Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Classification - compressed

This post is designed to indoctrinate those who don't quite understand the pain-staking process and what's required by UK law for a distributor to make a film, video, game or DVD/Blu-Ray legally available for sale to the public.

Censorship baffles me at the best of time and what the censors choose to censor/or don't censor, cut or even ban.  Sometimes, these decisions makes my eyes spin like fruit machines.

Censorship will always be controversial, piss off and infuriate the public (for different reasons) and anger the killjoys when they make a sensible decision.

Let's face it, you can't win as there's so many people out there who don't like or want anything that is considered the slightest bit controversial to exist in the public domain as it will obviously affect and destroy their perfect world.

They fail to appreciate that others would disagree but we cannot of course do anything about it. 

C'est la vie as they say.

A premature rant is brewing so before that kettle boils, let's get into it as this might get a wee bit convoluted but I'm hopeful it will be clearer than a translucent window.

As a general rule of thumb, computer games are generally exempt from legal classification in the UK but the Video Recordings Act 1984 (as and when amended) states that sometimes video games lose this exemption and must be classified by the BBFC.

This is when that are particularly realistic (the acts performed and how these pan out) also featuring sex, language and bloody violence.

This also involves video that contain the latter but is not part of the game, hence the player has no control over the events that unfold during that video.  I call these intermissions, intros, outros or endings.

There are other automatic exemptions if the VRA considers that a video work as a whole is designed to educate, inform or instruct or is concerned with sport, religion or music.

So for all other games (i.e sometimes designed for kiddie winkles) that won't feature any of the above (unless it's some kind of nasty parody) either in inference or reality, they will escape the deadly clutches of the BBFC and are classified under the PEGI (Pan European Game Information) system overseen by the Video Standards Council (VSC).

PEGI is an age rating system across Europe launched in 2003 to help parents make decisions when purchasing video games.  Its single age rating system was developed by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE).

Of course, there's nothing stopping a publisher submitting an unnecessary work to the BBFC for a rating, as the worst that can happen, along with its U rating, it will be slapped with some kind of irrelevant bullshit consumer advice that will interest neither man nor beast.

Examples are Samba De Amigo for the Wii which was given BBFC 'U' rating with the said advice stating 'contains no material likely to offend or harm' and also for the Wii, Peppa Pig - given a PEGI 3+ rating.
Note that the PEGI system only recommends that a game with whatever number rating is suitable for that age group because of its content.  It is not intended to describe the difficulty level or skills required to play it.

The content is also described with picture symbols; more on that later.

So assuming that a work (of whatever kind) is submitted to the BBFC, not refused a certificate and passed with nil or whatever cuts, it is granted a certificate and placed in a particular age-related category (whatever the BBFC guidelines deem appropriate for that work).  The mind boggles.

These categories are 'U', 'Uc' 'PG', '12', '12A', '15', '18' or 'R18'.  Universal (U), Universal - particularly suitable for children (Uc) and Parental Guidance (PG) respectively.

The numbers mean it is suitable for a person of that equivalent age or obviously over.

Apart from 12A and R18s.

12A is for cinemas only and I'm not gonna be subtle here.  I reckon that this is the best age rating possible and in order to get this - back-handers were exchanged to line the BBFC's coffers.

I say this because it basically means that providing an adult is present, any person can see that film.  The rating was created only to make money.  The BBFC can hide behind 'flexibility for a wider audience' all it wants but I don't buy it.

My main problem with this rating is that a film slapped with this can be potentially ruined as teeny boppers will insist on doing all kinds of selfish things including, inconsiderate giggling, constant yapping and even hold mobile phone conversations.

The BBFC advise that if young people are being particularly disruptive to the point of ruining others enjoyment that they should make cinema staff aware.  Yeah, I don't really think that's gonna make me feel better as I'll miss most of the film waiting for some kind of action and no doubt will be fobbed off with an uncaring attitude.

An R18 means that the work can only be sold and shown in licensed sex shops or sex cinemas respectively.  There are boundaries though as no aspect of this work can be considered obscene as interpreted in the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

These works will include strong sex and fetish material among consenting adults.  Also, no material is permitted which includes lack of sexual consent and infliction of pain or acts that will lead to lasting physical harm.

In addition, in accordance with the Video Recordings Act (Labelling) Regulations 1995, each age-related category must be displayed within a triangle, circle or square.

There will also be consumer advice detailing a brief description of content determining the classification of that work.

