably make contextual judgments when arriving at their decisions whilst game regulators generally do not. Since films are driven by story (on the whole), it is quite correct that elements within a narrative are taken into account and considered before applying a rating, otherwise there is the potential for a film to be rated for a wholly unsuitable audience simply because it may contain an issue which, at first glance, would seem unsuitable or inappropriate for a certain age group. As a simple example, most of us would probably agree that illegal drug use is a bad thing and would not want images of such drug use being shown to younger people. However, if the narrative thrust (and the accompanying images) relay a story that depicts a “drugs are bad” message then it is likely that such a message would be useful for younger people to see – the difference between “Trainspotting” (18) a positive endorsement of drug use, and “Traffic” (15) a negative endorsement of drug use. Clearly, other elements would also be taken into account – bad language, sex, etc, but the above serves to give a rough illustration of the primary rationale behind a film rating.
Game ratings on the other hand, are approached from a more direct, non-contextualised perspective. The origins of this being, perhaps, centred on the fact that early, arcade-style video games simply didn’t have discernible narratives, so there was little to contextualise. For games, ratings generally boil down to the degree and strength of a particular issue – the amount of violence and how it was portrayed, for example. This is notable in the extremes of MORTAL KOMBAT (PEGI 18) at one end and DISNEY INFINITY (PEGI 7) at the other.
This still rings true for PEGI, the ESRB and other worldwide games regulators and is why game ratings can appear to be more restrictive than their cinematographic brethren.
As games become increasingly sophisticated – many games now feature wholly discernible narratives as a major component of game play - there will probably come a point at which games regulators will have to reconsider their approach. That, however, is beyond the scope of this wee blog.
In the interim, just bear this in mind and that you should never compare like-for- like as in the case of STAR WARS the film vs game.
Friday, 29 July 2016
Well, what a crazy few weeks that was! The UK decided to exit from Europe and the Prime Minister decided to exit full stop. What is going on?
Here at the GRA, however, life and business carried on pretty much as usual though we did receive questions about our role and whether, as a result of Brexit, PEGI would become defunct.
The answer to that is we believe nothing will change. You see, PEGI is nothing to do with the machinations of the EU. To quote directly from the PEGI spokesperson:
PEGI s.a., as an independent, not-for-profit organisation, is not part of the institutions of the European Union and as such, any outcome of the referendum would not have an immediate impact on our labels being present on game products sold in the United Kingdom. In fact, PEGI already reaches beyond the borders of the European Union, since PEGI labels have appeared (from the very beginning) on games in Norway and Switzerland and are quite prominent these days on the Turkish market as well.
The video game publishers industry, as founder of the system, is obviously quite happy with PEGI as a pan-European solution and the PEGI system is officially recognised by many governments of the 38 countries where it is active. In some countries, it has become part of the legislative framework, and the United Kingdom is such an example: PEGI became the legally enforcable rating system for video games in 2012, when the Digital Economy Act was introduced. For this reason, a potential exit from the EU would not have a direct impact on PEGI.
So as you can see, we’re firmly intending to ‘remain’ and PEGI ratings will continue to grace the covers of UK video games for the foreseeable future.
Wednesday, 1 June 2016
You probably have a vision of what we do here at GRA HQ. That vision probably sees lots of minion-type creatures sat permanently in a chair, staring at a monitor and checking through endless video games without thought for anything else other than processing the games on an endless hamster wheel of examination.
You may be surprised to discover that in actual fact we do manage to escape every once in a while in order to do other things. One particular aspect of our secondary work is to go round the country visiting various educational establishments or other interested organisations in order to explain why and how we rate video games.
It never quite ceases to amaze us how people perceive what we do, and it always a great opportunity for us to blow away some of the myths surrounding the PEGI system. Our presentation mixes talk with lots of illustrative clips from games we have rated and it is interesting to see how audiences frequently become ‘enlightened’ after a presentation.
We would love to do more, but personnel availability, work load (video game examining) and resources make it difficult to do so. And in case, if you thought that like Gru we have hundreds of minions beavering away like… well, beavers, you’d be wrong. The whole office comprises some nine people of which a small handful actually undertakes examining duties.
