INTERVIEW - Tanya Byron

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW - Tanya Byron
Do you have any fear that continuing with two ratings systems has the potential to confuse parents?

No – because I’ve made some changes to the statutory bits, but also to the consumer-facing element. That’s the bit that stops parents making the right decision at the moment. As far as I’m concerned, the two classification systems working together up until now has been brilliant and the relationship between the BBFC and PEGI is great. I could see it when I was working with both organisations.

But I felt really concerned by the fact the Review had brought up the classification system so early. It literally fell into my lap within days. I wanted the process to happen in a way that didn’t cause problems for these two organisations. I know there had been a collaborative relationship that has worked well, but that’s not all I was hearing – particularly from some parts of industry. I was lobbied very strongly from some parts of the industry for PEGI, but I can tell you that other sectors felt very strongly for the BBFC.

To set the record straight: what exactly will be changing when it comes to age ratings?

I’ve asked the Prime Minister to change legislation so the statutory age goes down to 12. BBFC will rate 12, 15 and 18 – they’ll have to, it’s the law. Under 12, PEGI should rate, because content for under-12s is less important for the consumer. And the consumer-facing element will be BBFC logos – they’ll be on the front of the box.

I’ve asked for BBFC ratings like ‘U’ and ‘PG’ on the PEGI-rated stuff, but the BBFC has agreed that PEGI ratings should also be on the back of all their boxes – even the ‘12’, ‘15’ and ‘18’-rated stuff. That’s quite a big thing for the BBFC to agree to.

Child safety is the remit that I was given, but there were other imperatives – not least the impact on industry. That’s why PEGI is still involved in non-statutory classification. The BBFC agree with that, and will put their logos on these PEGI-rated titles.

MCVUK.COM EXCLUSIVE: Do you have any knowledge of whether this is going to increase the time it takes to get a game to market?

I have no knowledge. But what I do know is that when I was looking to make these recommendations, it’s something I thought about really carefully. Capacity has to be built – that’s why there’s public consultation. I’m honestly not trying to avoid your questions, but some of them go beyond my recommendations. I’ve delivered them now – there is now a process that has to happen. The best way to influence that is by putting assertive timelines around it, which I’ve done.

MCVUK.COM EXCLUSIVE: What was the thinking behind the introduction of the ‘12’ certificate?

I found there is a distinction between content in a way that takes it out of the ubiquitous, family-friendly domain, with slightly realistic violence and sexual innuendo. That’s the point when people want to start making decisions about: “Is this right for my child?” All the evidence I have, including information about a child’s cortex development and how children learn at a neural level in early childhood, showed that kind of content needed to be checked.

Are you a fan of PEGI?

I didn’t want this to cause the collapse of PEGI in Europe and I also feel that with online gaming there needs to be a multi-national feel, as well as a national feel. I want to support the existence of PEGI, because it’s very important. If it collapsed it would have a profound impact across Europe. PEGI ratings exist on many, many products already. If children buy online, they buy a product with a PEGI rating on it. For me, it was very important the PEGI rating itself was visible. Everyone needs to know what the symbols are. PEGI is a good system which will still rate 50 per cent of the market – for the under 12s.

What about online games?

When it comes to the internet, we don’t want to have the same confusion, where suddenly we’ve got two different things happening. I’ve not made specific recommendations there, because it’s too early in the day. I think this needs to be thought about by the industry – along with internet providers.
I’m asking the Prime Minister to establish the UK Child Internet Safety Council, which will be chaired by the home office and the DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families). When policy is debated there, online gaming will be discussed.

How will communication work  – will PEGI recommend an under-12 rating to the BBFC?

Yes, in principal. But it’s up to the BBFC how they manage that. This is going to take time, particularly with the change in statutory legislation – that’s going to take a period of primary consultation. For me, managing the press has been such a challenge. Press still has the mindset ‘all games bad’ or ‘games industry equals bad’.

Funny you should say that. Our favourite one this week was…

Anne Diamond in The Daily Mail. Unbelievable.

Surely they could have afforded Fern Britton?

She would have been great, actually. Fern’s a pretty level-headed woman.

Some concerns have been raised about the BBFC’s capacity to handle the extra workload. Do you have confidence in it?

I know ELSPA had a thing or two to say about that. I’ve told the press that in the period of public consultation we are now in, the industry needs the opportunity to have its voice heard very clearly. There are concerns about the BBFC’s capacity and capacity building – and that needs to be part of the process. The BBFC are aware of that.

I wanted to give a balanced and fair hearing, and I wanted to touch on all the polarisation and emotion that’s been around. I’ve enjoyed working with your industry. I’m very clear that the games industry makes adult games for adults; it doesn’t make adult games for children. They want to support the UK public to make the right choice for their child. I’ve also made strong recommendations to Government about the educational benefits of gaming, which have been hugely welcomed.
Some people still don’t understand that the word ‘game’ doesn’t necessarily mean anything is right for kids.

MCV asked you at last week’s press conference about how public information would be funded…

Yes – there was certainly a tricky moment there, wasn’t there...?

