Age Ratings & Parental Controls

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Get Smart about P.L.A.Y.

In January 2020, the UK games industry launched the Get Smart About P.L.A.Y. campaign to encourage the uptake of parental controls to help parents and carers manage game time in their homes.

The campaign promotes a message to parents and carers to foster fun, communicative and understanding relationships with their children about how best to enjoy video games in a safe and sensible way, following four core principles:

  • P - Play games with your children
  • L' - Learn about family controls at www.askaboutgames.com
  • A - Ask your children why they play
  • Y - You're in charge of setting the rules

Full details of the campaign and guidance about parental controls for games devices can be found at AskAboutGames.com.

PEGI

The Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) age rating system was established in 2003 to help improve understanding in European countries about age appropriate content in video games.

Initially developed by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE), the PEGI age rating system has been adopted by 35 European countries, including the UK and is supported by all major console manufacturers and publishers in Europe.

PEGI Age Labels

PEGI categorises games into 5 age classifications, each allowing different levels of age-appropriate content:

PEGI Age Label Description
PEGI 3.jpg The content of games with a PEGI 3 rating is considered suitable for all age groups. The game should not contain any sounds or pictures that are likely to frighten young children. A very mild form of violence (in a comical context or a childlike setting) is acceptable. No bad language should be heard.
PEGI 7.jpg Game content with scenes or sounds that can possibly frightening to younger children should fall in this category. Very mild forms of violence (implied, non-detailed, or non-realistic violence) are acceptable for a game with a PEGI 7 rating.
PEGI 12.jpg Video games that show violence of a slightly more graphic nature towards fantasy characters or non-realistic violence towards human-like characters would fall in this age category. Sexual innuendo or sexual posturing can be present, while any bad language in this category must be mild. Gambling as it is normally carried out in real life in casinos or gambling halls can also be present (e.g. card games that in real life would be played for money).
PEGI 16.jpg This rating is applied once the depiction of violence (or sexual activity) reaches a stage that looks the same as would be expected in real life. The use of bad language in games with a PEGI 16 rating can be more extreme, while games of chance, and the use of tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs can also be present
PEGI 18.jpg The adult classification is applied when the level of violence reaches a stage where it becomes a depiction of gross violence, apparently motiveless killing, or violence towards defenceless characters. The glamorisation of the use of illegal drugs and explicit sexual activity should also fall into this age category.

PEGI Content Descriptors

To make the nature of content that may not be age-appropriate clearer to consumers, PEGI also uses ‘content descriptors’. These appear as symbols on the boxes of games, describing content such as violence and bad language in games:

PEGI Content Descriptor Name PEGI Content Descriptor Label Description
Violence PEGI Violence Descriptor.jpg The game contains depictions of violence. In games rated PEGI 7 this can only be non-realistic or non-detailed violence. Games rated PEGI 12 can include violence in a fantasy environmentor non-realistic violence towards human-like characters, whereas games rated PEGI 16 or 18 have increasingly more realistic-looking violence.
Bad Language PEGI Bad Language Descriptor.jpg The game contains bad language. This descriptor can be found on games with a PEGI 12 (mild swearing), PEGI 16 (e.g. sexual expletives or blasphemy) or PEGI 18 rating (e.g. sexual expletives or blasphemy).
Fear PEGI Fear Descriptor.jpg This descriptor may appear on games with a PEGI 7 if it contains pictures or sounds that may be frightening or scary to young children, or on PEGI 12 games with horrific sounds or horror effects (but without any violent content).
Gambling PEGI Gambling Descriptor.jpg The game contains elements that encourage or teach gambling. These simulations of gambling refer to games of chance that are normally carried out in casinos or gambling halls. Games with this sort of content are PEGI 12, PEGI 16 or PEGI 18.
Sex PEGI Sex Descriptor.jpg This content descriptor can accompany a PEGI 12 rating if the game includes sexual posturing or innuendo, a PEGI 16 rating if there is erotic nudity or sexual intercourse without visible genitals or a PEGI 18 rating if there is explicit sexual activity in the game. Depictions of nudity in a non-sexual content do not require a specific age rating, and this descriptor would not be necessary.
Drugs PEGI Drugs Descriptor.jpg The game refers to or depicts the use of illegal drugs, alcohol or tobacco. Games with this content descriptor are always PEGI 16 or PEGI 18.
Discrimination PEGI Discrimination Descriptor.jpg The game contains depictions of ethnic, religious, nationalistic or other stereotypes likely to encourage hatred. This content is always restricted to a PEGI 18 rating (and likely to infringe national criminal laws).