Basically, we are happy to make presentations to any interested party, but we can’t always guarantee making it when you want us to. However, if you think you’d like us to come and chat to you about the GRA and PEGI then give us a call. We’ll try to oblige if we can.
That’s enough scribing from me. Time to get back on the wheel!
Wednesday, 13 April 2016
Over many years much attention has been focussed on the alleged ‘effects’ of video gaming such as addiction and a propensity toward violence in real-life as a result of playing violent video games. It has to be said that after some three decades of research from around the world, science has failed to find a causal link between real-world violence and playing video games.
Okay, I hear you say, tell me something I didn’t know. And so I will. Instead of churning over old ground let’s take a look at some of the new and innovative things that are being developed as a direct result of video game play and use.
A recent ‘Horizon’ programme revealed some of the stuff going on out there; stuff which should be, but is rarely reported because, perhaps, it’s less sensational than tabloid stories of disaffected loners rehearsing murderous dreams on their xboxes.
Motor skills – In Holland, a Dutch surgeon, Dr Henk ten Cate Hoedemaker has developed a game called “Underground”. “A Dutch surgeon has done what?” I hear you exclaim. “Hasn’t he got better things to do with his time??” Whoa, steady there! Yes, technically it’s a game in which you help a girl and her pet robot to escape from a mine. So far, so dull, eh? However, the game is especially designed to help surgeons practice their motor skills since the game controller has been adapted to mimic the tools used in micro-surgery. Now I think that really is smart though I wouldn’t recommend trying micro-surgery at home… could get messy.
Visual abilities – At the University of Geneva they have been testing the visual abilities of gamers vs non-gamers and the results have been interesting. This has been done by asking test subjects to track the position of multiple moving objects.
The researchers have found that those who play action games perform much better than those who don’t. The theory goes that fast action games require the player to constantly switch their attention from one part of the screen to another while also staying aware of other events in the environment. This, subsequently, is believed to challenge the brain into processing incoming visual information more efficiently.
Brain growth – down at the Max Planck Institute of Human Development in Berlin (where else?) Prof Simone Kuhn has been researching the effects of video games on the brain. In one study, she used fMRI (functional MRI) technology to study the brains of subjects as they played Super Mario 64 DS, over a period of two months.
During this period it was discovered that three areas of the brain had grown - the prefrontal cortex, right hippocampus and cerebellum - all involved in navigation and fine motor control.
Because the game offers both a 3D and 2D view simultaneously, Prof Kuhn believes that having to navigate the game in different ways is what may be stimulating brain growth.
Mental stimulus – One recent development has involved using video games to tackle mental decline in old age. At the University of California, Prof Adam Gazzeley and his team have developed a game called Neuroracer.
Aimed at older players, the game requires individuals to steer a car while at the same time performing other tasks.
The team engaged a group of pensioners to play the game and discovered that after some 12 hours of playing, the pensioners had improved their performance so much they were beating 20-year-olds playing it for the first time.
In addition, Prof Gazzeley also measured improvements in the working memory and attention span of the pensioners. Remarkably, these measurements showed that skills had improved through playing the game and were transferable into the real world.
In may seem incredible, but a time is foreseen when instead of having to take medication for a mental condition, we might just be given a prescription for a specifically targeted video game to be taken three times a day (without water) instead. Now how good would that be?
Thursday, 10 March 2016
I am sitting (I think) in a darkened room with the faintest sound of traffic audible in the distance. A lance of daylight cuts through the darkness from a skylight and provides just enough illumination to see the silhouetted outlines of machinery and equipment, though it is difficult to make them out exactly. Suddenly, a switch is heard clunking into action and a bare bulb suspended from the roof illuminates and reveals that I am sat in some sort of workshop.
I look around to try and orientate myself, but beyond the glow of the bulb lies little more than shadows. I then hear footsteps and looking to my left the outline of a man starts to approach me. He steps into the light and I am confronted by a shaven-headed, muscular, heavily tattooed ‘geezer’ who bears a striking resemblance to Grant Mitchell. He lights a cigarette, takes a drag and then, in the finest of Sarf London accents, begins threatening me. What did I do?
