The Byron report, a review described as helping "children and parents get the best from new technologies, while protecting them from harmful images," draws ever closer to publication, and the worries and whispers are beginning that this will be used by UK prime minister Gordon Brown to "crack down" on the games industry.
In fact, this report has been created by working closely with the UK games industry, and the likely result will be a requirement for games to have an official BBFC rating, as is the case with all UK films. But there are fears it won't be spun this way.
Dr Tanya Byron, heading the report, might be familiar from her television programmes, Little Angels and the House of Tiny Tearaways. The press release states that,
"She will draw on advice from industry experts and will engage a wide range of industry and regulatory bodies. It will be jointly sponsored by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport."
This morning a super-worried report was published by MCV stating, "Industry fears grow that Gordon Brown could use report to introduce an aggressive 'crackdown' on games." A headline that doesn't match the article below, but presumably catches eyes. In fact, the worry is not about this "crackdown", but about Brown misrepresenting the nature of the agreement. A mysterious source told MCV,
"But there’s a definite fear that Brown will aggresively present this to the media and public as ‘we are fighting the industry for your kids’ safety’. Nothing could be further from the truth, and Tanya Byron knows that."
Friend-of-RPS Simon Parkin has written a superb post about the matter on his site, Chewing Pixels. He comments on the exaggerated nature of the reporting of the issue as the story has hit the gaming blogs,
"20+ hobbyists are constantly moaning that everybody thinks games are just for children. But as soon as somebody agrees with them and, quite sensibly suggests that if some games are for adults then they should probably be marked as such, they complain still more, reinforcing the appearance that the games industry is principally supported by petulant man-children."
One issue that's been raised from the discussion on the Chewing Pixels post is the difference between US and UK ratings system. While in the UK we are very used to the fixed age ratings of the BBFC for films, in the US such ratings are essentially voluntary, with adults allowed to bring in children of any age to any film, at their discretion. For games to be given fixed-age ratings in the US would be quite a dramatic step forward, explaining the American reaction to what might seem a small change in the UK.
How do you respond? Should games be given a BBFC rating such that it would be illegal for a 14 year old to buy a 15 certificate game? Or should age ratings on games be at the discretion of parents? In fact, will putting a red age sticker on the cover make any difference for parents who willingly buy PEGI-rated games for their children at the moment?