EU to set guidelines on video game sales to children

The video gaming industry must do more to protect minors from unsuitable material and cooperate better with national authorities in the European Union, the European Commission said Tuesday, after conducting a survey of measures taken at national level designed to shield children from violent, explicit and frightening video games.

After the school massacre of eight children in Finland last November, some E.U. countries banned violent video games, when it emerged that the killer, 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen, had been an avid gamer.

Authorities across Europe, including the Commission, have been trying to create one single rating system for video games since 2003, but with limited success. Efforts were redoubled after last year's tragic events in Finland.

The Commission's survey found that 20 of the 27 E.U. countries now apply the PEGI (pan-European games information) age-rating system developed by the gaming industry with the help of the E.U. The PEGI labels, which first appeared on video games boxes in 2003, warn of violence or bad language.

"Industry must invest more to strengthen and in particular to regularly update the PEGI system so that it becomes a truly effective pan-European tool," the Commission said in a statement.

It added that industry and public authorities should step up cooperation to make classification and age rating systems better known, to avoid confusion caused by parallel systems. A retailer conduct code on video game sales to minors should also be drawn up within two years, it concluded from the survey's findings.

"Video games have become a strong pillar of Europe's content industry and are experiencing booming sales across Europe. This is welcome, but implies greater responsibility for the industry to ensure that parents know what kind of games their children play," said Viviane Reding, E.U. commissioner for the information society and media.

She described the PEGI system as "a very good first step," but said it could be greatly improved and even expanded beyond the E.U.'s borders.

"All consumers need clear, accurate information to make informed choices. But this is particularly about children -- some of the most vulnerable consumers in society. And our clear message today is that industry and national authorities must go further to ensure that all parents have the power to make the right decisions for themselves and their child," added Meglena Kuneva, the E.U. consumer commissioner.

According to the Commission survey, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Romania and Slovenia lack an age rating system. Fifteen countries have legislation concerning store sales to minors of video games with harmful content, although the scope of laws varies widely by country. Germany, Ireland, Italy and the U.K. have banned certain violent video games.

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