Virtual reality is coming next year and ratings boards are already planning ahead for the introduction of far more immersive experiences. Unsurprisingly, "fear" is high on the agenda and European board PEGI has discussed looking at changing at horror ratings accordingly.
Speaking to MCV, PEGI operations director Dirk Bosmans has said “PEGI should examine the coming wave of VR products using the current questionnaire [system], but reserve the right to reassess certain elements – more specifically the criteria around fear (currently rated PEGI 7) and horror (as in non-violent scary imagery, currently rated PEGI 12) – once a broader range of products hits the market in the coming period of time.” This supports Sony President Shuhei Yoshida's statements from Paris Games Week stating that new ratings systems might be required for particularly scary experiences.
It's something that might seem ludicrous - there's no added age rating for 3D for instance - but I'm really glad it's cropped up now. VR is intense. The only escape is to close your eyes and it's easy to say it's not real, but my experience at EGX with Capcom's Kitchen demo really hit home the effect VR can have. The PlayStation VR headset had been on for mere seconds before I was afraid and I'm a huge fan of horror. Only the words “Press any button” floated in the dark, but I knew something horrendous was coming. Before he put the headphones on my ears, I asked the Sony staff member if he would remove the headset if I asked him to. He helpfully said "No." Thanks, pal.
You might've been lucky enough not to hear about this terrifying demo. One apparently so scary that my Sony helper gleefully admitted to seeing grown men cry. Put simply, you wake up tied to a chair in a room that makes one of Ramsay’s Nightmares look deserving of a Michelin star. There is a corpse on the floor and something's in here with me. There is no respite. I’m taunted, teased and stabbed in the virtual leg. What, you think because it’s not your limb that your brain doesn’t tell you otherwise? VR knows exactly what it’s doing (see the body transfer illusion video below) and horror gaming in the right hands will drive you out of your mind. If someone had so much as touched me during my short demo, I wouldn’t be able to type yet. This is far more than just a tech demo and a perfect example of why VR needs to be rated accordingly.
It's the start of something special when it comes to horror gaming. No matter how immersive they are, movies and games always have a screen between us and the action. We’re always safe. Virtual reality hacks that barrier down with an axe, screaming, “Here’s VR!” This is where horror gets serious. Outlast? Until Dawn? They let you hug cushions when you get too scared. All I can do in Kitchen is cower when something wielding a knife gets far too close for comfort.
With the right visuals and sounds, we’re predisposed to believe anything. Think for a second about the sounds of P.T. – the fridge, the radio… Now imagine that feeling you just got and think about being fully trapped in that world. The lack of control. The urge to move forward vs the desire to stay still. True horror in the dark. This is what’s to come. And it's incredible. But rating it accordingly? That's probably for the best too.
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