PEGI game ratings

PEGI game ratings

The UK uses the PEGI (Pan European Game Information) system to give games their age ratings. But knowing what exactly each of these ratings mean, and how accurate they are, can be complicated. 

This article will explain everything you need to know about how PEGI classifies games. 

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Age-ratings

PEGI 3

The majority of games in this category do not contain anything that requires rating or warrants a content warning. Games given this rating are considered suitable for all age groups. 

Some violence in a comical context or child-friendly setting is acceptable, as is nudity when shown in a completely natural and non-sexual manner, such as breastfeeding. 

PEGI 7

Any game that would normally be rated at 3 but contains some possibly frightening scenes or sounds may be in this category.

A little more violence is permissible at PEGI 7. It is always unrealistic and often directed towards fantasy characters, though very mild non-realistic violence to humans may also feature. Implied violence (for example the bombing of a city where violence is not seen directly) is also dealt with at this level.

PEGI 12

At a PEGI 12 level more graphic and realistic-looking violence towards fantasy characters is allowed. Any violence towards human characters must look unrealistic unless it consists of only minor or trivial injury such as a slap. 

Sexual posturing of the type often seen in music videos is also allowed at this level as is sexual innuendo.

Some bad language is allowed but it can be no more than mild swearing. 

PEGI 12 is the minimum rating a game which teaches or encourages gambling can receive, though the descriptor also appears on PEGI 16 and PEGI 18 games.

A game at this level may feature horror content, such as strong threat and dread or graphic injury details.

PEGI 16

At the 16 level you can expect to see more mature and realistic violence against human characters. The game may deal heavily with death and injury to humans. Gory and bloody violence may be included at a PEGI 16 level but only if the game is arcade style. 

Sexual activity can be shown but it must not include visible genitals. Depictions of erotic nudity may feature.

The worst forms of bad language can be heard and will often include sexual expletives. 

The use of tobacco and alcohol may be encouraged, and the game can feature the use of illegal drugs. The game could glamorise crime. 

PEGI 18

The adult classification is applied when the level of violence becomes 'gross'. Gross violence is classed as horrific methods of bringing death or severe injury, including torture, decapitation or dismemberment.

Violence against vulnerable characters such as children and the elderly may feature, along with motiveless violence against multiple innocents. Sexual violence and threat are also classified at PEGI 18.

The game may include detailed descriptions of criminal techniques, or it may glamorise the use of illegal drugs.

Sexual activity with visible genitalia can be shown. 

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Content warnings

PEGI combines age ratings with content warnings to provide a more detailed description. The content warnings explain what it is in the game that gives it its age rating. 

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Violence

This content warning indicates when there are depictions of any kind of violence. When you see this warning attached to any game you should also look at the age-rating, as the level of violence will correspond to it.

Bad language

This content warning indicates when bad language – swearing or cursing – appears in games. The level of bad language allowed will correspond to the age rating of the game.

Fear

This content warning indicates when a game contains images or sounds that may be frightening. It’s worth being aware that when applied to PEGI 7 games the level of fear is likely to be more comical, whilst in PEGI 12 games the fear content warning suggests elements of horror. 

Gambling

This content warning indicates when a game has aspects that encourage or simulate gambling. As of 2020, all games containing gambling elements must be rated PEGI 18, but older titles rated PEGI 12 or PEGI 16 might still contain these elements.

The buying of randomised 'loot boxes' (which can mimic gambling-like behaviours) can, however, remain present in games like Roblox which are rated as low as PEGI 7. You can find out more about Parent Zone's stance on gambling and age-ratings here.

Sex

This content warning indicates when a game contains sexual content. Again, the level of sexual content will vary from mild innuendo and posturing in PEGI 12, erotic nudity without visible genitals in PEGI 16, to explicit sexual intercourse in PEGI 18. Remember that this warning does not apply to non-sexualised nudity.

Drugs

This content warning indicates when a game depicts drug use. In games rated PEGI 16 and PEGI 18, depictions of illegal drug use, as well as the use of alcohol and cigarettes, is allowed. 

Discrimination

This applies when a game contains content depicting religious, ethnic or other stereotypes in a discriminatory manner. This content warning is fairly uncommon, as most games that actively seem to promote discrimination are in violation of national law. 

In-game purchases

Unlike the gambling content warning, this warning applies when a game gives you the option to purchase items, additional content or upgrades with real currency. Games containing loot boxes will have this content warning applied.

Be aware that this warning is displayed underneath any other content warnings and the PEGI age rating, making it tricky to spot.

The in-game purchases warning also doesn't take the additional harms that in-game spending can cause, particularly for young children. Games containing loot boxes, for example, can promote damaging gambling behaviours, but some games rated PEGI 7 contain them. You can read more about some of the flaws in age ratings here.

Spot something that doesn't look quite right? You can email librarian@parentzone.org.uk to submit comments and feedback.

This article was last updated on 21/07/22.