Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body in English), abbreviated as USK, is a German video game regulation body that rates video games. As with other rating boards from across the world, it serves to inform consumers of what age group of audience the video game is the most appropriate for.
Unlike the rest of the European continent who use the PEGI rating system, Germany has chosen to come up with its own specific rating board; that being said, the USK ratings are often seen together with PEGI ratings on many video games in Europe, especially on the disc artworks.
USK has been known for taking a tougher stance on video games of more extreme nature than other rating boards. A number of high-profile games infamous for featuring extraordinary levels of gore and violence have been banned from public sale in Germany - examples include MadWorld, Manhunt 2and The House of the Dead: Overkill.
The USK organisation though is considerably older than its PEGI equivalent, having been founded in 1994 - the latter was only introduced in 2003 to replace the dated ELSPA rating system. The rating board's current logo consists of four distinctive coloured diamonds, which match the design of their own ratings as shown below.
(The descriptions below are from USK's website, offering their judgement and definition of their ratings )
The games do not include depictions of violence and do not confront children with any situations producing sustained anxiety.The atmosphere of children’s games often features friendly and colourful graphics. The more relaxed structure of the game does not put even young children under too much pressure to act. Game tasks are also appropriate for children.
These games mostly involve family-friendly games which may be more exciting and competitive (e.g. via faster game speed and more complex tasks), such as racers, simulations, platforms and role-playing games.
These games feature much more of a competitive edge. Game scenarios are set within a historical, futuristic or mythical fairy-tale context, enabling players to distance themselves sufficiently from events. This categorisation includes arcade games, strategy games and role-playing games as well as some military simulations.
In games with an age of 16 and over, violent acts can already be more in the foreground, which is why they are clearly no longer suitable for children. Fights and violent clashes, however, are always framed by the plot or story. In multiplayer games, for example, this framing can take place through teamwork or athletic competition. The most common genres include action adventure games, shooters, open-world games, role-playing games, beat 'em ups and military strategy games.
These games virtually always involve violent game concepts and frequently generate a dark and threatening atmosphere. This makes them suitable for adults only. The genres in this categorisation include first-person shooters and action adventures.
The current design of USK ratings, styled as single-colour diamonds in a square, has been in use since 2009. The table below illustrates what the older designs used to look like, which were white-edged diamonds that adopted USK's original logo design. Separate colours (white, yellow, green, blue and red) for each age group were only introduced in 2003.