It will also highlight particular issues - such as violence, drugs and sex etc and themes that influenced the strength of that material.
The buzz words that can be used are 'mild', 'moderate', 'strong' and 'very strong'.

For U and PG works, as a heads-up for parents; they may also be warned that it may contain 'scary' scenes - whatever that means to a child?

Surely it's impossible to predict how children will be affected by moving images.  You could argue parents will use another film with similar content as an example, but I don't think that's a realistic assumption.

In some situations (some very famous), distributors have submitted their work to the BBFC and have been refused a certificate due to its content.

While it will piss them off and be an inconvenience, due to media coverage and the public's mindset that having been refused a certificate - it must be controversial and brilliant, thus having a more positive and popular effect for the distributor.

So having been refused a certificate, the only way a distributor can sell its work is illegally via the underground, the internet or the black market which in truth, they'd be very stupid to do so.

However, the law is designed to allow a second bite of the cherry (even when sometimes there is little chance of success) but no harm in trying eh?  So any decision that a work is refused a certificate by the BBFC may be appealed against.

This is done via the Video Appeals Committee (VAC).

This body was set up by the Video Recordings Act and has the power to overturn the decision and order the BBFC to grant the disputed work a certificate in its original form.

If the BBFC spits its dummy out, it does have the option to challenge the VAC's decision through the courts by way of judicial review.

Horror films are usually the victims to drink the poisoned chalice of rejection.  If rejection was blood, I guess they'd all succumb to hemophobia.

So before resubmission, forced edits and sometimes substantial cuts are required to be made.

This usually dangles the carrot and persuades the BBFC to grant a certificate but at the cost to a distributor and viewing public, as these cuts can lead to minutes and seconds, with x amount of cuts being omitted and shortening the film.

Nobody can tell me that losing minutes to a film is no big deal as to what you can pack in those minutes and seconds can be significant.

Therefore, though now legal - its original intended form will never be seen (not legally anyway).  However, as some countries are more broad-minded in their attitude to censorship, importing the film is always an option to see it in its true uncut form.

I admit temptation as a PC DVD drive tends to be region free but then I think 'no' as I can't be bothered with the hassle as sometimes even Ebay can't save me.

I on principle refuse to watch a film if it's been released and cut (even if I'm really interested in it).

I say how it's intended or not at all.

To bring you smack up to date, a new Act of Parliament has been passed which in effect will amalgamate the previously mentioned PEGI system of rating for video games into UK law and will become mandatory.

This will amend and be inserted in the Video Recordings Act.

I'll guarantee this will have a major effect on how games are classified.

It's available to view so having had a skeg, the Digital Economy Act 2010 amends and inserts PEGI ratings and the spiel for those ratings (without the images of course) in the games section contained within the VRA.

It also omits and adds certain 'words'.

As this is not in force, there will be no immediate changes in the procedures for releasing video games in the UK.  I'm not doing cartwheels yet though as this shit is supposed to happen in mid to late 2012.

I reckon developers and distributors don't even know about it yet but of course they will be told in 'good time'.

It is important to stress that no games should appear in the UK with a PEGI 18 (or any other age rating) until the changes have been implemented.

Amusingly, a human or animal character that is represented by a simple stick man or any other simple representation of a animal or human does not count.

So can we expect the character models in the next GTA to be like Vib Ribbon?  

So what does this new Act mean for games and classification?

Well to me, it means UK law is making it increasingly harder for developers and distributors to escape the clutches of the BBFC and in order to obtain a certificate, may even be forced to change how future games for super consoles are depicted in their nature, content and visceral style.

Could we see a different approach in the material we're so used to seeing in the super advanced games of today?

I wouldn't be surprised that once it's kicked in, there's a sudden spate of rejected works...

Am I being super critical and negative?  Maybe?  But I've been interested in classification for a long time and find most decisions laughable.

Not just for games, but because the way that others, i.e the media and killjoys seem to influence those decisions (even if it's bullshit).

This is nothing to do with the BBFC but the only thing I do agree with, is people being asked for ID when trying to purchase GTA et al, - that's good.

But then the ridiculous happens and seems an uncontrollable situation.

I've witnessed such situations.  A parent in the same shop, then buys it for the person who was refused sale of it, even though the server knows exactly who it's been bought for.

So brazen is when the parent says something like 'Are you sure you want this one' and then jests with the server, 'I hope this is good as he's not getting treat to another'.

I'm talking kids who are probably less than 10.

