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.
Hi Tanya, thanks for your time today.
No problem, so tell me about 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]
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.
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?
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…
And how old are your kids?
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.