Am I reporting live from the headquarters of some criminal enterprise? Am I on the set of the next British gangster movie? No, my friends! I am, in fact, fully immersed in the world of a VR video game demo and it’s quite unsettling. The ‘gorilla’ in front of me has swung a punch and I flinch, I actually flinch, from something that my brain is telling me is not really there. Yet, shut inside this VR headset which permits no infiltration of light or sound from the outside world, this 3D world manages to feel authentic nonetheless. In my head, I know that all before me is a digitally-generated fantasy, but my eyes and ears tell me otherwise. Indeed, I become so rapidly accustomed to this new 3D world, that the sound of my office colleagues, whom I can just about make out urging me to follow a particular course of action, seems very remote and detached, as if it is they who are the virtual ones rather than the world I am seeing before me.
Whilst I have ‘test flown’ similar VR systems in the past, this one responds smoothly and accurately to my movements though the two suspended gloves in front of me, representing my virtual hands, do struggle occasionally to pick up items. When they do work, however, I can twist and turn an object in any direction and without any lag. The technology has clearly moved on in leaps and bounds, but with it will inevitably come the questions about how we will respond when immersed in these VR games for hours at a time.
Already some commentators have indicated that VR games must affect ratings since the games will be so much more ‘realistic’ than 2D games. Others have suggested that they probably won’t make much difference since we will always recognise the fact that we are dealing with an animated rather than real world however immersed we may be. No doubt an army of behavioural psychologists will soon be researching their way into any conceivable ‘effects’. Given past experience, we will probably end up with the usual camp roughly divided into those who believe there are negative effects, those who don’t, and those who don’t give a monkey’s either way!
From my experience thus far, the only problem I foresee is a pragmatic one – leaning out to reach an object, I almost lost my balance and went over – so maybe we will be obliged to be strapped into a chair while playing. Now excuse me, I’ve just turned 180 degrees and spotted someone else coming towards me and he doesn’t look best pleased….time to get outta here!
Tuesday, 26 January 2016
It’s a grey, wet and cold January day as I sit and read the webmail enquiries we’ve accumulated over the Christmas period. As I read them I am struck by the fact that some folk still don’t seem to understand the ratings and what they are for. One correspondent has gone as far as to claim that they are too complicated and confusing. Really? Maybe, I’m not seeing it from their perspective precisely, but I always thought the ratings were very straightforward and easy to understand.
The PEGI ratings have been in operation since 2002 and have been regularly refined and honed since then to ensure that they do exactly what they say on the tin, but it’s clear that they still aren’t quite hitting the mark for some people. We’ve made considerable efforts to publicise the ratings more via an assortment of media. We make presentations to school, colleges and, indeed, anyone who’s interested in knowing how the system operates, but I think there remains a critical group of people for whom the ratings remain something of a mystery.
It’s also the case that over the years a certain mythology about PEGI and the ratings has arisen, mostly through social media and assorted blogs, to the point where the facts have been buried by the fiction. In attempt to illuminate the dark places, I thought it would be worth attempting to bust some of the myths surrounding PEGI ratings and the system generally.
PEGI ratings just tell you how hard a game is to play, right? No, nein, nada, non! This is one of the worst myths we come across. The ratings have nothing to do with how easy or difficult a game is to play. The numbers, running from 3 to 18, basically state that you should not be playing the game if your age is lower than the number displayed on the packaging – yes, it really is that simple!
PEGI ratings are basically like serving suggestions on an instant meal box, aren’t they? Wrong again! In the UK, the PEGI 12, 16 and 18 ratings are legally enforceable. The PEGI 3 and 7 ratings are, however, unrestricted though PEGI 7 games could feature content that a younger child might find worrying or frightening.
PEGI ratings really don’t apply to anyone over 15. I’m afraid they do. See above!
But video games are basically cartoonish and don’t have the same impact as a real, live-action film. Check out games such as Until Dawn, Fallout 4 and Mortal Kombat X and then tell me they have no impact. This myth comes from the days when video games tended to consist of simplistic, blocky or, indeed, cartoony characters which leads some people to still believe that, in essence, all video games are childish in appearance and tone.
PEGI is just another censorship body set-up by governments to do their dirty work for them. Actually, PEGI is wholly independent of governments and takes no money from the tax payer. It self-finances from the fees it charges game publishers to have their games rated. In addition, it has no powers to censor a game since it is essentially a ratings tool. That ability rests solely within the national laws of each member country.
