Video games to get cigarette-style warnings in the UK

28 March, 2008

Britain is set to revamp the system of ratings for video games in the manner of health warnings on cigarette packs. The move is intended to make it easier for parents and children to “understand” and to “protect children from unsuitable digital material.”

A review, backed by the government of the United Kingdom and commissioned by the Prime Minister in response to a growing moral outcry about video games, has concluded that video games “can harm the development of children’s beliefs and value systems and desensitize them to violence.”

The Times newspaper reported that the review report also recommend that retailers who sell video games to anyone under the age rating marked on the box should face a heavy fine or up to 5 years in prison.

The report, written by Dr Tanya Byron, clinical psychologist and expert on parenting, has also pointed out the dangers of children’s use of the internet.

Dr Tanya Byron was quoted as saying: “Parents are afraid to let their children out, so they keep them at home, but allow them to take risks online. Video and online games could have enormous benefits in terms of learning and development, but there is too little awareness among parents about the associated risks they posed and how to manage those risks. You would not send your child to the pool without teaching them to swim, so why would you let them online without teaching them to manage the risks?”

She has called for a large-scale campaign to educate parents, teachers and childcarers on how to ensure that children get maximum benefit from the digital world without being exposed to its dangers.

The proposed campaign would include efforts to instill better awareness of inappropriate content like pornography. Also, parents would be encouraged to monitor children’s online use and keep computers in living rooms rather than in bedrooms.

In the opinion of Dr Tanya Byron, the current classification system in Britain for video games is “confusing and not tough enough.” At present, only games showing sex or gross violence require an age rating from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and less than 2% of video game of titles now carries an ‘18’ certificate.

The British government-backed review stressed that the Pan-European Game Information system is considered to be ineffective because it uses symbols that are confusing and distributors effectively chose their own ratings by filling in a form about their product.

Dr Byron has demanded a single statutory classification system, with ratings displayed prominently on all packaging materials, in the fashion of health warnings on cigarettes, as well as on shop-display cases.

According to The Times, Dr Byron wrote in the review report: “We have to make child digital safety a priority. If you are under 18, you should not be able to buy an ‘18’ game and if you are under 12, you should not be able to buy a ‘12’ game.”

She has also demanded that all game consoles should have blocking mechanisms that would enable parents to prevent children from playing “unsuitable” games on them.

The publication of the review follows a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Britain’s leading progressive think-tank, which said that “many young people are effectively being raised online, spending in excess of 20 hours a week using websites such as Bebo, Myspace, Facebook and YouTube.”




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