Reading the Byron Report

As promised, I’ve been reading the Byron Report, and if you’d like to, you can do it yourself by downloading it here. As expected, Byron’s review of the dangers of videogames and the Internet when it comes to children is level-headed and reasonable, although we’ll see how it gets twisted by other sources. Just to let you know, I didn’t spend much time with the Internet side of the review, focusing predominantly on the gaming chapters. We’re a game blog, after all.

Hit the jump for my thoughts on the Byron Report.

 

Most of what she says is stuff we already know as followers of videogame controversy, but I was mostly pleased by her stressing that context and the individualization of children is important. It’s so easy to present “da kids” as a featureless clump of excuses to push whatever agenda you want, but Byron makes sure that people understand that young people are individuals, and that harmful content for some could be beneficial content for others.

Byron points out that the age-old argument that games “desensitize” children to violence has very little evidence backing it up, although there might be more of a case in adults. She adds that while it’s true that there’s no real evidence to suggest games can be harmful to children, it’s also true that no great amount of evidence supports the opposite theory — in truth, actually making children play violent games to support a study would be unethical. 

As far as the current ratings systems go, Byron actually criticized harsh ratings, stating that if the PEGI system, for instance, enforces ratings that consumers find consistently too strict, it could lead to them being valued less and subsequently disregarded. One worrying aspect of the report is that even though Byron appreciates the arguments that adult videogames shouldn’t be banned, she is worried that parental knowledge is not at a level where the state shouldn’t be allowed to intervene. I take that to mean “Parents are stupid, so we need to be able to ban stuff,” although of course it’s put more politely. She also wants to see more legislation, such as making the sale of a 12+ rated game to anyone younger a punishable offense. 

Naturally, the report calls for greater education, something I think we can all agree with. Byron states that the two-rating system is confusing, with some parents mistaking the PEGI classifications are skill ratings instead of age ratings. The review calls for a “comprehensive, high profile campaign” about videogames, as part of a joint venture between the games industry and the BBFC/PEGI. A great idea, but I fear that part of the problem is that most people are simply stupid, and you can’t do much to educate the terminally thick.

Most importantly (and expectedly), Byron states the “vital” importance of doing away with the current dual-rating system and having either the BBFC or PEGI take sole responsibility for the classification of videogames in the UK. The report states that the following factors need to be in place with whatever system is used:

* Clear age ratings.

* Clear accompanying descriptors which explain game content.

* Trustworthiness.

* Enforceability where there are risks of potential harm.

She is supportive that a ratings board should have the power to block the release of some games, however, if there is considered a risk of “harm.” Considering such subjective grounds, I really do worry about such ideas. The BBFC believed so strongly that society was at risk when it came to Manhunt 2, it went to extraordinary lengths to block it. However, the game was released in the USA without crime rates rising or more people going insane. It’s very thin ice to skate on.

Perhaps the most interesting suggestion put forward in the review is Byron’s plan to achieve a single rating system. Rather than pass off responsibility to either the BBFC or PEGI, what Byron believes we need is a new, hybridized system that combines the strengths of both boards. However, she also suggests that a new system should be built on the grounds of the BBFC, the British Board being seen more as the leading example.

Byron’s suggestion for a hybrid rating system is as follows:

BBFC logos are on the front of all games.

PEGI will continue to rate all 3+ and 7+ games and their equivalent logos (across all age ranges) will be on the back of the box.

In simple terms, what Byron wants is for the easily recognizable, cinema-style rating logos to be the only rating seen by potential customers are first glance, with the PEGI ratings tucked away so as not to confuse the little dears. 

All in all, the report is very reasonable and even-handed, although not a great deal is said that is truly groundbreaking in any way. Even the hybrid rating system suggestion isn’t really a radical approach, and some of her suggestions simply seem to be “do it better” — but it’s probably better that Byron’s views are not so extreme. Of course, what Byron says is one thing — how the media and the government choose to use this report is another thing entirely.

Jim Sterling