Oh Spiderman! How do I find out if a computer game is suitable for my kids?

Whenever I deliver courses on E-Safety, I ask participants the following question. "What age children is the character Spiderman aimed?" Individuals suggest; eight or nine, a few think a little older; twelve or thirteen years old.

Yet despite this feeling by the majority of parents and carers that Spiderman is a character aimed at early or pre-teens, the XBox and Playstation game "The Amazing Spiderman" is rated as PEGI 16. PEGI stands for Pan European Games Information and it is a European voluntary system of categorizing video games. The PEGI web site states "Titles rated 16+ have been assessed to be suitable for gamers above the age of 16. May contain violence showing graphic and detailed depictions of brutality, death or injury to unrealistic humans or animals, glamorization of crime, use of illegal drugs, encouragement of the use of tobacco or alcohol, sexual expletives or blasphemy, erotic or sexual nudity, sexual intercourse without visible genitals."

Not very helpful is it? Is that type of activity all featured in the Spiderman video game? Why is it given a higher classification than the film? It gets more complicated when we see that the exact same game, with an identical cover and identical artwork, but programed for other platforms such as the Wii and Nintendo DS, are not rated 16 but 12! It then gets even more complicated if you look at reviews written in the USA, where the XBox game is categorised as a "Teen" game which is defined as for children aged 13 plus.

A comparison of the exact same Spiderman game on a variety of platforms but each with a different age rating

The Spiderman franchise is an interesting example when it comes to trying to identify what games or films are age appropriate for children. In 2002 the British Board of Film Classification changed its rating system to accommodate the film Spiderman. The censors replaced the original 12 certificate that the film had been awarded with a new category, the advisory 12A rating. This additional category allowed children under the age of 12 into cinemas, if accompanied by an adult. The DVD release is still rated as a 12, as the 12A category only exists for film showings in cinemas.
the 12A film rating logo It gets even more complicated when you start talking to children and find that Spiderman is hugely popular with primary school age children and has been relentlessly marketed at that age group. Just look at these pyjamas! Made for children between the ages of two to ten years. It looks to me as if they have used the same artwork as the cover of the video game and just transposed the image from left to right.

A screenshot of a website selling Spiderman Pyjamas to children from the age of two to eight years with the same art work as the film.

So what can parents do who want some kind of control and understanding of what their children view and play? My advice is get some good quality information so you can decide what is suitable for your child. In my honest opinion the best source of unbiased information about games, films and videos is found at Common Sense Media web site

Common Sense Media is a non-profit organisation that aims to improve the lives of children and their families by providing trustworthy information on media such as films and video games. Their reviews are balanced, well thought out and give parents and educators the tools they need to make good decisions about what children should watch and play. This is what they say about the Spiderman game.

"Parents need to know The Amazing Spider-Man is a "Teen"-rated comic book-themed game. If you're not OK with your kids reading Spider-Man comics or watching Spider-Man movies, then you won't want them playing the game, as there is a lot of violence -- though no blood or gore. Spider-Man engages in melee brawls with enemies and uses web-slinging moves, too. The game also has some mild suggestive themes and mild profanity."

That's exactly the kind of information I want and exactly the kind of information parents need..