It may come as a surprise to those who assumed it was the case, but until 30th July there was no unified, legally binding age rating system for video games in the UK. Unlike so many other products available to buy, the guidelines and ratings in place did not automatically lead to prosecution for under-age selling. This lack of definitive law has contributed to the rampant practise of young gamers playing titles that are age restricted, though we’re not naïve enough to say that it was the primary cause.

To get the boring legal bit out of the way first, as helpfully explained by all games released in the UK will now be classified by PEGI, and it will be illegal to sell games rated 12 and above to consumers under the appropriate age. Similar to items such as DVDs and knives, retailers or shop workers found negligently selling games to underage gamers could face a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a £5,000 fine. Retailers who fail to sell games with the relevant PEGI age certificates, meanwhile, face a two-year jail sentence and an unlimited fine.

Those are serious punishments, and it’s already been said that retailers will be worked with closely to ensure that standards are met and to help with a smooth transition to the new system. Yet this news raises issues that not only matter in the context of the UK, but worldwide. While it’s a positive step that retailers now have to show diligence when selling games, the biggest problem for rating agencies is ultimately out of their control: parents.

You don’t need to look far in any gaming store before being bombarded with dozens of age-restriction labels. Although we can go back to older console generations and find mature games, the improvements in gaming technology have increased the variety of experiences, including more that represent violence and adult themes. Gradually becoming more common in the last generation, it’s been this current batch of consoles that have really taken the mature gaming market to new levels. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have what some like to call a ‘hardcore’ audience, and in many cases this means adult gamers who enjoy entertainment suited to their age-group, while many no doubt also enjoy plenty of universal and light-hearted games too.

While it’s a positive step that retailers now have to show diligence when selling games, the biggest problem for rating agencies is ultimately out of their control: parents.

It’s little secret what kind of franchises we’re talking about either: Call of Duty, Battlefield, Dead Space and Assassin’s Creed are just four cross-platform franchises that have multiple titles. That’s barely touching the surface, on top of various console exclusives, and we must also consider that Nintendo systems have their own share of mature games, albeit in much lower numbers: two examples are Madworld, which was one of the crudest and most outrageous video games we’ve played on Wii, while Resident Evil Revelations brought a decent amount of gore and occasional swearing to 3DS. Mature games exist on every platform and are often fantastic and thoroughly entertaining, but there’s a reason they’re rated as games for adults; yet gamers who are yet to learn to drive are often found playing them.

If you want to experience what we mean, log into a random online game of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3 on a rival system or PC, plug in a headset and guess how old your competitors and team-mates are. There are a lot of teenagers, some particularly young, gunning for headshots and flinging abuse over the online ether. You can check the age restriction on the box all you like as you’re not playing a mature game with other adults, but often with school children. In many respects games like these are the same as 18-rated films, with violence and sexual themes considered inappropriate, yet while most theatres would stop a 12 year old walking into one of those films, that same demographic can play a violent FPS for hours on end and for it to be considered the norm.

Perhaps this is an area where the video game industry, evolving so rapidly and with an ever-expanding audience, needs to re-evaluate the importance of age-restricted games. The main group that should consider the issue is parents, as anyone with experience in game retail will have seen parents buy an 18-rated title and then hand it right over to their child. It depends on the individual parent, but perhaps they should ask themselves the following: is it healthy for a young teenager to be carrying out virtual violence for hours on end? Alternatively, would you allow your child to watch an explicit grindhouse horror movie? If any parent answers no to the second question but yes to the first, then that typifies the problem.

We’re aware, thanks to the numbers of you that answered our site survey a while back, that many of our readers are in the 13-18 year old demographic, and we know that we have a number of parents in the Nintendo Life community as well. We’ve set up some polls to gauge your opinions on this issue, and we’d love to hear what you think about age-rated games, whether they should be rated as they are and who should play them, in the comments below.

Do you agree with age restrictions in video games? (240 votes)

  1. Yeah, it makes sense58%
  2. Sometimes it can be appropriate38%
  3. Not really4%

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How often do you play age restricted games, under age? (209 votes)

  1. Very often10%
  2. Quite often11%
  3. Now and then36%
  4. Never43%

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What age should a gamer be before they play the most mature titles? (215 votes)

  1. 10-121%
  2. 13-1514%
  3. 16+53%
  4. 18+24%
  5. 21+5%
  6. No Restrictions3%

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How often have you bought age restricted games for an under-age gamer? (213 votes)

  1. Quite often4%
  2. Now and than13%
  3. Never83%

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