The Byron Review: What it Means for Gamers

A fortnight ago, child psychologist Tanya Byron published her government-ordered review of the potential risks of videogames. Although fairly ambiguous, her general conclusions seem to be focused on the classification of games in the UK. She has called for greater involvement of the BBFC and a legally binding certification system that will allow parents to 'clearly see if the games will be suitable for their children'.

Two systems currently operate in the UK, and either the BBFC or PEGI labels are displayed on game cases for retail. The report investigates the dangers to children and one recommendation included is the implementation of parental controls. It seems Ms. Byron hasn't done her homework, as most of us are aware of the controls present in the latest wave of consoles. Although incidental, the fact that there is a clear lack of research undertaken i.e. she hasn't even bothered to actually mess about on the consoles, shows us that yet again, the industry is being monitored by people who don't play games.

The videogames industry is a responsible sector, and often includes health warnings (including those ignorable Nintendo 'you've played too long' warnings) without external pressure to do so. European gaming bodies have also come together to form the Pan-European Gaming Information system, or PEGI. This system, although voluntary has been used frequently and provides clear age recommendations as well as more gaming-specific issues such as discrimination, drug use, sex, gambling and more. The PEGI Secretary General, Patrice Chazerand said

'PEGI is a rating system designed specifically for interactive content by people who best understand that medium. As the European age rating system of reference, PEGI has been serving about 30 European countries including the UK, for the last five years already.'

By all means the concept isn't perfect, yet it seems that gamers, despite all their best efforts, often get a hard time from people who aren't gamers. Byron's suggestions to favour the BBFC seem to have come at a bad time. The BBFC have just stumbled their way through a court case with Rockstar over the UK release of Manhunt 2, which was banned until recently - 7 months after its original release date. The BBFC was also in the spotlight when Bully was being released for the PS2. Under intense pressure from anti-bullying group, the BBFC forced Rockstar to rename the game and slapped a 15-certificate on a fairly mild game. Rockstar actually got the last laugh releasing the 360 version with the original title, but not before cheekily choosing the tongue-in-cheek 'Canis Canem Edit' for the PS2 release. All this media focus was on a game that actually rewards anti-bullying behaviour and perhaps stimulates children intellectually more than most of the drivel deemed acceptable to play (Avatar – I'm looking at you).

This leads us to question whether the BBFC is actually capable of classifying games. It is rarely mentioned that the Video Licensing Act of 1984 is still the criteria used when certifying games. Is a 24 year old piece of legislation adequate for an industry that is progressing at breakneck speed? Are the film and TV certificates even appropriate for videogames? The minimum two hour testing time undertaken by the board before classification could be only scratching the surface of a game like GTA and this illustrates the lack of gaming knowledge present in the BBFC. With more and more features in modern gaming to consider, as well as a staggering amount of potential dangers in online play we need parents to be as informed as possible.

This is what the review all comes down to. There is so much talk of the games being too violent, or the classification being inadequate or unclear when what ought to be happening is that parents should be looking at what they allow their children to play. People are looking for scapegoats, when the true responsibility rests with the parents. If you need a huge '18' in the middle of the case of Manhunt 2 to tell you it might be inappropriate then there is something seriously wrong. You would have thought a bloodshot, crazed eyeball and the words 'man' and 'hunt' next to each other may have been enough to suggest that it might not be okay to allow your 7 year old daughter to play it. We are reaching the age when the Quake modders of yesteryear are raising little hackers of their own. We now have at least some parents out there capable of restricting what their children can play. Perhaps some other Mummies and Daddies could learn a lesson. How about actually playing a game someday? Chainsaw duel on Gears, anyone?

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