Thursday, March 27, 2008

Byte: Reviewing the review

The Byron review of videogames and the the use of the internet by children, sparked off by the Manhunt 2 debacle last year, is finally in.

Amazingly, the report seems to have come up with some reasonable conclusions - namely, most parents are idiots who have no idea what their kids are up to. Well, knock me down with a feather... I never saw that one coming. *choke* Okay, perhaps it used slightly more generous language than that, but the report (it seems to me at least) shifts the main burden of blame away from the games industry and onto parents.

There was a chap on Radio Five Live this morning discussing the report who said that some parents were saying that they thought that the current ratings on videogames were skill age ratings, not content age ratings. I presume they must be thinking about the PEGI ratings, and not the BBFC ones (which have been ubiquitous for well over twenty years now), but still, that's a breathtaking degree of ignorance and idiocy, if true (which it no doubt is). It all goes to show that the problem doesn't lie with the children, or even the games, it's the frickin' PARENTS who need educating.

I've been saying for ages now that stronger regulation at the point of sale is necessary to keep inappropriate games out of the hands of kids too young to play them, and is infinitely more preferable to the tabloid "ban this sick filth" approach. Clearly, the joint PEGI and BBFC ratings aren't getting the job done, even though I think they're entirely adequate, assuming you actually look at the box and read the guidance - though that's evidently what a lot of people are not doing - so perhaps an entirely new, mandatory, rating system specifically for videogames is in order. Though no doubt learning a new advisory age rating system would be too much for the parents who can't even be bothered to read the back of the goddamn box to find out what the game is about, so even this isn't an ideal solution...

At least this report shifts the focus away from videogames being the source of all societal evil and highlights something that's been getting my goat for years: the fact that parents are not assuming responsibility for the actions of their children, and are apportioning blame everywhere but on themselves. It's refreshing to see a government review that actually points the finger at parents, saying "you've got to do better!" and then actually making practical recommendations that will help the situation. They're about as rare as flying pigs, so I'm genuinely staggered.

So, The Byron Review, then: 9/10 - a definite classic in the genre.

Somehow, though, I don't expect it will actually have that much of an impact. When we live in a world where people think that microwaving babies is a way of coping with marital stress, we've got more fundamental problems to worry about than the games our kids play...
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