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That was the news – Week 6, 2008: Are Brown and Byron really charting a collision course with the UK games industry?

Monday, 11 February 2008 07:56 GMT By Patrick Garratt

tanyabyron.jpg

One story emerged last week that is to dominate the British games industry for months, and possibly years, to come. Tanya Byron, ex-TV psychologist and compiler of a report commissioned by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to look into the affects of videogames on the young and make recommendations as to future regulation, is to deliver her findings next month. Inevitably, the press decided to deliver some of them first.

The bedroom menace

A Guardian cover story on Saturday confirmed a Thursday speculation report from MCV that Brown’s government is expected to use Byron’s review as leverage for a “clampdown” on the UK games industry.

In short, the Byron Report is expected to suggest that a new ratings system is built specifically for games, and that it’s legally enforced. Currently, only games that show “gross” violence towards humans or animals are pushed up to the BBFC for rating. It should be made illegal, the report will say, to sell games to underage consumers.

It’s also thought that parents will be advised to keep games consoles and computers (the report has also researched the damaging effects of unrestricted internet use among the young) out of children’s bedrooms and to only allow them to play games and surf the web in living room and kitchen areas where screens are clearly visible.

There’s bound to be more, but this is the thrust as we know so far: we’re going to get a new, compulsory ratings system for UK games and parents are to be told to be mindful of the games and websites they allow their children to access.

What it means

The major recommendation is, and was always going to be, the formation of a legally abiding ratings system, to either replace or supplement the currently favoured, and voluntary, European PEGI rating. Many had thought that games ratings would eventually fall under the BBFC’s remit – an assumption accompanied by much rolling of eyes – but the Guardian piece said a “new” system is to be created. If this is true, then it would mean Byron and the government have correctly concluded that games are very different from films and need to be age-assessed by a dedicated board. This is a good thing.

The report’s other major piece of guidance, as we understand it, may mean we’re in for a rocky ride in the press over the next few months. Keeping games out of bedrooms and asking parents to monitor digital media use is tailor-made for the tabloids and prime real estate for some good old fashioned Labour rhetoric. “We’re saving the kids,” we’ll probably hear. As with all hot air aimed at parents by politicians, it’ll fall on leathery ears: no responsible parent allows their children to consume any media meant for adults, or needs to be told that an image of a person shooting another person isn’t appropriate for a five year-old.

Should we be worried?

In a word, no.

First and foremost, a legal ratings system for videogames was always going to come, and is sorely needed. The driving factor behind all those headlines about “killer games” is based on “outrage” that this content is legally available to children. There can be no argument that there are some extremely violent videogames on the market, the most popular to bash being Rockstar’s infamous Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt franchises. If these games are properly rated by a board both the industry and consumers can trust – and that board isn’t the BBFC in light of the Manhunt 2 banning farce – and people can be charged for selling them to minors, then the press can have no problem with adult gaming content. The situation will have been dealt with on a political level, it’ll be the end of the stupid tabloid headlines, and we can all live happily ever after.

The spin side of the report is more worrying, but in the long-term it’s a “storm in a teacup”, as one retailer put it to VG247 last week. “Of course they’re going to try to make themselves look good,” he said. “They’re politicians.”

Not everyone, however, is convinced.

“What do you do when you need to explain a decade of failed school policies?” asked one industry commentator. “Own up, or blame games? What’s to blame for violent crime among the young? A useless police force or videogames? That report’s going to be a whitewash. They’ve got no money to spend because of the global situation and ludicrous levels of expenditure since Blair came to power, so instead they’re going to ‘save the kids’ by putting all society’s ills at gaming’s door.”

There is a point here. A genuine danger of global recession looms large. UK house prices have stuttered, and the needles really are starting to fall off Labour’s evergreen platform of economic stability. It would be ridiculous to say that this government has ever put social policy at the top of its agenda – remember that Labour doesn’t seem to have too much of a problem bombing Mid-Eastern countries back to the Stone Age and closing down hospitals faster than nurses can say “maternity ward” – so is this sudden interest in the videogames industry more than a coincidence?

Possibly. The real question is whether or not it even matters. Even if Labour is trying to scapegoat games for school stabbings and a stressed education system, it’ll soon move on to something else. Of course games aren’t the real problem, and if Labour tried to suggest all young British society’s issues can be cured by moving TVs into the kitchen there would be a storm of ridicule. In all likelihood, we’re going to hear that too much exposure to violent games is bad for the young, and Labour’s done something about it. And that’ll be that.

