Ok so quoting an old wildhearts song doesn't necessarily imply intellectual sophistication but after reading Jim's news post about the traffic light system soon to be inflicted on British gamers i felt this definitely deserves broader comment.
I'm not entirely opposed to ratings systems, despite certain issues around Manhunt i've been happy enough with the BBFC's policy towards games, in general i feel that when i play an 18 rated game i'm witnessing something similar to what i'd see in an 18 rated film. The reason why this new traffic light system will be problematic in comparison are twofold.
First, it reduces the accuracy of age ratings. The U/PG/12/15/18 system used by films and often by games allows several distinct levels of gradation. It allows us to tell between a sexual reference and sexually explicit material or between, for example, COD4 violence and Gears of War gore. My worry is that due to concerns about games falling into the hands of those supposedly too young to play them, the definition of what counts as a 'red' game could be much broader than what constitues an 18. The BBFC operate their own standards and act as an essentially independent agency, however the traffic light system's introduction as an aid to parents could result in a much more conservative attitude to game ratings. For example, the BBFC would rate Mass Effect as a 15. It contains mild sexual content and fantasy/sci-fi violence so perhaps isn't suitable for a young teen or child, but is probably on par with what a 15 year old could see in the cinema. If the game came under the kind of outside, interest-group-led scrutiny that Mass Effect suffered it could lead to pressure on whichever body controls this rating system to explicitly label it as 'red'. Thus reducing sales and harming the industry.
The second objection that i and i imagine many other gamers would have to this system is that it further fuels the argument that games are an inherently dangerous medium. By grouping games into even broader age ratings and labelling them with a provocative red tag we are treating them almost as if they are on a par with pornography. Since many games with deep and provocative storylines, bioshock or silent hill 2 for example, also contain adult content it would further ghettoise many of the most interesting examples of the medium and possibly even drag us further back to the perception of gaming as a 'kids' medium. No one talks about whether or not the newest Saw or Hostel film should have a special rating to protect it from kids. It's a horror film and an incredibly violent one, we all know it and we all know thats why it has a high age rating. By making a rating system entirely divorced from the one used for films the industry accepts the proposition that games are not only a corrupting influence on children but that they are also intended exclusively for children.
I'm not entirely opposed to the idea that the media, in it's entirety, is a powerful influence on not just young people but everyone in our society. Games as a part of that society have to accept their ability to influence people as part of a wider pop-culture and provide sufficient information for consumers to make informed choices. What the industry doesn't have to accept is that it is something distinct from other forms of entertainment, especially when the distinction they are expected to accept infantilises, insults and demeans the industry as a whole.
The traffic light system is more than just an annoyance, by attempting to mollify that area of the media which constantly attacks gaming (heres looking at you, Daily Mail!) the industry is feeding the objections, denigrating the medium as a whole and basically just shooting itself in the foot.
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