Byron: Games get a bad press

Speaking at a Q&A session with a host of execs from the UK's gaming industry, the child psychologist defends the Byron Review, talks about the way it was reported.

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LONDON--Last week, Tanya Byron's "Safer Children in a Digital World" report--which was commissioned by UK prime minister Gordon Brown to investigate the effects of violent video games and unsuitable Web sites on youngsters--was published. One recommendation was that all video games classified as being for those aged 12 and over should be rated by the British Board of Film Classification.

Speaking today to a room full of the top people in the UK's gaming industry, Byron first summarised her findings, and then opened the floor to questions. The first thing the star of TV's The House of Tiny Tearaways wanted to say was that she feels that the game world is a "very responsible" industry.

She then moved on the British tabloid newspapers' favourite game-related topic--violent video games. Byron said, "I think that we need to move on from that very emotional and polarised debate... The public need to understand that this is not a cynical industry that is making products to turn kids into psychopaths."

After discussing her findings, members of the games industry were invited to state their own opinions and ask questions.

David Reeves, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, told Byron about findings of a report which Sony commissioned about the ratings system in Europe. He said, "They found that there is more confusion [over game ratings] in the UK than anywhere else in Europe... They made the recommendation that education is needed in the UK. They concluded that the PEGI [Pan European Game Information] system should be given teeth and made law. We were hoping that this report would give PEGI those teeth."

Reeves concluded by echoing European Leisure Software Publishers Association director general Paul Jackson's sentiments, saying that the issue of rating physical copies of games would soon fade into insignificance as more and more games started to use digital distribution. Reeves finished with a warning, "The consultants also made a recommendation to beware, because this [ratings on boxes] is not really the issue, the issue is online... He [Jackson] predicted that this would explode, and this is an area we should be concentrating on as an industry."

Talking about the press coverage of her report, Byron admitted she was "embarrassed" by a front-page article in The Times newspaper, which misreported that she had recommended games carry cigarette-style health warnings.

Byron sidestepped the issue, which had been raised by Tiga--the independent game developers' association--that an educational campaign on video games ratings was an excellent idea, but that the game industry should not be left to bear the brunt of the cost. She said, "That's not an issue for me to decide, that's an issue for you as an industry."

Keith Ramsdale, Electronic Arts vice president and general manager for the UK, said that he too had hoped that PEGI would be adopted as a standard. He told Byron, "Most publishers are international and it's very difficult to work with a system that isn't pan-European."

Byron referred to the findings in her report, and said that she had made the decision that statutory classification should begin at 12, and be handled by the BBFC. She said, "There's a clearer understanding of the BBFC logos, which are used for movies and DVDs." She finished by saying that she had recommended an 18-month consultation period before any changes would be made.

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