The ratings game

Games are rated in the same way as film and DVD releases, but confusion still reigns in consumers’ m

Games are rated in the same way as film and DVD releases, but confusion still reigns in consumers' minds

Interactive entertainment is a hot potato, the subject of headlines, parliamentary discussion and media scrutiny. At the centre of the conflagration is the old debate about media effects: what (if any) real-life impact does playing a video game have on the people who play them?

The hundreds of games released every year tend to be lumped into the same bucket, accused of violence, sexual promiscuity and other content considered inappropriate for younger audiences. Yet, according to the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association, (ELSPA), less than 3 per cent of annual releases contains content that is rated 18. The problem is that many detractors appear unaware of the variety of gaming experiences that are on offer.

Social commentaries

As a relatively new entertainment medium, games are generally misunderstood. On the one hand, most people think of them as kids' toys. On the other, the technological advances in game technology over the past 20 years allow designers to create political statements, hard-hitting dramas, and fiercely cutting social commentaries that are decades beyond the innocent blips of Pong. The Atari generation has grown up, and so have their tastes in leisure activities. Games are now developed for all age brackets - from infants to adults.

In the UK, all video games released to market are voluntarily submitted to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and are assessed like DVD and video releases. The classification board works closely with the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) system, a consortium of 29 countries.

PEGI was established in 2003 by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe to ensure that parents and other consumers were informed about games that may be unsuitable for children. Although it's voluntary, the programme does have the support of all major publishers and console manufacturers, including PlayStation, Microsoft and Nintendo.

When the games reach the board, the applications and the products are viewed and given an appropriate certificate, with the age clearly marked on the front of the package. The games are also tagged with icons that indicate potentially offensive content, from discrimination, gambling, drug abuse, sex or violence.


In the UK, the BBFC adds its own familiar icons to indicate U for "universal", through to 18 for adults. In contrast to PEGI's ratings, which are for information only, the BBFC's ratings are legally binding, and anyone caught selling inappropriate content to a minor will be fined. When a game is denied a BBFC rating, such as Rockstar Games' Manhunt 2, which was submitted earlier this year, it is effectively banned. Only two games have been banned in the initiative's 21-year history.

The interactivity of games can make a difference in ratings. The examiners work to a similar remit for both games and film, but a game may receive a higher rating if a player's action leads a character towards a behaviour that may be offensive.

At the GameCity event in Nottingham in October, BBFC examiner Jim Cliff explained that, for example, an instance of bad language in a film may result in a lower rating than a game, particularly if the language in the game is triggered by a player's action (such as pressing a button, passing a particular location) and can be repeated again and again.

Parental uncertainty

Cliff admits that parents may know what a 15 rating for a film means, but may not understand what gives a game a "15" rating. To combat this disconnect, industry bodies have implemented publicly-facing education programmes, websites and white papers with varying degrees of success. It is hoped that the issue will be clarified in March next year in the results of the Byron Review, spearheaded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport set up to critically examine research on the effects of violent video games.

This article first appeared in the 17 December 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special 2007

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State