There are caveats. There may be a short-term sales impact to the younger end of the market if the press really goes to town and parents are scared off buying games for children en bloc. Also, the Guardian report may be incorrect: legal ratings may be handed over to the BBFC and there may be damaging elements to the research we haven’t seen yet. But, as the Guardian said in its piece, “Ministers are anxious to strike a balance between the entertainment, knowledge and pleasure children gain from highly profitable internet and computer games, as well as the dangers inherent in the unregulated world of the net and its overuse by children.”

If social policy isn’t at the top of Labour’s agenda, “money” most certainly is. All said, it’s extremely unlikely the long-term growth of the British games sales is going to be negatively impacted by anything Tanya Byron has to say.

Now what?

The UK games trade should be looking forward to welcoming the Byron Report with an open mind. This is the long-awaited opportunity for gaming to come out of the closet, as it were, and grow up. What we’re seeing is society accepting games wholesale, with proper regulation and proper attempts at understanding what games are and how they affect people. All being well, we’re going to see legislation that will hopefully stand the test of time and mean game-makers can legitimately support the adult audiences they want to support without affecting minors.

The situation with gaming rating law in the UK this year is directly comparable to the “video nasty” uproar of the 80s. Legislators suddenly found themselves in a situation where very violent visual material could easily get into the hands of children at home. The press seized the day, films like Evil Dead and Driller Killer were turned into notorious classics, the video industry was properly regulated and now the film business enjoys an sensibly open environment where movies like this year’s Eastern Promises and recent “torture porn” series such as Hostel and Saw get made and are available to the people that want to see them. This is a mark of a medium’s maturity and society’s willingness to accept it.

The Byron Report means videogames have truly arrived. Just remember that “storm in a teacup” quote when it’s released next month.

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4 Comments

  1. scuz

    well isn’t she clever for pointing out the obvious.

    #1 7 years ago
  2. patlike

    I just hope the report doesn’t say something like, “All games must be burnt then ejected into space.” Although I doubt it will, somehow.

    #2 7 years ago
  3. videogaming247 » Blog Archive » PEGI better than BBFC, says Microsoft

    [...] to cast fear into the hearts of games makers, who are banking on Tanya Byron to recommend that a new ratings agency is set up in the UK in her government report next month, as opposed to all games being rated by the [...]

    #3 7 years ago
  4. videogaming247 » Blog Archive » That was the news – Week 13, 2008: Commendable Byron talks common sense, becomes tomorrow’s chip paper

    [...] use among the young in the UK – was delivered last week, saying almost exactly what everyone thought it was going to say and showing its author, Doctor Tanya Byron, in a highly professional [...]

    #4 7 years ago

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    The exact dates as well as more information on the Battlefield Hardline open beta will be shared tomorrow. This is according to the latest blog post from developer Visceral Games. “We’ll share the exact dates and info on the Battlefield Hardline open beta tomorrow,” wrote Visceral boss Steve Papoutsis. “Stay tuned, thanks again, and keep […]

  • Upcoming Hearthstone patch to apply balance change to Undertaker

    An upcoming Hearthstone patch will apply a balance change to the Undertaker card, Blizzard has announced. After the release of Goblins vs Gnomes, Blizzard said it kept an “eye on the state of game balance” as more matches were played using the additional cards. Released with The Curse of Naxxramas, Undertaker is considered an overly […]

  • February Games with Gold offers up Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

    The free games on offer in February via Xbox Live Games with Gold have been announced. Xbox Live Gold members on Xbox One can download #IDARB during February. Xbox 360 users can grab Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons from February 1-15, when it will be replaced by Sniper Elite V2 from February 16 -28. […]

  • Kinguin blames unidentified Russian for deactivated Far Cry 4 keys

    Third-party game key seller Kinguin is issuing refunds to those who found their games deactivated through Ubisoft’s Uplay service. Customers which purchased keys for Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Far Cry 4, The Crew and Watch Dogs are affected. Kinguin said 4,600 customer tickets were submitted over the last 72 hours and 35 out of 3,400 of […]

  • Video Unlimited to be re-branded as PlayStation Video starting in February

    Like Music Unlimited, Sony’s Video Unlimited service is being replaced and re-branded PlayStation Video. PlayStation Video will become part of PlayStation Network to streamline digital services for the over 64 million PSN users. PlayStation Video and PlayStation Music will be added to PSN which is already a destination point for the PlayStation Store, PlayStation Plus, […]

