EU tells videogame industry to protect minors better

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - Videogame makers and shops have two years to come up with a widely accepted industry code of conduct to better protect children from violent images, the European Union’s executive body said on Tuesday.

Four-year-old Marcos Mancera plays a video game in El Paso, Texas, February 12, 2008. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

“Creators have to enjoy freedom of expression but at the same time it’s an industry that impacts society,” EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding told a news conference.

Worldwide revenues from videogaming are expected to reach 30 billion euros ($47.5 billion) within two years, of which the 27-nation EU will account for about one-third, Reding said.

Public concerns that videogames can cause aggressive behavior have been heightened by school shootings such as that in Finland last November, and have led to several countries banning games such as “Manhunt 2”, Reding added.

The EU executive has powers to propose legislation, but decided to give the sector two years to come up with a code of conduct that has wider industry backing than the current one. The industry is also being asked to spend more on advertising its symbols denoting the age suitability of games.

“When children go out to play today they enter the world of joysticks. We are not quite sure where they go and there is real anxiety from parents,” EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said.

The industry’s age classification system -- Pan European Games Information (PEGI) -- is sponsored by more than 200 industry members and used in 20 of the 27 EU states. There is also an online version but with far fewer industry backers.

The Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers’ Association (ELSPA), a videogame industry lobby, said the PEGI age rating system was robust.

“Importantly, it protects children as games move increasingly online and therefore should be adopted by UK regulators. We look forward to discussing this at the forthcoming UK consultation,” ELSPA’s director general Paul Jackson said.

The European Commission wants PEGI’s age symbols to become familiar to the public but it accepts there is no conclusive evidence that violent videogames influence children’s behavior.

“We want to work in this environment on a precautionary principle,” Kuneva said.

Last year a U.S. federal judge struck down a 2005 California state law barring the sale of violent videogames to minors as unconstitutional, adding there was no evidence such games were any more harmful than some television shows and movies.

Scenes of bloody killings were scaled back to allow Manhunt 2 to go on sale to U.S. players aged 17 years and older.

Making a game for adults only is seen as uncommercial as hardware makers such as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo do not allow such content on their machines, which are popular with children.

Editing by Catherine Evans