Byron Report on Gaming Suggests Age Certification for all UK Games

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If you thought that Symbian Signed was too many hoops to jump through to get your game onto a UK handset, just wait till the British Board of Film Classification gets involved (BBC News and other online sources). Released later today, the Byron report will recommend that any video game will be forced to carry cinema style classification (currently only games depicting sex or gross violence are certified).

So let's take a mobile game - Tetris perhaps, or a cute random platformer where you end up throwing an apple at an orange dinosaur - probably with 100 skews for the Java versions over all the networks. That's a lot of certification required to get the clearance to sell in the UK.

Now the big question is if 'video game' would also cover 'mobile games?' And while you could argue at the moment that mobile is not video, that's going to be a tough argument over the next few months - once a Grand Theft Auto Mobile makes a big splash in the media you can be sure mobile will get lumped in as well. You have to think that any report that recommends the following would consider any game as a video game... just think of the children.

Parents could be given guidance - or maybe even computer classes - to ensure that they cannot be outwitted by children who have grown up with new technology and may be more skilled at using it. [my emphasis]

I get the feeling that this is a touchy feely report to far.

Summary of the Report follows...


By Andrew Woodcock, PA Chief Political Correspondent

Video games could be forced to carry cinema-style age classifications, with tough penalties for retailers who sell them to children, under proposals in a new report to be published today.

The report by psychologist Tanya Byron will also recommend a massive education campaign to warn parents, teachers and childcarers of the risks of games and the Internet for children.

Dr Byron, best known for her work as child behaviour guru on TV shows Little Angels and House of Tiny Tearaways, was commissioned last year by Prime Minister Gordon Brown amid concern that new electronic forms of entertainment may be harming the development of children's moral value systems.

At present, only games showing sex or gross violence require an age rating from the British Board of Film Classification and less than 2% carry an 18 certificate. new legally-binding system could ensure that every game is rated in the same way as films - which are classed U (universal), PG (parental guidance), 12, 15 or 18 - with the age guidance printed clearly and prominently on its sleeve in a way that can be understood by parents who are not computer-savvy. Launching her report alongside Schools Secretary Ed Balls and Culture Secretary Andy Burnham in London today, Dr Byron is expected to say that the Internet and video games have a massive potential in terms of education and development.

But the mother-of-two will also warn that her six-month review has shown there is too little awareness of the dangers they may also pose.

The report is expected to say that computers should be sited in family parts of the house, such as the living room, rather than in children's bedrooms.

And it will suggest that parents should monitor their children's online activities to ensure they are not viewing inappropriate content.

While many parents regard Internet use as being similar to watching television, Dr Byron will warn that it is more like being sent outside to play unsupervised.

Parents could be given guidance - or maybe even computer classes - to ensure that they cannot be outwitted by children who have grown up with new technology and may be more skilled at using it.

And the report will recommend the establishment of a UK Council for Child Internet Safety, reporting to the Prime Minister, with representation from Government, industry, children's charities, young people and parents.

The industry will be challenged to take greater responsibility by drawing up codes of practice for social networking sites like Bebo and mySpace; introducing more effective regulation of online advertising; and improving access to parental control software.

Claude Knights, director of children's charity Kidscape, welcomed the report, saying: "This is about working together to educate parents about computer games and the internet.

"It's about being very open about the potential dangers. It's not about prohibition. If we build walls, young people will climb over them.

"There has been a 'mind the gap' situation, where parents feel disenfranchised. Parents and carers need more support.

"Video games and the internet can be bamboozling for parents.

"What we need is clarity, so that parents buying the products have a level of understanding about exactly what it is they are buying."