USK is the German abbreviation for the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body, established by the computer games industry to act as the organisation responsible for the classification of computer games in Germany. The USK has conducted around 30,000 classification procedures since being established in 1994. It employs eight permanent staff at its Head Office in Berlin as well as engaging the services of six voluntary game testers and over 50 child protection experts. The USK archive extends to more than 17,000 titles and is one of the largest computer and video game archives in the world.
The German Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK) is owned by the company “Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle Unterhaltungssoftware GmbH”. Being a non-profit limited company, the shareholders are the branch associations of the games development, manufacture and distribution industry in Germany (the Federal Association of Interactive Entertainment Software, BIU, and the Federal Association of Computer Game Developers, G.A.M.E.). Although these shareholders bear the economic risk of the limited company, they are not responsible for the age rating classification procedures.
The USK has been in operation for more than 15 years and is one of the major institutions for the protection of children and young persons in the field of computer and video games. Games have now become an integral part of our everyday culture. Playing games takes place alone, with family and friends or online together with other players. Girls, boys, young persons and adults all participate. Games offer plenty of entertainment as well as providing at least as many opportunities for learning. As is the case with any other medium, however, computer games also bring inherent risks and dangers in their wake.
The USK organises a classification procedure via which the relevant state authorities issue age rating symbols for games. This system ensures that computer games are only sold to children and young persons if the contents of the games have been approved for their age group. Age categorisations are based on the provisions of the law relating to the protection of young persons and not on the degree of difficulty of a game. The principles of the USK are acknowledged by an Advisory Council and updated if required.