The Isfe (Interactive Software Federation of Europe), has today introduced a pan-European rating system for computer and video games.

The new age rating, know as Pegi (Pan European Game Information), will gradually take over from the existing national systems. The aim of the rating is to provide a universal way to check that the content of games is suitable for a particular age group. There will be some minor national variations, and Germany will retain its own rating system as it's required by German law.

The new system will apply to all Isfe members, which covers all the major players in the games market. It enforced using a combination of self-regulation and scrutiny from an independent body — in the UK external monitoring will be carried out by the Video Standards Council.

The rating is divided into two parts — an age rating and an indication of game content. The age rating will be printed on the front cover and will let purchasers know which age bracket the title is suitable for. The age categories are: three and over; seven and over; 12 and over; 16 and over; and 18 and over. When deciding what age rating to give a game the following criteria should be taken into account: violence; sex and nudity; discrimination; drugs; fear; and bad language.

In addition to this rating there may be some description of the type of content in the game. This will normally be printed on the back cover.

Such a rating is increasingly necessary as the games industry taps into the lucrative adult gaming market. It has been designed to overcome the misconception that computer games are designed with children in mind.

"The video games market is no longer dominated by titles aimed exclusively at children," explained Gartner analyst Paul O'Donovan. "As the industry moves into the mass market and appeals to a wider audience, any initiative that adds clarity to the effective national age rating schemes already in place is to be welcomed," he added.