So there you have a few of the more popular myths well and truly busted! If there are others you want clarification on then let us know and we’ll try to put you straight. Until next time...
Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Earlier this week I managed to drag our game examiners away from the hamster wheel of game content analysis in an attempt to discover which of this year's games they personally found worth playing. This is not easy since they are frequently to be found 'in the zone' concentrating intensely on what is happening in the game in order to determine the appropriate PEGI rating. However, the smell of a doughnut or other sugary item will usually draw them away from the screen long enough to get a few mumbled words of conversation out of them.
Though it may seem to be the equivalent of working in a chocolate factory, I can assure you that the reality is rather different. They don't, for example, 'play' a game in the way you and I would; indeed, the whole point is really not about fun and enjoyment, or whether the game is good, bad or indifferent, but to objectively identify those elements within a game – violence, sex, bad language, etc – that will result in a particular rating. Yes, I know. It's grim work, but someone has to do it!
The following list then comprises those games which for a variety of reasons our lab mice found to be particularly engaging. Let me emphasise that these are NOT endorsements for particular games. What the lab mice find interesting or entertaining may not sit with what you enjoy. In addition, this is going to be wholly subjective and limited in scope, so don't give me a hard time if your favourite game doesn't feature.
Finally, I've had to use false names for our examiners in order to protect the guilty... sorry, innocent!
From Belinda our first offering is Ori and the Blind Forest rated PEGI 7. This is a Platform adventure following Ori, a white guardian spirit, who has to make his own way through the forest when his adoptive mother dies. Ori must restore the forest after a cataclysmic event by recovering the light of three main elements supporting the balance of the Spirit Tree, Nibel. Belinda notes that: "I liked it because it’s visually stunning and a very sad tale is told in the opening cut scene – purely by animation (no words). I think it’s difficult to create a character that people can fall in love with without the need for voices and that’s what they did in the first 5 minutes of the game."
Hot on her heels is Jane who's come up with two games, starting with Dying Light (PEGI 18) which is a "Survival action game. You play as Kyle Crane, exploring the zombie-infested city of Harran, looking for anything you can use to assist the remaining survivors, while following leads on your own secret mission. The difficult gameplay is the main reason I like the game. Your character is good at scaling buildings and out-running the (slow, Dawn of the Dead style) zombies. Even so, the zombies are not easy to kill and you can easily be overwhelmed. Your (mainly melee) weapons will keep breaking and you constantly have to scavenge for resources. At night, the zombies become more alert and dangerous which can make the game quite scary also."
Her second choice game is Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (PEGI 7) which, I am told, is a "Cute, but difficult, action game where you fly around in a spaceship, defeating evil robots and rescuing space bunnies. This 1- or 2-player local co-op action game is worthy of a mention as players work together to control the battleship."
Next up is Katy whose top pick is Oddworld (PEGI 12) though mainly "...cause it's a remake of a game I loved when I was younger." To this she adds that Metal Gear Solid V (PEGI 18) is a real favourite simply because she's a big fan of all the MGS games.
In the world of apps, our IARC examiner, Sally, reckons that her personal favourites are Akinator the Genie and... er... Cow Evolution. Of the first she says: "It's a game which involves thinking of a famous person or character and a 'genie' asks various questions, eventually guessing the right answer. It worked every time, even if they are quite obscure." As for Cow Evolution, Sally says: “Cow Evolution is one of a series of games involving animals. This one involves cows popping out of crates on a farm and the player has to add them together so they mutate into new varieties. It goes on forever and is quite addictive!"
Finally, to Larry who picks out Project Spark (PEGI 12) as something a little different from the norm. He tells me: "The game has a number of different modes. In Play Mode the player can play through games created by the developers: Team Dakota and the global Spark community; in Create Mode the player can use the Project Spark tools to create a world and games from scratch and in Crossroads Mode an in-game wizard helps the player to create a world based on the parameters selected." Then goes on to add: "An enjoyable game which allows a great deal of creativity on the part of the player. There is plenty of help via YouTube for those interested in the creative aspects of the game."
So there you have it. Words from the wise and all-knowing. Have yourselves a happy, gaming Christmas and next year we get to do it all over again.