The Industry vs. Dr Tanya Byron: Pt. 1/3

DAVID REEVES: About two-and-a-half years ago, Sony had a series of meetings with the industry, including people from ELSPA. We funded research into the subject of age ratings by a respected German consultant firm to investigate the matter.

They did a lot of research in the UK, Spain, Germany and France. You don’t seem to mention it in your report – maybe you didn’t come across it. It was very extensive.

I’m not going to say what Sony’s position is and I’m not dodging the issue but the findings that came out were this: the ratings are well known in Europe, less so in the UK and there’s more confusion In the UK than anywhere else in Europe. That’s right to the heart of the issue and was very, very clear. Amongst parents, less so retailers.

The ratings were almost obeyed in Europe less so by UK people, certainly by parents in terms of intercepts in outside shops. Parents accepted when their children had bought an 18-rated game. They made the recommendation that education was needed in the UK, for both parents and retail and, to some extent, for publishers and developers.

They concluded also that retail is doing an excellent job at policing the ratings – particularly in the UK. That was the exception when the UK was not at odds to other countries. But they also concluded that the ratings had no teeth whatsoever and that they believed PEGI should be given teeth, it should be made law and that was the way ahead.

They made a very, very strong recommendation. And we supported that. We said that if the Government were to endorse it,

we said that we would help fund an education, an awareness process –

and I think Michel Cassius at Microsoft at the time and certainly David [Yarnton] from Nintendo said the same.

So I guess our position is still the same. We believe that PEGI should have teeth and we were hoping that the Byron report would recommend to Government that was the way to go.

And Dr. Byron, I don’t want to be controversial, but I think you’ve been too nice to us. We take this extremely seriously and we were looking for something that was perhaps a little bit more direct. You mentioned in your prologue that people can take different parts [of the Review] and be happy with it, and I’m not sure that was what we wanted. We wanted you to say: ‘This is what I recommend and this is what I think we should do.’

Our research also made a recommendation that said: ‘Beware. This is really not the issue. The issue is online and gaming security.’ They said this was so dangerous, what they are doing in Germany on age verification is the way the industry in the UK should be going as well. They predicted that this would explode – and I think it will, and this is the area we should be concentrating on. I think we will be able to solve the retail side with an awareness education programme but I’m not sure we’ve got to grips – and this is where we should be responsible – with the online side.

The person that did this was also a child psychologist. His research says something different to yours. He said that the [frontal] cortex development cam earlier than 12 and that it differed between girls and boys significantly and that it differed by country – i.e. by race. We have a little bit of a problem with the 12 rating, not only in terms of trying to prove if a child is 12 in a shop, but also in terms of ‘why 12? Why not eight?’

TANYA BYRON: I think I’ve made very clear recommendations based around the evidence that was given to me and in terms of child development papers from very well respected professors. You’re right that frontal cortex development actually comes in boys later than girls and the recommendations I made reflected the current understanding [of that]… I’m sorry if I’ve been too nice – I promise when I come back in 2011 I won’t be so nice.

One of my big things in the whole debate was about the emotion that was happening – the paranoia that was around – and I have felt quite protective of the video game industry. I didn’t want to make a recommendation that would have huge implications for PEGI, but I also had to make a recommendation on the evidence presented to me and what I was hearing.

And yes, why not eight? But fundamentally the way context changes at 12 in terms of violence and e sexual innuendo represents the point some of this understanding of context skill needs to be kicking in… I felt that 12 was the cut-off point. I can see what your saying and completely respect it in terms of how do you prove a 12-year old is a 12-year old, but it’s a sensible cut-off point.

A number of you have talked to me about funding a public information campaign… I think you need to consider its importance in terms of your own ongoing positive PR. But that’s not for me to decide. I’m disappointed you don’t think I’ve been clear, I don’t think I could have been clearer, but I think I’ve certainly been fair. Europe is full of different countries, different people. But the UK’s parents need to understand the context of a game and that’s very important.

DR: This debate goes on in every European country and in Switzerland it’s at the top of the agenda for every political party. It’s a major hot potato. Everywhere I go in Europe it’s a major debate.

TB: I respect that I really do. I think in the UK there are specific huge sensitivities and I agree with you that the UK has specific anxieties. I’ve suggested PEGI and BBFC should work together online games. You’re clearly disappointed in the recommendations, and for me that’s a problem.

DR: I’m not disappointed at all; I’m just giving my opinion. I think it’s a fine report – I have it in my rucksack here. I’ve read it cover to cover. I’m just trying to raise the issue that we had looked at this in the past and there were recommendations that were made that went in more of an arrow direction that a broader direction.

TB: You’ve all told me that, but I don’t think that’s where UK consumers are or where society is – and I don’t think that recommendation would have done well for the industry at this point in time.

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