  • Spotify arrives on PlayStation Music this spring, Music Unlimited closing

    Spotify will launch on PlayStation Network this spring as part of a new music destination called PlayStation Music. PlayStation Music is a replacement for Music Unlimited, and those with a PSN account can link to Spotify which can be used just for music, or when playing games on PlayStation 4. Existing playlists from current Spotify […]

  • Closed beta for Alone in the Dark: Illumination starts tomorrow

    The private beta period for Alone in the Dark: Illumination starts on January 29. Those who pre-order the game via Steam, will automatically be included in the beta, enabling them to provide feedback on the first campaign in single-player mode. An additional beta period will be announced in the weeks leading up to launch. The […]

  • Majora’s Mask Special Edition New 3DS XL available once more on UK store

    UK residents who want to get their hands on the shiny Majora’s Mask Special Edition New 3DS XL can once again pre-purchase it through the Nintendo UK Store. If you want one, you better hurry because units will likely go rather fast. Only one per customer is allowed, and once you drop £209.99 on it, […]

  • Nintendo Q3: 1.9M New 3DS models sold, Wii U lifetime sales hit 9.2M

    New 3DS XL has sold 1.3 million units as of December 31, 2014, Nintendo announced in its Q3 financial results today. New 3DS moved 580,000 units by the end of the same period. Lifetime sales of both systems combined total a little under 1.9 million. Combined global sales for current 3DS models available in Europe […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s exo zombies reanimate a familiar format

    Advanced Warfare’s exo suits manage to bring an undead format back to life. Dave Cook welcomes zombies back to Call of Duty. “The challenges start to spike early so seasoned zombie slayers needn’t worry about being coddled.” Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s first DLC went live this week, dropping four very solid maps for multiplayer […]

  • YouTube app and Maps will be removed from PS Vita

    Sony said that it will end support for the YouTube and Maps apps, as well as remove the “near” feature in an upcoming firmware update. Sony has revealed that a system update releasing in March will remove the Maps app and prevent the “near” feature from obtaining location address or display maps, making it redundant. […]

  • There is a Destiny loot cave Easter egg in Dying Light

    Dying Light is the latest game to take a jab at Destiny by having its own loot cave. Destiny’s infamous loot cave has been recreated in Dying Light, sort of. Of course the loot cave in Dying Light is only an Easter egg and doesn’t actually net you any loot. Instead, upon entering it, you […]

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 supports co-op in story mode, but only offline

    You can play the campaign of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 in co-op, but not online. 4gamer spoke to producers of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 and made out with a few details concerning story, setting and more. The site confirmed that while you will be able to switch between characters in the single player, and have […]

  • The Witcher 3 may have a permadeath “Insanity” mode

    Although not yet confirmed, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt developer CD Projekt RED is working on a difficulty mode dubbed “Insanity” that will delete your save if you die. During Monday’s Twitch stream, the developer took a few questions from the chat and we’ve got a bunch of answers. There are many interesting little bits […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition is the most successful launch for BioWare, based on sales

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is responsible for the most successful launch in developer BioWare’s history, according to EA. During last night’s EA Q3 2015 earnings call, the publisher said that Dragon Age: Inquisition was the most successful launch for developer BioWare. Today, we get a bit more detail. “In particular, Dragon Age: Inquisition had by far […]

  • Here’s a walkthrough of one mission from Far Cry 4 Hurk Deluxe DLC

    Far Cry 4′s latest DLC pack, Hurk Deluxe, seems like good fun, judging from this video. The Hurk Deluxe Pack was released today on all platforms. It comes with five new missions. The video below takes a look at the “Call of the Wild” mission. In the walkthrough you’ll get to see some of the […]

  • Battlefield Hardline beta date confirmed on Xbox Store

    The beta date for Battlefield Hardline has popped up on the Xbox Store, confirming the rumoured date. The listing for the Battlefield Hardline beta is available for anyone to see right now on the Xbox Store. Granted, it’s for Xbox 360, but unless EA is starting this beta early on Xbox 360, this will pretty […]

  • GTA player flies jets backwards in impressive stunts

    Doing stunts with jets in GTA 5 can be impressive, but it’s nothing like flying them backwards. Making videos of your jet stunts has become too mainstream. Which is why the latest video from YouTube channel GTA5Videos is all about defying that. The video below features some insane stunts mostly done by flying jets backwards, […]