MP Andy Burnham said it was “principally up to industry”. Would you like to see the Government get involved – and if they don’t, is there a danger it won’t happen?

That was outside the remit of my Review. What I will say is certainly, in consultations I’ve had with industry, you were saying, “we will be prepared to fund the public information campaign”. I’m wondering whether that was made on the basis that I’d make the recommendations they wanted. I’ll feel very disappointed if there were certain sections of industry that felt they didn’t get what they wanted, so therefore they wouldn’t follow through with that.

This seems like a really good opportunity for the industry to position itself much more positively in the social mindset. I’m not saying I expect the industry to fund it. But that has to be worked out. Everyone has to be grown up about it, and ask what we’re really trying to achieve.

Do you think that the media exposure the Review has achieved will help with that?

I should put that to you. Do you think it’s helped?

It’s not been perfect – but it’s been a good indication that there’s been a natural change in attitudes. If you came out with this Review in 1998, the headlines would have surely been more sensational…

That’s absolutely right. In terms of people who haven’t really engaged with this issue before, the Review probably will have an impact on attitudes. I’m making very clear statements to the media: don’t let your kids play games that aren’t for kids. You don’t let them watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so don’t let them play games rated for adults. I have confidence in the video games industry. It’s a reputable industry that produces fantastic products for children, many of which I play with my kids.

I’m also saying we need to support the UK consumer by looking at the packaging that faces them. And PEGI is a big part of that. The industry didn’t have to build PEGI – you didn’t have to have any classification system at that point. It’s fantastic. I’m a 41-year-old mother of two. I could have come out and done the whole reactionary…

… Anne Diamond thing?

They’re your words. But yeah. I could have done, couldn’t I? But that’s not the correct perspective. And fundamentally, if people are going to have strong feelings about this and talk about them in public, they need to spend a good deal of time doing the sort of research I’ve done with the industry.

MCVUK.COM EXCLUSIVE: What would you say to gamers that are worried the Review will stop them playing certain violent games?

That’s not what I recommended. There is a moral debate concerning content in video games, but I want to be clear that wasn’t my remit. My remit was how to better protect children. I’ve not said that adult gamers won’t be able to play certain types of games anymore. If people tried to use my Review to try and imply that I will be sure to remind them that was not a recommendation of mine.

MCVUK.COM EXCLUSIVE: The Times and others reported that you were recommending heavier punishments for retail. Is this true?

That’s nowhere in the report. Nowhere. I haven’t recommended any scary legal threats to retailers. You need to be really clear about that. That is the law. You can’t sell games to anyone under the statutory age. I didn’t make that up. I didn’t do this to finger wag at retail. I don’t do finger wagging. It’s a waste of time. I haven’t seen that across the industry, so there was no need to act. Retail were talking about how it’s important to them to be able to be really clear on what can and can’t be sold to someone of a certain age.

I was never interested in wagging my finger at retail and saying that if they didn’t do it, ‘you’ll be carted off to jail’. I didn’t recommend that, and I didn’t mean to infer it from my recommendations. The initial story in The Times was completely inaccurate. They did a much better story the day after, with an incredibly positive comment. When I saw that article the day of the Review, I thought: “oh, blimey.”

What did you make of ELSPA’s reaction, which praised the Review to an extent, but not perhaps as much as it could?

I think it was a really fair statement. I feel really pleased the report has been done comprehensively and I’m really pleased with the recommendations. But I’m not looking for people to be singing my praises. We are already in the next phase. We’re talking about how we implement these recommendations – and the PM’s saying: “I agree”. It’s absolutely right for ELSPA to be honest. I knew it was going to happen.

What’s the expected timeline now you have the PM’s backing?

What will be the Parliamentary process, as you understand it?
I’ve put timelines around the recommendations – which you’ve helpfully put on your website. We’re in a period of public consultation, which could take a number of months, but that all depends on how quickly people get things going.

Because I have a media profile and because this has been such big news, I’m in a very good position to keep knocking at the door of Government saying: “Are you still pushing ahead with this? C’mon!” I think people know that and they recognise how strongly I feel about this. I want to make sure this happens in a way that’s right for industry. What happens next is completely out of my hands, which is why I put the guidelines down. I didn’t want it all to be over after we’ve done this research.

MCVUK.COM EXCLUSIVE: Will you ever return to the industry?

My first response to that is that I am SO just going away on holiday with my family. I want to have no involvement with anybody who has anything to do with it. I just want to get away from it all for a while – and I think I should. What the video games industry needs to know is that I have really valued my working relationship with the industry.

There are some people in the industry that will feel I haven’t delivered in a way that they were hoping for – you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I will always – whether informally or formally – be very clear about how much I enjoyed working with the video games industry. And I will always talk about how much I enjoy playing games with my kids. You’ve got a friend in me. But how that is formalised in the future, who knows? I don’t know if the industry would want me. But never say never.

I’ve spoken about my own love of gaming with my own family. My son, when I was given this job last year, said to me: “Mummy, please do not ban video games because I will have no friends.’ He literally said on the morning the Review was published: “Thanks mum. Phew!”


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