The Byron Review: A government backed review into video games ratings

In light of last week’s high court decision to give Rockstar the green light for Man Hunt 2, it’s not surprising to see that the government backed Byron Review is causing quite the media stir.

Led by psychologist, Tanya Byron (you might remember seeing her on the telly), and commissioned by PM Gordon Brown, the Byron report supports the idea of having a set number of symbols (similar to the way films are rated) and recommends that a single system be used for game packaging. Aside from that the report feels a consistent set of guidelines needs to be developed and then adopted for advertising video games.

Speaking to the BBC, Tanya Byron explained further this idea of common rating symbols,

"We do have good regulations for videogames, currently they’re classified by a European system that was set up by the videogame industry itself - an industry that I find to be a responsible in terms of games that are being produced. They produce excellent games for children and they also produce games for adults that should not be played by children. And at the top end we have the BBFC classifying games. But what we get at the moment on games being sold in this country are two sets of symbols which parents tell me they find extremely confusing and retailers would like to be supported more to be able to say to parents that really you shouldn’t be buying this game for your child.”

As it stands only games which are deemed to have sexual or violent content are subject to mandatory review by the BBFC. Byron proposed that all games aimed at children over the age of 12 should be subjected to review.

The games industry has come a long way since the days of Donkey Kong and Super Mario. While the videogames of the past didn’t shy away from violence, the cartoon quality of these games meant they were never too over the top when it came to realistic bloodshed.

But years later when we’re living in a world of CGI axewiedling maniacs, you don’t need to be a genious to see that while its arguable as to whether the level of violence has risen, the realism of the violence has risen ten fold.

Another issue is that whether they like it or not, many parents are out of the loop when it comes to the content of videogames today.

Byron cited this “digital generational divide” as one of the major reasons for the confusion among parents when it comes to the classification of games.

“The key finding is that we have this huge digital generational divide at the moment where children are enjoying benefits and opportunities both online and in videogames but parents are really genuinely confused in terms of what videogames are and how their kids are playing them, what the content really means and what should they be allowing their kids to play and not play.”

Then again, there are parents, who, no matter how many symbols you put the sleeve will buy 18 rated games for their children. At the end of the day there’s only so much you can do to prevent children from seeing this kind of content if parents aren’t willing to cooperate.

Placing computers in common living areas to prevent them from surfing the web unsupervised and monitor the games your sprogs play is all well and good but unfortunately, not everyone agrees that this is the right approach to parenting. While some insist on overseeing the purchase of any game, there are some who believe violence in video games doesn’t play a part in how their children behave and develop.

According to Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, the government is planning to implement all recommendations contained in this "ground breaking report" and will ensure that websites and hardware manufacturers gave better guidance to parents about safety features and controls.

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