Byron Report: Fair and balanced

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I’ll tell you the truth. I haven’t read through the entire Byron Report as I probably should before expressing an opinion, but from what I’ve gleaned via multiple readings of stories on it and tearing through a good chunk of it last night, the report is a surprisingly fair look at how the UK needs to regulate its gaming to make sure that children are playing age appropriate games. The recommendations put forth by the report, which was independently performed by Tanya Byron and titled Safer Children in a Digital World, express a need for education not regulation. Of course gamers have been shouting this common sense advice from the high heavens for ages so why should things change now? Next-Gen asked the very same question to Byron in an interview they did with her and her response is pretty enlightening.

The debate around these issues has always been extremely polarized, full of anxiety. When we debate things when we are anxious, what happens is that people tend to take very polarized positions and entrench themselves in their positions. We don’t actually move on with the conversation.

What I’ve tried to do with the review is to actually engage stake-holders on an individual level and also work with groups of industry stake-holders. I’ve been to the States, I’ve talked to the big industry players out there, I’ve talked to parents, but most of all I’ve listened to children.

Byron goes on to explain that she hopes both sides of the polarized debate can see that her study is firmly grounded in fact as she worked with almost every party concerned to come up with these recommendations. So far the response to her report seems to be positive from both sides of the aisle – or whatever metaphor the British would use. Gamers are enthused that she isn’t arguing for government control over their games and parents, along with retailers, are glad that her plan calls for a clear, defined and elaborate rating system. The only major complaint so far is the amount it will cost to implement her ideas and whether this money would be coming from developers or the government or elsewhere. Most refreshing is what Byron has to say about the rights of gamers to buy whatever kind of game they want and whether or not games should be regulated in the case of adults.

Absolutely not. That’s certainly not what I’m recommending. I’ve worked with a lot of gamers throughout the review and I do believe that adults have the right to make decisions about the content that they access, whether it’s viewing or interacting.

There’s a huge moral debate around content in videogames. I’m very clear, that wasn’t the remit of my review to pass judgment on that and I do believe that content for adults is content for adults. It should be rated that way.

While most of us would once again argue that this is simply stating the blatantly obvious as we all have a right to free speech, at least this time the obvious statements have the attention of the Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State in the UK. And after the whole Manhunt 2 debacle it looks like the UK needs a good slap across the face telling them this point blank. They aren’t the only ones though, the U.S. has also been struggling with game regulation and parental education and Byron believes that her report can help out around the world.

I do know for a fact that the U.S. are looking at this report very carefully. I’ve had some very encouraging signs already from the US in terms of their response to this report and I hope that in the UK we can show that we can offer a model of really good practice here in the UK which can be rolled out globally so that we can think more strategically globally in terms of children, young people, and digital safety.

The part of the report that seems a little weak, from what I’ve read, is when it comes to online gaming. Byron admits it is incredibly hard to regulate online gaming but the recommendations she makes come off a bit too loosely worded to avoid politicians starting to regulate what you can and can’t buy online. Still, even in the case of the internet where regulation is hotly debated and even supported Byron supports education, exploration and thought instead of all out regulation. If you’d like to read the whole report (it’s actually very interesting) and you can do it here (pdf).

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