It turns out that any violent video games sold to underage kids in the UK has not been technically illegal due a loophole in the 1984 Video Recordings Act.
So for just over twenty-five years a lot of the negativity that gaming has courted in this country since the “video nasty” era of the 1980s has been upstaged by an even bigger blunder over legislation.
Won’t someone think of the children?!?
The revelation that the UK’s 1984 Video Recordings Act is fundamentally flawed raises considerable concerns for the future of video game classification.
Technically speaking right now any child could walk into a games shop and buy any 18 rated game or DVD they desire – with no current formal repercussions for the retailer. I don’t expect a flurry of underage gamers mostly because most decent game shops wouldn’t allow it, but I do hope this will help to ignite debate about the way games are sold in this country again.
Put it this way every single game that the BBFC has ever reviewed for a mature release into this country is affected – that’s a massive back-catalogue.
It puts the furore made over every single violent game released in doubt – and makes any changes made to any violent game on “accessibility to children” grounds ever so slightly absurd, comedic infact. I cannot help but laugh.
Imagine if this had happened in the States, specifically at the time when Hot Coffee in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas reared its ugly head. How differently could things have been if a legal blunder as big as this meant that the mature rating giving to that game in retrospect was not only technically redundant then, but had been for the last twenty-five years.
A little context to the 1984 Recordings Act
Retailers, consumers and parents have been saying for years that our current games rating system is inherently flawed, difficult to enforce and hard to understand.
We currently operate on a two tier system – violent videogames intended for the over 18s are rated by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which also handles other legally enforceable ratings such as 12 and 15.
Everything else is classified using the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) system which works on a code of conduct model and serves as an advisory scheme to help parents make decisions on what games are suitable for their child using iconography.
Ironically it is the planned movement from the BBFC system to a new legally enforceable PEGI system that uncovered this serious loophole, and it will continue to exist for the next three months until emergency legislation can be passed to plug it up.
How did this happen? Basically when compiling the Act the Conservative government of 1983 failed to inform the correct European Authority of the intention to make it law, so parts of the Act never became law, subsequently it wasn’t checked by numerous Labour governments.
This raises some huge questions
By my reckoning the BBFC have been responsible for classifying games since 1985 – why was this not noticed just one year after the newly passed act came into power? And even worse not noticed again by the government in 1993 and 1994 when the law was reviewed?
It has taken until 2009 – when a potential new ratings system is being pencilled in to protect children from violent media that they could undoubtedly access anyway. How does replacing one unenforceable system with another make our games system any more tenable?
I’m convinced no one really cares, and that’s a crying shame – because before this loophole even existed the games rating system was already broken, and it’s a problem you’ll find absolutely everywhere regardless. It’s because games are deemed something suitable for children and not a emerging and varied medium – like film – capable of displaying the very best and very very worst of what we are.
Parents buy unsuitable games for their children regardless of the ratings, they cannot be told at point of sale and they certainly won’t pay attention to governments especially with bureaucracy like this fresh in their minds.
It’s a hilarious day to be a gamer, sing the blunder from the rooftops – when the next Rockstar game comes around the UK government won’t have a leg to stand on.