Interviews// Tanya Byron, Head Of The Government's Gaming Review

Posted 26 Oct 2007 18:00 by
Games: Manhunt 2
Dr Tanya Byron (pictured), an experienced clinical psychologist and well-known media personality, has been tasked by Gordon Brown?s government to carry out a review looking at children and new technologies. More specifically, the ?Byron Review? will focus on children?s gaming and internet use, habits and access to potentially inappropriate material (violent games, online pornography and so on).

Understandably, there has been some initial concern amongst gamers regarding Dr Byron?s review ? with many questions being asked and few answers, to date, being given.

How, for example, is the review to be conducted? Why are violent games being spoken about in the same terms as online porn? What will the government do with the review when it is carried out and Dr Byron?s recommendations are presented to Gordon Brown and his government next March?

I managed to catch up with Dr Byron for half an hour at BAFTA earlier this week, where she was on hand (along with MP James Purnell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) to introduce the initiative and give a few more details about the review to selected press, educators, parents groups and representatives of the games industry. Read on for a full and frank interview with Dr.Byron.

SPOnG: Hi Tanya, thanks for your time today.

Tanya Byron: No problem, so tell me about SPOnG.

SPOnG: Well, SPOnG is mainly read by adult gamers. So I suppose most of our readers will have some concerns as to the whole point of this exercise. [The Byron review into children and technology]

Tanya Byron: Well I suppose most of the people reading SPOnG are probably outside of the range of this review. They are probably older gamers that understand gaming, that understand gaming responsibly, that are old enough to know what they want to play and what [internet] content they want to access. That?s not what this review is about and that?s not what I?m focusing on.

It?s not about me making moral announcements or moral judgements, but it is about looking at the other side of the fence, the under-18 side of the fence, where we know that ? for example, on videogames we have a classification system ? so we have accepted as a society that there are different levels of age-appropriateness for different games and the material in those games. And we attempt to classify them in order to help both parents and children decide what they choose.

But, is that effective? Is it working? Do people use it? The review is more about looking at people at the developmental end of childhood? and as they are growing what they are accessing in terms of games, and is it age appropriate? Are there inherent risks? It?s not about banning or censorship when it comes to the 18-plus age group.

SPOnG: I think that misunderstanding as to what the review is about is perhaps part of many adult gamers' concerns about the review. Before we talk more about the review itself, can you tell us a little bit more about your own background? How did you get involved in all this in the first place?

Tanya Byron: Well I?m a clinical psychologist, that?s my training, and I?ve spent many years working in the NHS as a consultant working in child and adolescent mental health. I?m the mother of two children who both play videogames. I play games myself as does my husband. We all play together as well?

SPOnG: And how old are your kids?

Tanya Byron: My son is nine and my daughter is twelve, so it?s really interesting. We get that spread of educational games, but also the strategy games and the role-playing games and the social communication games, sports games and that kind of stuff.
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Games: Manhunt 2

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tyrion 26 Oct 2007 17:56
She does seem to ave a fairly balanced view of this review. Let's hope the people who receive her recommendations are similarly balanced!
config 26 Oct 2007 20:06
I've seen a few of her "House of Tiny Tearaways" - I'm a parent, so I'm interested to see how bad it can get with kids (and to tackle fixing the problem)

The most encouraging thing about the show (in the context of games/internet content and kids) is that 9 times out of 10, when these kids go off the rails it's the parents that are to blame.

I'm in no doubt that this is the case with kids playing mature games. Tanya's suggestion that the rating system is confusing is interesting, though I'm more inclined to believe that many parents just don't care, at best because they still think games are aimed at kids, at worst because they don't give a fsck
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tyrion 27 Oct 2007 11:45
config wrote:
Tanya's suggestion that the rating system is confusing is interesting, though I'm more inclined to believe that many parents just don't care, at best because they still think games are aimed at kids, at worst because they don't give a fsck

Well, we both know someone who was of the opinion that they were a difficulty rating, not a content rating. And she's a loving, caring mother.

Her: "He's so smart, he's on to the 18 games already and he's only 13!"
Me: "Umm, you do know that's a content rating like on DVDs?"
Her: "What?!?!?"

When you think about it, it's not too strange a conclusion to come to, all the time they have been buying entertainment for their kids, the toys, board games, jigsaws and whatever are rated by age on difficulty or small parts. Now videogames are rated on content and age suitability? It's a bit of a leap if you don't realise.

Of course there are those parents who think "He's quiet, I don't care what he's watching." They are the ones who should be slapped with a 5K fine, and not just for giving age-inappropriate games to their kids.
hollywooda 28 Oct 2007 01:05
i would.... non violently....of course..hee hee....
zoydwheeler 28 Oct 2007 09:52
Thanks for that contribution there! Really enlightening...
hollywooda 28 Oct 2007 11:14
sorry, i didnt think of those people out there without a sense of humor, its called a little joke, look it up....
zoydwheeler 28 Oct 2007 11:35
It's just a s**t and old joke, is all. And, for the record, probably would.
hollywooda 29 Oct 2007 11:59
But! said?... whatever.....

(yer, i do like a Milf)
Andronix 30 Oct 2007 22:39
Well done Spong for a genuine and interesting exclusive.

So much gamer news is recycled PR crap. This was a good interview that asked some pertinent questions.

I remember feeling sick of hearing Tanya's name because there was a few weeks when BBC Three seemed to be showing her programme non-stop.Anyway she sounds fairly balanced. She says her kids play games.
From what she said, It may be that she just has a universal age rating system (BBFC) and tries to make parents more aware of their responsibilities. Although games for adults might no longer be called games?!

well done.

Peej 6 Nov 2007 14:05
Nice to see Dr Byron putting her side of things and not being misquoted and reported as head nanny in a nanny state looking to impose harsh restrictions on the games industry.

Time and time again the interview mentioned the most important point in all this, that responsibility lies with parents to actually make sure that they know and understand what games are about, how the ratings work, and if need be, tell their kids a firm "no" when it comes to them wanting to play games or access internet sites that are unsuitable for their age group.

With consoles (the 360 in particular) soon being patched to limit time children spend playing games, it does at least look like the industry is trying to do its bit. The weak links in all of this are still largely the parents.

pjmaybe -
reddawn 28 Nov 2007 21:02
Could all this just be a front? It sounds mightily political to me. Looking into my crystal ball I see little positive result. Besides what can England do, when the virtual world is global?

The Byron chick could be well cast as a sorcerer's apprentice in a modern video game!

Pretty face, media savvy, the instrument of some gov PR initiative or other, (echoes of "Yes Minister") and some hidden agenda ... somewhere? Where I wonder? Who wants to do what and to whom? Could there be scope for some kind of tax? A sinecure in the shape of an online video Game Tsar?

It would be interesting to take a closer look?

The risk is not that dangerous games exist but rather that upstart initiatives irrupt, run out of control and wind up threatening or actually damaging fundamental liberties.

The online world is a new model, using outdated tools to try to measure it is an anachronism. The phenomenon is too young, it needs to evolve, and that may well be one of the key findings of Doc Byron's review. It is like trying to control the telephone! Daft! It is up to parents. She might usefully set up compulsory evening courses for recalcitrant parents. Now there's a thought!
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