Oops! UK Game Ratings Haven’t Been Enforceable Since 1984

In the UK, 25 years worth of government enforcement of content ratings for video games and films has been found to lack the required legal basis.

As reported by politics.co.uk, the Maggie Thatcher regime failed to notify the European Commission regarding the 1984 Video Recordings Act, thus invalidating the law.

In the UK, unlike the United States, content ratings have the force of law and those who sell adult-rated games or movies to minors can be charged with an offense. The oversight was discovered recently by the British government’s Department for Culture Media and Sport.

A representative of the UK’s Entertainment Retailers Association expressed amazement at the news:

This is extraordinary. For 25 years retailers have been faithfully administering the system and now this happens.

Meanhwile, Liberal Democrat Don Foster seized the opportunity to criticize Conservative Party leader David Cameron:

This must be a massive embarrassment to the Tories, especially as David Cameron was the special advisor to the Home Secretary in 1993 when the law was amended.

However, Conservative Jeremy Hunt pointed the finger of blame back at the Labor Government:

Much of the problem would have been avoided if they had sorted out the classification of video games earlier, as we and many others in the industry have been urging them to do.

Game publishers lobbying group ELSPA has counseled its members to proceed normally and offered to help the government fix the mistake. As reported by gamesindustry.biz, ELSPA boss Michael Rawlinson said:

The discovery that the Video Recordings Act is not enforceable is obviously very surprising. In the interest of child safety it is essential that this loophole is closed as soon as possible.

In this respect the videogames industry will do all it can to support and assist the government to that effect. ELSPA will therefore advise our members to continue to forward games to be rated as per the current agreement while the legal issues are being resolved.

Theoretically, at least, unscrupulous sellers have a 90-day window to peddle adult content to children. It will take the government at least that long to push through a revision to the VRA.

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  1. GoodRobotUs says:

    Urgh, just clicked on the link, there’s something about the sight of Maggie that still makes me want to recoil in horror, that woman is the sole reason the Conservatives have been out of power for ages in the UK, and why I’m still highly unlikely to ever vote Conservative, no matter how badly Labour screws things up, I’d rather vote Liberal Democrats.

  2. SticKboy says:

    Shit on a brick – I agree with a Zippy comment! HURRAH!

    Satan must be driving to work in a snow plow 😉

  3. ZippyDSMlee says:

    At the end of the day they are only restrcting the sale of it to minors.

    If it goes beyond that which can be diffcult to do in a real world setting then it will be over turned in time.

    Until lobbying is a hanging offense I choose anarchy! Stop supporting big media and furthering the criminalization of consumers!! http://zippydsmlee.wordpress.com/

  4. Neeneko says:

    Because I do not see it as some commitie’s place to tell me, my parents, or my children what media they can and can not consume.

    Suggest? Sure, that is fine.  But restrict?  Not thier buisness.

  5. Bigman-K says:

    Yes, but to be realistic an 8 year old doesn’t go out to the local video game store to want to buy Grand Theft Auto Whatever. Kids that young don’t seek out that kind of entertainment media so laws aren’t really that nessessary.

     "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  6. State says:

    Also i never said that all children including young ones like those in their single digit age brackets should be exposed to everything under the sun. But i do believe that adolecents and teenagers should have full free speech rights.

    So you do believe in restriction then? You believe that some people should be restricted from certain content.

  7. Bigman-K says:

    When did i say media doesn’t influence people? Of course it does. Everything we watch, play, read and listen to shapes are thoughts and feeling and gives us ideas and inspiration, but speech cannot be restricted or regulated because it does that. Actually that is the exact reason it shouldn’t be restricted or regulated. Uncensored access to ideas and information presented through media is part of the benefit of living in a democratic soceity based on individual rights and freedoms which is something that I strongly believe in. The fact that a few mentally unstable individuals might commit an act of violence or a crime because of an idea or inspiration they gained from reading a book, playing a video game, or watching a movie isn’t enough to restrict everybody’s access to it and this includes minors also.

    Unless the media in question was like alcohol or drugs in the sense that it caused a person to be put in an altered or trans like state causing them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do in their normal state of mind, then it shouldn’t be regulated or restricted. Also i never said that all children including young ones like those in their single digit age brackets should be exposed to everything under the sun. But i do believe that adolecents and teenagers should have full free speech rights.

     "So you believe that people are unable to generate any opinions or ideas unless they are able to have unrestricted access to media (or access to any media at all)?"

    No, But i do believe that restricting access to information in media is in a sense an indirect form of state based thought and mind control. The government is restricting the abiltity of us to form our own opinions based on access to the information and ideas presented in media they find inappropriate or unsuitable for public consumption which is a curtailment of our rights and freedoms that could lead down a slippery slope to more and more censorship. Maybe not in the U.K., which has gone from having very strict censorship in the past to a fairly lienent system now (look at the BBFC in the 80’s and then now). But in the U.S. if it happened, they’d go as far as they could with it.


    "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  8. State says:

    So you believe that people are unable to generate any opinions or ideas unless they are able to have unrestricted access to media (or access to any media at all)? Basically you’re saying that people don’t know what to think unless they’re told what to think, because after all media is just someone else’s opinion. But then that also defeats your other point that children cannot be influenced by the media because you’re saying they need media to be influenced!

