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Byron Report: Full analysis, response, news and report
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Thu Apr 17, 2008 6:18 am Reply and quote this post
The Byron Review was a report delivered on the 27 March 2008to the UK Government (in particular, the Department for Children,Schools and Families). It was authored and overseen by Dr Tanya Byron.
The Review focuses on the use of videogames and the Internet (particularly social networking websites) by children, and discusses the use of classification and the role of parenting in policing these.

Update: The full review is now available to download here
You can also access it via the DFES' site, which includes links to the Executive Summary and the Annexes, as well as a special summary for kids and young people
The government's independent review of the effects of online contentand video game violence on children and young people was releasedtoday, and the author, Dr. Tanya Byron, has been on the press trailsince 5:30am. But people following this debate (or those who read thefront page article on The Guardian last month) will be little surprised; the Byron Review proposes suggestions which games industry trade bodies like ELSPA and TIGA have been active in and pressing on for years:

New codes of practice to regulate social networking sites, such asBebo and Facebook, including clear standards on privacy and harmfulcontent;
A gold standard for the use of console games, including clearset-up guidance for parents on issues such as pin codes and locks;
Better information for parents on how to block children accessingsome websites. Byron has been struck that the technology exists toimpose timers and filters, but there has been little take-up, knowledgeor development of the technology;
A new law based on a 2006 Law Commission recommendation making it unlawful to assist suicide on the internet;
A national council to implement her strategy, with a fixedtimetable for industry experts; a parents' panel and child developmentexperts to implement her recommendations.

(via The Guardian)
More information on today's report is at the BBC (and in video) and, er, the Daily Mail, and keep your RSS readers here as we discover more ourselves.
You can hear how Byron approached the task here, and Bobbie Johnson will be interviewing the author for next Tuesday's Tech Weekly podcast later this afternoon.
I'll be attending an industry Q&A next week - what would you like to ask Dr. Byron?

Byron: Generational divide is biggest problem in ratings debate
TanyaByron, author of the government's review into the harmful effects ofvideogames and internet use on children, has said that the biggestissue the industry faces is the education of parents who have lessunderstanding of interactive media than their children.
The ByronReview, released today, recommends that a single age rating system beadopted for videogame packaging, the statutory requirement for ratingsbe dropped to 12 and a set of clear and consistent guidelines areadopted for advertising games.
"The key finding is that we havethis huge digital generational divide at the moment where children areenjoying benefits and opportunities both online and in videogames butparents are really genuinely confused in terms of what videogames areand how their kids are playing them, what the content really means andwhat should they be allowing their kids to play and not play," she said.
"Forme it's about how can government really empower parents, society andteachers who grapple with these issues in schools to really supportchildren to think about risks both online and in videogames where mostadults are coming from the position of knowing less than the childrenwho are using these technologies."
Speaking to BBC Breakfast News- which showed in-game footage of people being set alight and shot inGrand Theft Auto: Vice City - Byron said the industry is beingresponsible by classifying products, but parents are confused by thetwo sets of ratings currently being used by PEGI and the BBFC.
"Wedo have good regulations for videogames, currently they're classifiedby 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 arebeing produced. They produce excellent games for children and they alsoproduce games for adults that should not be played by children. And atthe top end we have the BBFC classifying games," she said.
"Butwhat we get at the moment on games being sold in this country are twosets of symbols which parents tell me they find extremely confusing andretailers would like to be supported more to be able to say to parentsthat really you shouldn't be buying this game for your child.
"Inthe same way (parents) don't let their children watch an 18-rated filmthey shouldn't let their children play an 18-rated game because theyare not for children, they are for adults," she added.

Chapter 6 of the government's independent reporton the effects of internet content and video game violence on kids andyoung people, has a detailed analysis of the evidence on video games.

