The Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) has announced plans for a new pan-European system of age ratings and warning symbols for games in Europe. The voluntary system will include five age categories: aged three and over, seven and over, 12 and over, 16 and over, and 18 and over. The age ratings will not relate to the complexity of the games in any way, but are designed to ensure that children aren't exposed to content that might be unsuitable.
In addition to the age ratings, a series of six symbols designed to warn parents about specific types of content will be introduced. The six symbols, of which only a maximum of two will appear on any one game, highlight game content that includes violence, sex, drugs, fear, discrimination, and bad language.
The new ISFE age rating system will replace the existing voluntary age rating system in the UK that was introduced by the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA) in 1994. All of the major European countries have agreed to the introduction of the scheme in spring 2003, with the exceptions of Finland and Portugal, which have indicated that they'll pursue its introduction once the scheme is up and running, and Germany, which, following recent proposals from its government, will retain its own mandatory system.
"This is a very important development in that the computer and video games sector is the first entertainment media that has developed an age rating code to which different European countries agree," commented Roger Bennett, director general of ELSPA. "The purpose is to provide consumers throughout Europe with intelligible, easy-to-act-on information about the age categories for which the content of a product is deemed suitable. The overall objective of the new system is to protect minors from inadvertent exposure to unsuitable material. It also meets the European Commissionís twin objectives: of making it easy for businesses to sell cross-border and domestically, also making consumers feel as comfortable shopping cross-border too."