    Yes you believe in an idealised world where you believe that everyone is some sort of intellect seeking to always further their opinions through the consumption of media (which apparently will always contain some meaningful message aiding that process).

    I clearly don’t believe that all media is suitable for all ages. Kids do act out what they see (whilst it is doubtful games actually have an effect over a person’s personality leading to violence), remember that kids always used to act out scenes they saw from TV of film? (That’s why a lot of the merchandising is based around role-playing). So they could innocently act out something either violent or improper without a mature knowledge of what the consequences of that were.

    I may not agree on all the categorisations in the certification process, but I agree with the basics and that children shouldn’t have unrestricted access to all media from day one, it should be given to them based on their own maturity.

  9. Bigman-K says:

    There is a big difference between speech and conduct. The actually act of having sex, drinking, smoking, driving and gambling or killing someone is much, much different then merely viewing a picture or movie or playing a video game of someone having sex, drinking, smoking, driving and gambling or killing somebody.

    Also lets face it here, Obviously teenagers and those nearing the age of adulthood (lets say 14+ and in high school) should have full free speech rights so by the time they hit legal adulthood their mind is not a blank and they’re unable to deal with the real world as we know it.

    "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  10. State says:

    So do you agree that your belief should be extended to experiences? That people should not be restricted by their age to certain experiences that would allow them to form their own viewpoints? Why should there be age restrictions on sex, alcohol, driving, gambling, voting etc? Why should the government have any business in that as well?

    And to another of your points how are parents to know what content they want their children to access if you prevent any such media from receiving an age classification?

  11. Bigman-K says:

    Well, I believe that the government has no business deciding for anybody whether they be adults or minors (perticularly older minors and teenagers) what they can or can’t watch, play, read or listen to. Individuals including minors should have the ability to form their own viewpoints based on unrestricted and uncensored access to media that present ideas, information, messages and opinions (this includes things like movies, music, video games, theatrical plays, ect.).

    Also, how does restricting teens access to certain forms of media benefit society or prevent them from being harmed? If a parents doesn’t want their children getting ahold of certain media then that’s fine BUT it’s their sole responsibility to make sure their kids don’t get ahold of it, regardless of whether it’s a GTA games or the Holy Bible.

    "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  12. mr_mlk says:

    Buys not consume. I can buy my 3year old GTA if I liked.

    A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body. Benjamin Franklin

  13. MrKlorox says:

    Not exactly. People were still arrested for ‘crimes’ that weren’t technically illegal. As far as everybody knew, you’d get punished for selling what was considered illicit content to minors. The law was still in effect, even though it wasn’t legally so.

  14. hellfire7885 says:

    Well, if anything, that disproves everything pundits assume about the industry. For the last 25 years, the UK industry has been regulating itself.

  15. MrKlorox says:

    Pretty much true, but videogames aren’t the only things affected by this. A five year old could legally purchase hardcore pornography… though I couldn’t imagine why one would want to, nor how anybody with morals could sell to one.

    I’m quite sure there are a number of teenagers celebrating though.

  16. GusTav2 says:

    As the VRA could restrict the free movement of goods around Europe, and is covered by various EU provisions, it should have been notified. Because it wasn’t there is an argument that the current law is contrary to EU law. That argument could be made as a defence to a prosecution and would potentially tie up the case for years, requiring a ruling from the EC  courts.

    It is quicker and simpler to correct the original error. The UK law has been valid, as a matter of UK law, since 1984. As the Euro-defence was never raised before the law was valid and correctly applied.

  17. GoodRobotUs says:

    Difficult to say at this stage. From what I understand, failure to register the law means that current cases may be appealled, but I’m honestly not certain about older completed cases, they may be covered in the revised law if the wording of the offence they commited does not change. I’m not certain on that though.

  18. HungryHungryHomer says:

    Ok, question. It said in the article that anyone found in violation of this "law" could have been charged. Has this ever happened? If so, what provisions are in place in the UK for those wrongfully prosecuted/charged/whatever-the-fuck? Seems to me there might be some major lawsuits in the works…

  19. Neeneko says:

    If I understand how the UK operates, this is not classification, it is restricting who can consume what.

  20. State says:

    Ratings on games serve as guidance towards potential purchases of the content inclosed. I still don’t know why people get so bothered by classification.

  21. gamadaya says:

    This is a little beyond an "oops" situation.


    Believe in something! Even if it’s wrong, believe in it!


    -Glenn Beck

  22. GoodRobotUs says:

    Personally, I don’t know what’s funnier, the fact that this happened or the fact that it took 25 years for anyone to actually figure it out…

  23. Adrian Lopez says:

    "In the interest of child safety …"? What a joke! Ratings have absolutely nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with wanting to impose society’s own values (as perceived by regulators) upon the young.

  24. DeeJay says:

    No, far from it. The ratings laws are one of the better defenses against people who accuse the industry of peddling disgusting violence and sex to minors.

  25. Neeneko says:

    Ah ha.. shouldn’t the game industry be using this as an oppurtunity to drop the bad laws rather then enforce them?

Comments are closed.