I use GTA as it's a very famous franchise and covers everything in the BBFC censorship criteria.  I have to admit though, I don't think any content has ever been removed.

The reality is that the GTA series has carried a BBFC rating of 18 since the very first game on PS1 by DMA Design in 1997.  Wow, 15 years ago.

Should test purchases be performed?  Of course they should, but video games will never be as important as cigs or booze...

Yes that stuff kills but games still carry a certificate, are part of UK law and should be treated the same as everything else carrying an age restriction.

Alcohol stockists are warned that if they knowingly sell alcohol to someone, if they are in any doubt of their age, they must request ID or they can be subject to a hefty fine.

Similarly, the same penalty applies to serve an adult, who is obviously buying it for somebody who is clearly underage.

Those hoping to benefit are waiting in a huddle outside the shop perhaps?

So why can't the same strictness apply to video games.  It's improved but servers are still very weak and/or gullible.  I'd ID everybody and sack those who fail to.

Anyway getting back to the DEA, it also adds a new section on 'a video recording' for a machine used primarily in an amusement arcade and only will be exempt if it doesn't contravene previous and now incorporate PEGI criteria that will be contained within the VRA.

This is clever as if a game is playing a video showcasing a demonstration (even if the actual game contains no material similar to this) and fails to be exempt due to what is being depicted during that video, it will be illegal and hence unavailable for display and play.

I'm talking about the intros and whilst in play, any intermissions etc.

But there is always ways to get around things and although the law is obviously very cleverly written, the wording usually (on purpose?) always contain loopholes which distributors, creators etc can exploit.

I wish you all luck in doing so.

Eventually, all games and DVDs will be available for digital download only.  In reality, the Wii, PS3 and 360 have this facility already available for newer and retro games, albeit usually at a higher price than in its classic guise.

DVDs are a different animal - expect to pay at least a deep sea diver more for SD and more for HD, as opposed to the net.

Sorry that's Standard or High Definition.  Yes you are paying for convenience.

These consoles feature unique games that can only be played if they're downloaded, on their virtual console or market.

Of course discs, cases and manuals still exist but even if you disagree with the way forward - I'm not saying I don't, but will miss having physical media, but that's the future I'm afraid.

So it'll be interesting to see how supermarkets compete with the already written future.  I suppose they'll install some kind of downloadable media device.

In years to come maybe most objects and states will become digital so it'll be fun consuming digital drink and food.  Maybe by mind control?

I'm nearly done so let's talk logos/labels used when classifying games, cinema films (12A included only for this purpose) and DVDs.

BBFC:  I know I've missed out Uc but I thought that was a pointless inclusion.

Here's an example displaying the full monty which could be for an actual game or film - impossible to tell apart from games usually are in lower case:

For cinema advertising only and cash cow purposes....

PEGI now:

I've already touched on what the numbers mean so for my opinion on some of the strange image choices depicted.

Discrimination - Two guys, towering above another shorter guy - does this mean this is discrimination against height?  Odd, very odd!
Fear - Okay, this displays a spider.  Some people are terrified of these hairy arachnids so I get the fear angle but why a spider?  If they insist on using a creature, what's wrong with a snake?  Does this mean they're discriminating against snakes and any other animal?  Or just use Alma and some SWAT guys!

Gambling - is this depicting the popular casino game Craps?  If so, what's wrong with Blackjack?

Violence - way of the exploding fist?  Is the fist the only accepted form of violence in unarmed combat?  Discrimination against MMA perhaps?

The PEGI OK label was devised and introduced due to the rapid increase in small games being created and used on the internet.  So seeing this label means that the game contains potentially no harmful material.

So when you see this, you can be rest assured that strict criteria was used and contains no content that would lead to a higher rating than the lowest 3+ rating, so suitable for everybody. 

Of course, a website operator or games portal only qualifies for this label if it doesn't contravene any of the above PEGI stuff which would require a formal rating.

So that's it, much to digest and anything, everything (including the future) of what I know about UK law with the state of play of classification and censorship.

I hope this has been a wake-up call for those growing up in the modern day era of film and gaming, who thought classification was purely down to the BBFC, as there's more cross-referencing involved than an NVQ assignment.

In addition, I hope this has been insightful and banishes any urban myths.  Later, I'll be doing posts on how classification has affected video games and just for pumped up kicks, might even throw some film frustrations in too.

In addition, fantasy posts on similar subject matter - what does that mean?  You'll find out.

Tootles peeps.
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