Protection of video game users12 January 2010
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 12 January 2010
Strong growth in the European video game market and the development of new media has increased the risk that consumers will be exposed to illegal or harmful content. The video game industry has introduced a self-regulatory video game rating system aimed particularly at the protection of minors.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the protection of consumers, in particular minors, in respect of the use of video games – 22 April 2008 [COM(2008) 207 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
This Communication examines the methods used to assess the content, classification and labelling of video and computer games in Member States. It follows the Council Resolution of 1 March 2002 on the protection of consumers through the labelling of certain video games and computer games [OJ C65, 14.3.2002].
Video game rating systems
The Pan-European Game Information age rating system (PEGI) is a voluntary, self-regulatory system. It was introduced following consultations with the industry and civil society in order to replace national age rating systems with a single European system.
Most European Union (EU) Member States use PEGI, and some also have specific legislation. However, in 2008, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Romania and Slovenia had no age or content rating systems in place.
Access to video games
Half of the Member States have specific legal provisions, in both civil and criminal law, concerning the sale of video games with content that may be harmful to minors in retail shops. In 2008, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania had no specific legislation governing these matters.
A Code of Conduct for video game retailers could improve the protection of minors in Europe. Complementary measures such as media literacy campaigns and parental awareness-raising activities may also be necessary.
Some States have officially banned the distribution of certain video games due to their illegal or dangerous nature. The Commission considers that these bans should be limited to cases where there are serious breaches of human dignity.
Access to computer games
In the majority of Member States, online games are subject to general national legislation. Alternatively, the legislation concerning offline video games may be applied by analogy. Some States use the PEGI Online system, which was designed to better protect young people against unsuitable gaming content and to help parents understand the dangers of the Internet.
Because online games are readily accessible on the Internet, certain Member States have taken additional protection measures. This is notably the case in Germany, which has created a Common Agency for Youth Protection on the Internet, in Ireland, where consumers can call a special hotline, and in Latvia, where the distribution of video games is subject to strict conditions.
The Commission is proposing a pan-European dialogue to reinforce the monitoring of this category of video game. In addition, it points out that the fight against cybercrime could be enhanced through public-private cooperation.
Harmonisation of policies
Offline and online video games are subject to different regulations and rating systems. Cross-platform pan-European ratings would promote system transparency and the free movement of products within the European market.
The Commission calls on Member States and stakeholders to:
- protect minors while ensuring high standards of freedom of expression;
- integrate the information and classification system put in place for the purposes of the PEGI and PEGI Online initiatives into their national systems;
- raise awareness of the PEGI and PEGI Online systems, and improve media literacy;
- develop new age and content verification systems;
- better assess the positive and negative effects of video games;
- adopt a Pan-European Code of Conduct on the sale of video games to minors.
In view of the significant growth of the video game market and the increased access to media, in particular the Internet, the European Union is seeking to provide a high level of protection for minors and human dignity. The Insafe network managed by the European Commission aims to inform the general public about the use of new media by children.