The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) announced its process for classifying digital works at ECTS (the European computer tradeshow) yesterday.
The London-based tradeshow is the biggest yearly gathering for the games industry and the BBFC choose this venue to explain its procedure for categorising games under certain certificates.
While the BBFC is responsible for classification over a range of media, it’s the interactive nature of computer games, as well as their content, that ultimately affects certification.
"Though we award U, PG, 12, 15 and 18 certificates to both films and games, we have to consider the nature of game playing [and its affect] on the individual. Watching a film is a passive activity, but computer games offer an interactive experience and there’s more chance of the game having an affect on the person playing it," said Gianni Zamo, senior examiner for the BBFC.
So how does the amorality of a game's storyline, such as Grand Theft Auto's promotion of smash-and-grab culture, and improved, more realistic, graphics affect the classification of games?
"Grand Theft Auto was an isometric [top down] game with old-fashioned graphics and it didn’t provide players with the visceral depictions of gore in something like the graphically accomplished Soldier of Fortune 2. However, it still received an 18-certificate because of the amoral content in the game," added Zamo.
The board recommends that developers of potentially problematic works consult the BBFC before final production, because unlike movies, cutting games is difficult. This was another reason the BBFC appeared at ECTS — to open lines of communication between itself and developers and distributors so that any problems can be ironed out before products are finalised.
One problem the BBFC can't mend is the association in the people's minds between gaming and children's entertainment, but to overcome this an increasing number of games developers are creating titles aimed specifically at an adult audience.
In discussions at the recent GDCE (Games Developers Conference Europe) forum, concerns were expressed over the suitability of games for younger players, so Zamo will have his work cut out for the future.