In 2018 PEGI introduced a new content descriptor to label digital games with in-game purchases and in early 2019 this content descriptor began appearing as a label on physical releases.

PEGI Content Descriptor Name PEGI Content Descriptor Label Description
In-Game Purchases PEGI In-Game Purchases Descriptor.jpg The game includes an option to spend real money on in-game items or additional content.


Parental Control Tools

All games consoles, smartphones and PC and Mac operating systems have options for parental controls, enabling parents to protect their children’s safety and privacy when gaming both online and offline. These parental controls can be used to:

  • Select which games children are allowed to play
  • Control and monitor the use of digital purchases
  • Limit internet browsing
  • Control the level of online interaction

Details of parental control tools on specific consoles and platforms are listed below:

Home Consoles

Xbox

Microsoft advises parents to create ‘family accounts’ on Xbox One and Xbox 360 consoles. An Xbox family account is free to create and allows parents to prevent unauthorised purchases, set content age limits and set screen time limits.

Nintendo

For the Nintendo Switch, a parental controls app can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play. This can be used to restrict the types of games children are able to play on the Switch console and set screen time limits.

PlayStation

Parental controls can be set up in the settings of the PlayStation 4. Settings can be adjusted to set monthly spending limits, restrict access to network features, disable use of the web browser and prevent children from playing non-age-appropriate games. The PlayStation website also has a guide on how to prevent children from changing parental controls.

Phone and Tablet

Google Play

The Google Play store (for Android devices) allows parents to set parental controls on apps, games, music, films, tv and books. Unlike console games, mobile games are not given age ratings by PEGI and instead are rated by the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC). Limits can be placed on children’s Google Play accounts to restrict access to certain games based on IARC age ratings. Parents can also block and unblock their children from using individual apps.

iPhone and iPad

In the settings for iOS devices, content and privacy restrictions can be set up, purchases can be prevented, explicit content in apps and games can be restricted and limits on screen time can be set. A passcode can be created on iPhones and iPads to prevent children from disabling these parental controls.

PC and Mac

Steam

Steam has a mode called ‘Family View’ for parents and families to establish their own rules for which features in Steam should be accessible. With Family View, the Steam Store, Library, Community, Friends and other features can be locked, with access to these features only unlockable with entry of a secret PIN.

Epic Games Store

In the ‘account settings’ section of the Epic Games Store, a parental controls PIN can be set up to lock mature game content based on age ratings.

Virtual Reality

Just like all console games, PEGI gives VR games age ratings based on their content. However, given how new VR is as a technology, a lack of research into the effects of Virtual Reality on children means VR headsets are currently not recommended for children under 12.

Guidance on Parental Controls

Ask About Games recommends that parents make use of the inbuilt controls on consoles and handheld devices to keep track of the games their families are playing and how long they are playing them for.

International Age Ratings

The International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) is an initiative introduced in 2013, aiming to streamline the age classification process for digital games and mobile apps. The IARC uses questionnaires to assess the content of games and apps, with ratings generated based on national standards of the countries they apply to. IARC members include some of the largest the largest games content ratings board such as PEGI and ESRB.

IARC Participants & Regions

International Resources

Further Guidence on Parental Controls