Commission to limit sales of violent video games

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Sales of violent video games should be forbidden to minors, the European Commission claimed yesterday (22 April), calling for the labelling system for dangerous games to be beefed up to better protect children. But the booming online video games sector is not covered by the new proposals.

Brussels wants EU retailers to step up controls and apply a voluntary code of conduct “within the next two years” in order to successfully prevent the purchase of dangerous video games by minors. “As it is not permitted to sell pornography to children, it should be so for violent video games,” said Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, speaking at a conference.

As of 2003, the video games industry had already introduced a scheme for labelling dangerous games across the EU. Under this system, called PEGI (Pan European Games Information), the major console manufacturers agreed to attribute a symbol and an age rating, ranging from 3+ to 18+, to video games in order to help parents and retailers understand the content of the games children are playing with.

So far 20 out of 27 EU member states apply PEGI and three others use similar national rules. Only Cyprus, Luxembourg, Romania and Slovenia have no system in place.

However, according to Reding, “PEGI has proved to be a good system but it is not known enough”. She lamented that although the labels have already been in place for five years, minors continue to buy dangerous video games in shops.

The solution proposed by Brussels is to increase controls by retailers while spreading awareness about the existing labelling system. “Our clear message today is that industry and national authorities must go further to ensure that all parents have the power to make the right decisions for themselves and their child,” commented Meglena Kuneva, the EU commissioner responsible for consumer affairs.

The Commission is not seeking to impose a ban on advertising violent video games and limits restrictive measures to only content inciting racial or religious hatred.

The recent boom in video games across Europe has turned them in a “mainstream medium” with revenues exceeding those of the cinema sector and a market value of €30 billion worldwide. A third of this is concentrated in the EU, according to the figures provided by the Commission.

The increasing spread of violent games among children and teenagers has caused them to be blamed for aggressions and episodes of violence involving young people, such as the 2007 school shooting in Finland, when a 18-year-old killed nine people. However, the link between violence and videogames has not been scientifically proven. 

But a key flaw in the Commission’s initiative could be that it does not cover online video games. Sales via internet or mobile phones are rocketing and are expected to make up 33% of the market’s total revenues by 2010. In addition, illegal downloading of video games is already a widespread phenomenon. Nevertheless, the new proposals are aimed at high-street shops and do not foresee measures for online purchases. 

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