Page last updated at 12:38 GMT, Thursday, 27 March 2008

Video games ratings face overhaul

By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

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Game ratings: ignore or accept them?

Video game ratings need to be overhauled to make them easier for parents and children to understand, a UK government-backed review has said.

Carried out by psychologist Dr Tanya Byron, it says more games need to be rated by official bodies.

It calls for the creation of a UK body to draw up and oversee a national strategy to keep children safe online.

It also recommends that new PCs be sold with software that will help prevent children seeing harmful online content.

Greater scrutiny

"I challenge government and industry to step up to make the digital world safer for children and young people," said Dr Byron at a press event launching the review.

HAVE YOUR SAY
A 'new' 12 rating is an irrelevance if the parents don't take responsibility for their offspring in the first place.
Neil Smith, Bath

One key recommendation is lowering the statutory age at which games have to go before the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to 12.

At the moment video games only get a mandatory review by classifiers if they have "human sexual activity" or "gross violence"

Each year the industry submits about 250 games for review by the BBFC.

The introduction of a statutory requirement to classify games for children aged 12 plus will see the workload of the BBFC increase dramatically.

Dr Byron said her review had led her to conclude that parents' general lack of confidence and awareness was "leaving children vulnerable to risks within their digital worlds". The review also recommends that the ratings system be extended so that familiar BBFC logos seen on DVDs appear on all games sold in stores.

"I want parents to be empowered," said Dr Byron, "I want clear logos on all games so parents can make an informed choice."

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Video game ratings overhaul recommendation

"Kids are the digital natives, she said, "parents are the digital immigrants." While BBFC logos will adorn the front of game boxes, the "equivalent" ratings from Pegi will appear on the back of boxes. Pegi is a voluntary ratings system set up by the games industry.

"The European Pegi system works for the industry," said Dr Byron, "but the BBFC works for parents and children."

A consultation period will be held about the proposed changes to the recommendation system to which the games industry will be invited to contribute.

Before now the games industry has favoured a single system and has expressed a preference for Pegi.

The wide-ranging review also calls for more support for retailers so staff feel confident refusing to sell a game to anyone who is too young to play it.

FROM THE DOT.LIFE BLOG
Darren Waters
You have to feel sorry for the video games industry
Darren Waters, technology editor BBC News website

Dr Byron also wants the government to set up a UK Council for Child Internet Safety that will report to the Prime Minister and be charged with drawing up a national strategy for online safety.

The council will co-ordinate the work of existing bodies who oversee net safety and implement a comprehensive programme that will educate parents about the benefits and dangers of using the net.

Work should also be done to see if there are technical means that can oversee where people go online and warn them about illegal or harmful sites they may visit.

It also called for the creation of kitemarked filtering software that is installed on all new PCs sold for use in the home and which is given away with all new net contracts.

The review said the online industry had to take greater responsibility when policing content posted to websites, such as video sites and social networks.

Sites where users can post their own images and videos should commit to specific time-lines for removing harmful content, recommended the report.

Search engines should also take steps to help parents limit what their children can look at and display links on their home pages to sites that can provide advice.

READ THE BYRON REPORT

Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need Adobe Reader

In her review Dr Byron has recommended codes of practice for the industry, including social networking sites and video sharing sites, which should be independently monitored.

"We accept all the recommendations in the report," said schools secretary Ed Balls at the launch event.

He said the government would legislate where necessary to bring some of the recommendations into force.




SEE ALSO
Plaudits and concern over Byron
27 Mar 08 |  Technology
At a glance: The Byron Review
27 Mar 08 |  Technology
Rating video games globally
29 Aug 07 |  Technology
Is the digital world safe for kids?
27 Mar 08 |  Have Your Say
Games content 'concerns parents'
04 Dec 07 |  Technology
Industry reacts to games review
09 Oct 07 |  Technology
Games violence study is launched
09 Oct 07 |  Technology

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