The Byron Review
,released today, provides an excellent and balanced view on what theoutcomes of playing actually games has on the players, based on thescant academic research in this area. Without a doubt, this is themost important chapter for anyone with an interest in this area toread, as it presents the research rather than the knee-jerk reactionsof both gamers and anti-gamers alike.
First, it argues that psychologists based in the UK and Europe havea very positive approach to conducting research in this area,subscribing to what Byron describes as an 'Active Users' perspective,

which is social scientific in orientation and argues that reactions tomedia content are context-dependent. Research from this tradition doesnot directly ask about questions of effect but seeks to understandplayer's interpretations and response to technology and the influenceof wider social and cultural factors on this (e.g. see work byBuckingham e.g. 2006).

This approach considers the gamut of media - from entertainment tonews broadcasts - rather than approach the issue as if it was isolatedfrom these spheres of potential influence. Interestingly, one ofByron's arguments is that US-based psychologists argue 'much morestrongly' for a link between violent games and anti-social behaviourthan their UK or European counterparts (what's been called an 'ActiveMedia' perspective).
Other content-based hypotheses considered:

  1. There is little evidence of a 'Catharsis effect'
  2. There may be wider effects (i.e. beyond violence) on children's attitudes, values and beliefs
  3. Realism, interaction and repetition may lead to deeper learning
  4. The arousal brought on during some game play may have the same impact on children as high levels of stress
  5. There is no clear evidence of desensitisation in children
  6. There is little analysis of the role played by the developmental stage of children

Byron also examines excessive use, including research on addiction(evidence suggests that there are very few true 'addicts', but many'high-users'), the impact of games on social behaviour, the impact ofgender differences on excessive use and any differences in excessiveuse by age. In her conclusion to this section, she argues for ageratings, proposing that young kids' 'limited ability to interpretcontent using context and decider reality from fantasy' areparticularly relevant to this issue.
But this chapter doesn't only focus on the negative - there aresections on the benefits of games, both online and off, and potentialeffects of new and emerging technologies.
An excellent, well-balanced and well-informed read, and highlyrecommended to anyone who's ever stood up for games with only thepathetic argument, 'Well, I'm not a serial killer and I play games'.

Industry Response

Just in case you missedany of these, here's a quick round-up of official responses to today'sByron review publication. They're broadly welcoming with a few provisoshere and there.
First up, ELSPA (theEntertainment & Leisure Software Publishers Association) supportedDr Byron's advice. "We believe in one legally enforceable system forclassification of video games and to build increased public awarenessof both the age ratings system and the long-standing availability anduse of parental controls on all games consoles," said Director General,Paul Jackson.
But the association expressed fears about the BBFC's ability to deliver on Byron's suggestions:

Weare concerned that the proposals as they stand may struggle to keep upwith the public's increasing desire to buy and play on-line.

The games industry would need to be re-assured that theBritish Board of Film Classification (BBFC) would be capable ofdelivering against any new remit, or whether PEGI may be moreappropriate.

Unsurprisingly, the Interactive Software Federation of Europe, the body responsible for the voluntary PEGIage rating system, concurred. Although a press release backing the aimsof the report was issued today, with Secretary General, PatriceChazerand, calling it "a thoughtful and open review", there wasimplicit concern about losing the classification impetus to the BBFC:

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

For its part, the BBFC was unremittingly supportive. "I warmlywelcome Dr Byron's report. She has listened very carefully to all thearguments, and exercised her independent and expert judgement," gushedthe board's director, David Cooke. Seemingly addressing ELSPA's fearshe added:

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

One element of the BBFC's self-congratulatory press release may haveraised a few wry smiles in certain sectors of the games industry,however:

Unlike PEGI, the BBFC has the power, in exceptionalcases, to reject films, DVDs and games which have the potential to posereal harm risk.

