UK gov't publishes Byron Review

Ratings bodies jump in to praise the report, which calls for a unified UK game-rating system and legal sanctions against selling games to underage kids.


Today, the results of a six-month-long government-commissioned review into the effects of video games and the Internet on children have been published.

The 224-page report, written by child psychologist and star of the TV show The House of Tiny Tearaways Dr Tanya Byron, is now available in full online.

The good doctor's main recommendations that will affect the gaming industry centre on educating parents, making the rating system clearer, and improving practice among retailers.

The report calls for a high-profile campaign by the industry to educate parents how to better understand the age ratings on video games and how to use family-friendly settings on consoles. She also recommends that the two rating systems currently used in the UK--the British Board of Film Classification and the Pan European Game Information system--be combined, so that the BBFC age ratings would be placed on the front of games intended for older gamers and expanded to include the 12 certificate, while PEGI ratings would be reserved for games targeted at younger children, using the existing 3+ and 7+ ratings.

Byron also wants console manufacturers to "work together to raise standards in parental controls on consoles." Byron also calls on retailers to make more "focused efforts" to make sure games aren't sold to minors and to provide better in-store information. In terms of online gaming, Byron wants the BBFC and PEGI to work together toward a single set of standards for managing the risks of online gaming.

Based on her research, Byron concludes that "the arousal brought on during some game play may have the same impact on children as high levels as stress," although "there is no clear evidence of desensitization [to violence] in children."

Ed Balls, secretary of state for children, schools, and families, welcomed the report, saying the "recommendations show a convincing analysis of how we can properly manage risk in a fast paced, fast changing new media environment." In a statement issued by his department, the government promised to "act immediately on taking forward her proposals."

Toward the end of her report, Byron also stated that she supported the ability of the BBFC to ban games when it saw fit--the rating body has banned only two games in the UK, and both bans were overturned on appeal. She clarifies, "At this moment in time, when parental awareness of the risks and use of the classification system needs improving, and given the lack of effective control of such games in many households, it is important to maintain the ability of the state to intervene in this way and promote the debate. This may be something that gets reviewed when we feel more confident about how parents are using the classification system."

This view chimes with the BBFC's reasons for banning Manhunt 2, when it stated one of the driving forces behind its decision to deny the title a rating was the "unjustifiable harm risks" to children, even with an 18 rating.

Andy Burnham, secretary of state for culture, media, and sport, commented, "As Dr Byron points out, parents of my generation, who grew up in a purely analogue world, face real challenges in understanding the new media world. ... I am committed to working with the Internet and games industries to build on existing safeguards. Specifically, we will consult on a more coherent classification system for video games."

Paul Jackson, director general of the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association, says that his organisation "welcomes" the findings of the Byron Review. He said in a statement, "We fully support Dr Byron's advice to parents on the use of technology in the home and parental awareness of their children's activities, including the need for wider awareness of age ratings on video games."

ELSPA also agreed with the suggestion in the report that there should be one legally enforceable system for the classification of games and the use of parental controls on all consoles.

It warned about the difficulties that will be posed with online games, however. Jackson said, "We are concerned that the proposals as they stand may struggle to keep up with the public's increasing desire to buy and play online."

Shortly after, the BBFC reported its response, which was also positive. BBFC director David Cooke said, "I warmly welcome Dr Byron's report. She has listened carefully to all the arguments and exercised her independent and expert judgement."

He said that it was clear from the findings of the report that video-game ratings were less well understood than those for films in cinemas and on DVDs.

He concluded, "The BBFC has been able to handle a major expansion of the DVD market over the last few years, and we are ready and able to take on the extra work envisaged by Dr Byron."

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