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All About: Inside the Game Age Rating Process

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Today the highly anticipated game named Detroit: Become Human has been released.

There's a good chance you've heard about it. Even before it's release, it attracted a great deal of controversy, as we explored in the first piece in a brief series of articles looking at the game as an example of how age ratings are applied.

Now the game is out, critics, commenters and industry specialists are offering a diverse range of opinions, with significant divides over perspectives on its relative merits.

Detroit: Become Human is a mature narrative adventure by Quantic Dreams, the studio of a game maker named David Cage, who is renowned for giving players ways to influence stories as they emerge. It has been rated as being suitable only for players aged 18 years and over. It was given a PEGI 18 rating after being reviewed by a group of experts at the Video Standards Council Rating Board.

The Video Standards Council Rating Board, otherwise known as the VSC Rating Board, also give a game it's Additional Consumer Information, which lists details of a game's content, and the factors that dictated the rating applied. You can see Detroit: Become Human's Additional Consumer Information here, and learn more about what Additional Consumer Information is in our special focus here.

But how does the Video Standards Rating Board decide what level of rating to give a game? And what does it take to be an expert Rating Board specialist?

We spoke to Gianni Zamo, communications Officer at the Video Standards Rating Board, to find out more about the examination process.

When a member of the VSC team examines a game, how do you have to approach playing it?

The critical thing is to approach the game objectively and analytically – the examination process is not concerned with how good, bad or indifferent a game may be, or how easy or hard it is to play. Examiners, therefore, have to be able to examine a game without prejudice and – unlike the consumer – have no choice about a game they may be examining. A broad appreciation of all types of games is a must, therefore.

What makes a good game examiner?

Much of the above applies to this: objectivity; a keen eye for detail; an understanding of context; patience – plenty of; broad experience of many styles of gaming - RPGs, shoot-'em-ups, strategy titles, etcetera.

The process of rating a game involves much more than simply playing it through. Why does the process need to be so intricate and thorough?

These individual processes ensure that we can examine a game quickly and efficiently rather than having to laboriously chew our way through every moment of the game. It is the content in terms of ratings issues – sex, violence, etc, that we are predominantly interested in.

Qualities like violence, 'likelihood to cause harm’, adult themes, and offensiveness could be seen as rather abstract, subjective or hard to define absolutely. What mindset does and examiner need to take on in the examination process?

We would disagree that issues such as game violence, sex, drugs use, etc, are ‘abstract’ or ‘subjective’ – they are pretty self-evident, otherwise consumers wouldn’t have concerns. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Issues such as bad language may well be ‘subjective’, but on the whole the PEGI ratings criteria have been formulated to broadly reflect the majority view of what is and isn’t acceptable at particular categories. We doubt that many would argue that the use of the strongest sexual terms would be acceptable at PEGI 3, 7 or 12 for example. Examiners simply apply these criteria in response to what they are seeing with an almost algorithmic approach to what they are doing.

With a game like Detroit, we see an adult product for adult players. Obviously your work protects the young and vulnerable; but it also protects games’ ability to serve adult audiences and address adult issues. Why is that important?

It is important since we generally accept that in the UK, adults should be able to view whatever they want to view so long as it is legal. This is an important principle to uphold if we are not to risk losing our right to freedom of speech. This is, of course, generally tempered by law, but it remains a critical element if we are not to end up accidentally or even intentionally censoring adult viewing choices. This is also why our ability to ‘ban’ content is subject to stringent tests and checks.

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Will Freeman