The last few weeks has seen the emergence Ubisoft‘s WeDare title and to much media coverage. It caught most of the media’s attention and indeed that of the online community with a controversial advertisement depicting adults playing along to the game in a seductive fashion with their Wii controllers. Not long after the release of the trailer, the news that PEGI (the EU ratings board) had rated the game as a 12 age rating soon sparked a backlash from the internet community wondering why such a seemingly provocative video game would merit such a low age rating. Since this incident, PEGI has demanded Ubisoft take down their commercial or face sanctions and due to the public reaction, Ubisoft has decided against distributing the game here in the UK (although it’s been released in Europe)
So we contacted a spokesman for PEGI, Dirk Bosmans, the Communication Manager at PEGI SA. and asked him a couple of questions regarding WeDare and PEGI’s position.
PEGI S.A. manages the maintenance, development, promotion and communication of the PEGI age rating system for video games. It is our job to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of the system and that it remains up-to-date. Hidden to the eyes of the consumer, there’s a fairly complex technical framework behind PEGI, since we work with more than 600 companies, rating more than 2000 games on different platforms per year for a territory that covers more than 30 countries.
The rating of the games itself happens independently, in two steps: first, a publisher fills out an assessment form that investigates various criteria of content. Based on that, a preliminary rating is given which is then verified by independent administrators: NICAM from the Netherlands for the 3 and 7 ratings (together representing just over 60% of all games) – and the Video Standards Council in the UK for the 12, 16 and 18 ratings. Once they confirm the rating, PEGI can issue a license to the publisher.
PEGI has communicated and defended its decision to provide the game with a ’12′ rating on various occasions. The problem with the backlash was that all opinions – from both press and consumers – were based on a commercial on YouTube, while the game itself was not available to anyone. As long as no-one was able to play the actual game (and see why the 12 rating was confirmed by the VSC), people based their opinion on the video advert, making it really hard for us to prove our point.
The concept of ‘context’ is often misunderstood in this, ehm… context. An act of violence or one sexual expletive in an otherwise entirely peaceful movie may not necessarily increase the age rating for that movie, because within the context, viewers are only exposed to it for a few seconds maximum. But with games, a simlar act of violence or expletive may have to be replayed a few times up to many many times (partly depending on the skill of the player). Content in games is often repeated over and over again and in different scenarios. This is what we mean when we say that PEGI does not take context into account and has to consider every single bit of content in a game.
But ‘context’ in the sense of ‘atmosphere in which the game is played’ is something entirely different. Sometimes, the VSC or NICAM are confronted with a small number of situations where a strict application of the PEGI criteria does not seem sufficient, since the overall theme or atmosphere of a game has an impact on the gamer’s experience. But this happens very seldomly: there are very few ratings on which the overall theme has an impact that the content of the game didn’t have already.
Within the PEGI organisation, we have a number of boards and committees with representatives from different countries and backgrounds (public officials, publishers, academics, media specialists, etc.). The role of the Enforcement Committee is to ensure that the provisions of the PEGI Code of Conduct are respected. The Code of Conduct must be signed by a publisher before they are permitted to use the PEGI system. According to the Enforcement Committee, the We Dare trailer violated one of the provisions of the Code of Conduct, and as a result, the trailer had to be removed.
PEGI has the task to inform the consumer, and more specifically parents, about the content of a game. If we would adjust the age rating to better suit a marketing campaign, we would no longer be providing the correct information. For PEGI to be trusted by consumers it must be consistent, changing a rating for reasons other than content would mean PEGI is no longer consistent.
That was never the problem, the campaign was clearly aimed at adults. The problem was that the marketing campaign was not appropriate for the game: it did not reflect the true nature of the game, a collection of party games with only mild innuendo.
We have to give the game a rating that reflects the true nature of the content, a higher rating would not have been truthful to the consumer and they would no longer trust it.
A commenter of one of the many online articles about this made a very good analogy: if there is an advertisement promoting a product that can be used to play strip poker and it turns out to be a simple deck of cards, should we restrict the sales of that pack of cards to teenagers?
Hard to tell: news can spread very fast on the internet without media getting involved these days. But some media jumped to conclusions very quickly without bothering to investigate the game itself, and a few didn’t hesitate to fuel the moral panic about the advertisement. It was unfortunate that they did not ask our take on the situation. But we all know some media are notorious for doing so. The only thing PEGI could do was remain calm and repeat our well-informed point of view. Other media were more balanced and I have to say that games press did a fair job at reporting our point of view, despite being in the difficult position of not being able to review the game.
So there you have it, an explanation into the WeDare rating and we hope this’ll answer a lot of the questions that’ve been circulating out there in the online community and provide some insight. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on our Twitter and Facebook Pages.
We thank Dirk and PEGI for their time in answering our questions and we at TUS appreciate the important work done by PEGI.