  • CoD: Advanced Warfare balance patch out, System Hack nerfed, HBRa3 buffed

    The latest patch to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is here with some major changes to game balance. Making good on the promise to nerf System Hack, developer Sledgehammer Games has released the latest patch to Advanced Warfare to do just that, and much more. The patch is out now on Xbox platforms, with PlayStation […]

  • Grinding three purples in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel may crash your game [UPDATE]

    Update: Gearbox Software has announced there’s currently a hot-fix in place for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel as a temporary solution to crashes caused with the DLC update. Until a permanent fix can be made, the hotfix should correct crashing issues. All will be fixed in the next major game update. Original Story A bug that snuck […]

  • Havoc maps up the tempo for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

    Dave Cook dons his Exo suit to find the new Havok DLC maps a great change of pace for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Given that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare places great emphasis on verticality, it’s little wonder that Sledgehammer Games has designed the first of its four DLC map packs with elevation and […]

  • G2A responds to deactivated Far Cry 4 keys debacle

    G2A, one of the third-party sellers that were named in the ongoing episode of deactivated Far Cry 4 keys has decided to release a statement. G2A is a well known third-party key sellers online. Most users know it through its sponsorship deals with many YouTube and Twitch channels. The service sells keys both through its […]

  • Petroglyph’s Victory resurfaces with Korean co-developer

    End of Nations, Mytheon and Grey Goo developer Petroglyph Games seems to have salvaged a stalled project. Victory popped up back in early 2013 after Trion Worlds took End of Nations in-house. Petroglyph’s attempt to crowdfund the unusual strategy title ended in iniquity, but it vowed to do whatever it could to bring the game […]

  • Far Cry 4 Hurk Deluxe DLC now available

    Far Cry 4′s latest DLC pack adds new story missions and a pile of new weapons. Far Cry 4: Hurk Deluxe is now available on PC and Xbox platforms, and is rolling out to the PSN in line with local network updates. The pack bundles five story missions, including Yak Farm, Blood Ruby and Hurk’s […]

  • Yes, Resident Evil: Revelations 2 has microtransactions

    Resident Evil: Revelations 2 has microtransactions, but thankfully they’re not as outrageous as initial reports suggested. The subject of Resident Evil: Revelations 2′s microtransactions arose earlier today with reports filtering out of a European press event that you’ll be able to pay to keep playing after your character dies. The ramifications of this are pretty […]

  • Play mini-games to unlock Magicka 2 content

    Magicka 2 publisher Paradox Interactive has invited fans to earn in-game rewards by playing other games. The Magicka website will host various mini-games in the build up to Magicka 2′s launch later this year on PC and PS4. Playing these games controbutes to a community score total which will eventually unlock in-game content as well […]

  • Deactivated Far Cry 4 keys were purchased through Origin

    Far Cry 4 owners who found their games deactivated without warning may be surprised to learn where they came from. Many copies of Far Cry 4 purchased through third-party re-sellers have been deactivated without notice. Although resellers affected by the deactivations argued that they had made authorised purchases, Ubisoft has denied this. The publisher told […]

  • Will Assassin’s Creed visit Japan in 2016?

    The next Assassin’s Creed game after Victory may finally bring ninja and assassins together. An Assassin’s Creed fan has spotted what certainly looks like a heavy hint that the next game after Victory will be set in Japan. Ubisoft forums member Cornik22 was looking through the Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag official art book when […]

  • Resident Evil HD modder aims to restore original, terrible voice acting

    Resident Evil and its early sequels are justifiably famous for their simply dire voice acting. Some Resident Evil fans feel they just can’t enjoy the experience of exploring Umbrella facilities if someone isn’t talking at them with absolutely no regard for pacing, content or tone. As a result, modder Bunny has stepped up to the […]

  • Record iPhone sales drive Apple to revenue spike

    The iPhone is still going strong – in fact, it’s selling better than ever. Apple has announced its financial results for the quarter ending December 27 2014, exceeding expectations with a 29.5% increase in revenues to $74.6 billion. This was a new record for the company. One of the key factors in this spike is […]

  • HoloLens has “mind-blowing” potential for games, says Microsoft CEO

    Microsoft’s VR wearable HoloLens is going to be great for games, according to CEO Satya Nadella. Speaking to investors, Nadella made Microsoft’s entertainment plans for the device explicit. “It’s also getting clearer how the games people love today will evolve to mind-blowing experiences in the future when designed for the mixed reality that Windows 10 […]