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Dr Tanya Byron: Part One

Fri 28 Mar 2008 5:17pm GMT / 1:17pm EDT / 10:17am PDT
Politics

The Review author talks to GamesIndustry.biz about media reaction and her views on the games industry

Six months in the making and in a frenzy of media interviews - including a cosy TV appearance with Gordon Brown - the much anticipated, UK government-backed 226-page report on Safer Children in a Digital World, more snappily labelled the Byron Review, was yesterday finally unveiled by Dr Tanya Byron.

The fallout from her detailed recommendations on evolving the way videogames are rated, promoted and sold will continue to be hotly debated in the coming days not just by the games industry, but also MPs, the press and the public. Which is precisely what the Review sought to achieve.

Though concerns have been expressed about the nature of the recommendations, the industry has received extensive, and largely clear-headed coverage across all major media outlets. At the heart of the review is the recognition of a general lack of awareness and understanding of the games industry from without. Now firmly centre stage, the Review provides gaming with a solid, visible platform for sensible, positive debate.

24 hours after publication, Dr Byron spoke with GamesIndustry.biz to give her reaction to the response, and explain in detail her views on the games sector.

Q: 24 hours on, what's your view on how the review's been received both by those involved and by the media?

Tanya Byron: I think I'm still digesting that, really. I think my general feeling is that it's been received generally positively. Certainly I've been taking a look and following the press and they seem to feel that it reflects a very balanced view.

For me, the reporting of it is always a challenge. When the papers first started they were saying things that were completely wrong the health-scare warnings from one paper were wrong but as the coverage continued throughout the day, people were getting it much more accurately as they were getting the report and reading it. For me, I did nearly 50 media [interviews] yesterday, television, radio and press, and it gave me the opportunity to put the balance back into videogames let's stop blaming industry for things industry isn't responsible for, that's number one. Number two, the industry has worked really positively with me. I do believe this industry does not intend to corrupt young people. Number three, I think there's a positive that adult games are created with adult content for adults to play. The industry has never had any other view about that and is very clear about that it's a very small percentage of the total retail market. I've been saying since I started this review that I've played games at home with my kids, particularly my youngest, my son there are a lot of really good videogames. I think games are very positive for children, they engage with them through thinking as well as playing. Play is part of child development, this is how children play. We need to stop panicking, get a grip, move on in the debate and just be sensible about who plays what at what age, and what's appropriate. And that for me is fundamental, and I think that's what people are hearing and I'm glad that that's come out of the Review.

Q: The Government, publicly, has made the right noises and says it fully supports the Review. You appeared yesterday on television with the Prime Minister, who backed it. At the briefing yesterday morning you pressed the ministers quite hard into voicing their support. Are you confident that privately the support is also there?

Tanya Byron: Absolutely. And privately they've expressed it to me. I did, didn't I? I think I said to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, 'is that a yes, then?'. For me, reviews are really important, and I think it's great that the government commissioned this review and funded it. And I feel really privileged to have done it, to be honest with you, and I've enjoyed it. But I don't want this review to be something that looks good but is never implemented.

I have put timelines in and I'm going to come back... well, not me, I don't know who exactly I don't know if I have the energy to come back and do it again! But there's a very clear re-review of how the government implements the recommendations across the board.

Q: So now the Review is out, do you move on, or are you going to stay involved in the process through the initial stages of the timetable this autumn?

Tanya Byron: I have to say, I'm thinking about that a lot at the moment. It's been an intense six months, if you think about what I've been looking at in terms of the games industry. And then of course there's the whole Internet side of things. It's been an incredibly intense six months; it's been great and I've really enjoyed it a lot. And as I say, the videogames industry good companies, nice people.

Sometimes the debate gets serious, sometimes the debate is polarised, and sometimes people get upset about things. I've never had an issue with that, because I do really respect that the videogames industry has to deal with the kind of finger-pointing and the 'you're responsible for all the ills of society' that seems to be going on. It's a complete load of nonsense as far as I'm concerned and we just need to move on from that debate.

As far as that's concerned, I've loved it. What do I do next? At the moment, I've delivered, I've done my job. Fundamentally I think the games industry are fine with my recommendations. I think they are concerned about the BBFC and I understand that, and I saw Paul Jackson yesterday and we talked about it. The reason I phrased my recommendation in the way that I did is that I emphasised a period of public consultation, and I emphasised a lot in the media that during that period the industry very much needs to be talking about how these recommendations can be implemented in a way that works for the industry as well, because that's really important.

I think I'm going step back and see what happens. I've got other things that I do anyway, and I've got children in my life! I feel quite excited by the positive response and I have no plans to launch in head first and make it all happen. I think that's for industry and government.

Q: You're voicing the common sense view, that the industry welcomes, in terms of it not being responsible for the problems lazily attributed to it by the press and politicians. Really, the Review's recommendations themselves are relatively modest in that they build upon existing foundations so the system already in place was already effective?

Tanya Byron: It was very effective in terms of classification. I've said that all along and I said that yesterday. Also, just to say, if you think about it, classification wasn't even part of the original remit. The original remit was just very broad, on harmful and inappropriate material. And literally within the first week of starting the review, this whole classification thing dropped in my lap. At first, although I was an independent reviewer, I did go back to ministers and say, look, I don't think I should be making this decision or making recommendations about it. But there was a real sense that this was a good opportunity, and certainly the industry was saying we've just got to sort this out, we've got to discuss this and come to some kind of decision about it. So I have.

I think the classification system used by the industry has not worked with parents. Parents are buying games for children the children shouldn't be playing. And I'm clear that we can't just isolate videogames as being responsible for the ills of society. I am really clear from the child development literature that there are some games that kids shouldn't play and it could have a really, really negative impact on them if they do play them.

But my instinct is that the videogames industry is completely next to me on that one, because again, yes there are adult games and adult material that people can read and look at. No-one's ever said that there shouldn't be a classification system.

People have been saying: 'Tanya Byron recommends a classification system for the videogames industry'. Well, actually there is one. So for me it's been frightening that so many commentators haven't even picked up that there was one already.

Q: That has really stuck out from many of the reports that if you weren't familiar with the games industry, you would just assume that the BBFC had never rated games before. So the awareness and ignorance issue is paramount. But among the concerns voiced by the industry is that, while they accept this, they've already gone to great lengths to be above the board, have games internally and externally regulated. So do you feel it's appropriate that the burden of funding for a public awareness campaign should be shouldered by the games industry rather than something the government would back?

Tanya Byron: I'm not going to comment on that as it was never a remit of my review to make suggestions about funding. There was a moment, a flurry during the conference yesterday, when [Culture minister] Andy Burnham was asked about that and seemed to be saying that it's not up to the government to fund it.

I haven't got an opinion on it in terms of who funds it. It just needs to happen. Certainly when I've had discussions with the industry, and certainly when there has been the possibility that it could have completely been the PEGI system, in some areas of the industry there was the suggestion that there would be a willingness to fund an information campaign. So I suppose on one level I'd be disappointed if there was a preparedness, but because I didn't quite deliver on the system I was hoping for, that that is not going to happen. Fundamentally who does it? - it just has to be done.

And I hope the Review, not only my statements about industry, my impression of this industry - which I hope you've heard and seen I've been positive about - I hope my Review gives the industry an opportunity to PR itself positively, which obviously needs to happen, because I understand that as an industry you do get attacked a huge amount. So an information campaign is one way of doing that it's up to the industry to decide how much, if any, they want to be involved in funding that.

Dr Tanya Byron is a psychologist, journalist and broadcaster specialising in child behaviour. Part two will follow next week. Interview by Johnny Minkley.

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