A 'power', you'll recall, that was so effectively exercised on Manhunt 2...
Finally, game developer representative, TIGA, chimed in.Again, there was broad backing for the propositions of the Byronreview, but TIGA expressed concerns that the industry itself would beexpected to foot the bill for, 'waging an information campaign aboutthe ratings systems for games'. CEO Richard Wilson points out to thegovernment that the operating climate is hard enough for Europeanpublishers without the huge costs this will inevitably involve.
Unquestionably, the Byron review is a useful document, especially inits sound analysis of research methods used to gauge the effects ofviolent imagery on children. But there's a general feeling that,although a clearer ratings system can only help willing parents makedecisions about what their children play, the government can't forceanyone into making these decisions - and probably shouldn't even try.There will always be those who'll buy violent videogames for theirchildren regardless of the clarity of the classification signage.
This isn't necessarily a judgemental conclusion. Hey, some parentsjust trust their kids - a perfectly valid position. Plus, in the modernera, we've become adept at filtering out the signs and symbols ofofficial intervention, from health warnings on ciggie packets toemergency advice cards in planes and trains, it's all semiotic sludgefloating along on the collective stream of consciousness.
What this comes down to is, are parents prepared to take an active,time-consuming interest in what their children are doing withtechnology? If they are, great. If they're not, no ratings system oradvertising campaign on Earth will protect their offspring. Some peoplejust don't want to know that games are adult entertainment these days.Some people don't want to know what it is that teenagers do every nighton their broadband-linked PCs. It's just more information static, morelooming shadows in the peripheral vision.
But do we really want a government that feels it must step in at this juncture?

BBFC: We CAN rate online games

The BBFC feels that a ratings systemit's planning for online movie downloads could easily be extended togames that are bought, distributed and played online, CVG sister siteTechRadar is reporting...

Following the much-publicised Byron Report into games ratings, one of the concerns raised by the games industry was over online content. The BBFC insisted that it is already looking at new delivery systems for media though.

"We are fully able to take on the extra workload of rating around 500extra games over the course of a year," said the BBFC's Sue Clarke,referring to the ratings board's potential increase in workload shouldthe recommendations from last week's review be put into practice.

The BBFC rep added: "The BBFC is self-funded so funding [this extra work] is not going to be an issue."

Daily mail article unbelievable

Dr. Tanya Byron has criticised themainstream press reaction to The Byron Report and video games ingeneral, claiming that the press "has the mindset 'all games bad' or'games industry equals bad'".

Speaking with MCV, Byron labelled the Anne Diamond article in the Daily Mail "Unbelievable" and reiterated her stance that The Byron Report was aimed at reinforcing safety for children.

"I'm very clear that the games industry makes adult games for adults;it doesn't make adult games for children," Bryon commented. "Somepeople still don't understand that the word 'game' doesn't necessarilymean anything is right for kids."

Bryon also addressed theissue of how the public information campaign to educate parents wouldbe funded. In a press conference last week, MP Andy Burnham said it was"principally up to the industry" to fund it.

"In consultationsI've had, [the industry was] saying 'we will be prepared to fund thepublic information campaign'," said Byron. "This seems like a reallygood opportunity for the industry to position itself much morepositively in the social mindset.

"I'm not saying I expectthe industry to fund it. But that has to be worked out. Everyone has tobe grown up about it, and ask what we're really trying to achieve."

Read the full interview on MCV.

  • Use of the Internet and videogames is extensive among children ofall ages, and the use of these can be beneficial since they offeropportunities for learning and development.
  • There exists in both media material that is potentially inappropriate for children, both in terms of content and safety online.
  • The report does not focus on whether the media itself causes harmto children but instead looks at how the media can be used to makechildren's lives better.

Parental responsibilities

  • Many parents do not understand the media, which the Review termsthe "generational digital divide". This can mean that parents areoverprotective through fear of what is available.
  • Parents should be available to assist their children in making decisions about and during use of the media.
  • there should be a shared culture of responsibility betweenfamilies, government, and industry, to restrict availability ofinappropriate material to children.
  • The Review proposes a "national strategy for child Internet safety" which provides information to families.

Videogame classification

  • There are many systems already in place to inform parents and help them to restrict access to inappropriate games.
  • Current ratings systems (such as PEGI) are sometimes misunderstood by parents as "difficulty ratings".
  • The classification system should be reformed so that the BBFC plays a larger role in classifying games.

The Byron Review

  1. "The Byron report: key points" from The Guardian Online
  2. "UK govt commits to delivering Byron recommendations on child internet safety" from Forbes
  3. One Life Left #70 news section
  4. Computer game addicts warned they could start behaving like autism sufferers

Contributed by Editorial Team, Executive Management Team
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