Media rating systems will no doubt change as VR grows in popularity, but the tech is only just beginning to be rated in the traditional sense.
ABE VR, a virtual reality short film from Hammerhead VR, has become the very first experience of its kind to be rated by the British Board of Classification (BBFC). That’s the official ratings body in the UK, responsible mainly for movies. The piece has been given a 15 age rating which is the second highest classification given, the highest being 18. The piece follows a robot that seeks the approval of humanity, going to shocking lengths to try and gain it in its own misguided way.
We’re inclined to agree with the rating; in our preview Joe Durbin noted that ABE VR was a “terrifying” experience starring a “menacing” robot. You can judge for yourself too; the film is now live and free on both the Oculus Store and SteamVR, supporting the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The rating notes that the film features both “bloody violence” and “threat”, but was passed uncut. The same rating was given to the 2D film ABE VR is based off, directed by Rob McLellan.
That said, there were differences in the ratings, no doubt spurred on by the far more visceral nature of a VR experience compared to a traditional film. BBFC Policy Director Alexandra Evans noted that it was important that consumers and “parents in particular” have access to clear advice on VR content as it offers users an “intense experience”.
While it’s great to see the BBFC embracing VR content, it still feels like a new ratings system will need to be applied to VR as a whole at some point. Violence in VR is significantly more harrowing, and horror-based experiences are far more terrifying. VR figureheads agree; last year saw Shuhei Yoshida, Head of Worldwide Studios at PlayStation VR creator Sony Interactive Entertainment, state that VR would need a new ratings system.
We’ll need a system that properly recognises this, especially when the inevitable moral panics surrounding the new medium set in.