The Byron Review; Video Gaming Recommendations for Children

April 6, 2008 at 10:44 am Leave a comment

As we noted in our prior post, Dr. Tanya Byron, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, recently released an important set of E-safety recommendations, “Safer Children in a Digital World,” for children in the UK. Today we turn to her summary recommendations regarding video gaming.
Byron Review
Here again, the most compelling aspect of her research as well as her recommendations is the fact that she refrains from oversimplifying the matter. When it comes to the issue of video games, Byron calls upon the video game industry and parents to work collaboratively to ensure that children are provided access to games that are age-appropriate.Risk-Reward Nature of Technology
As was her methodology with Internet safety, Byron seeks a collaborative approach to children and the video game industry. In addition, she seeks to have assistance from the gaming industry to help restrict the access of games that are inappropriate for children. At the same time, she also calls on parents to do their part in the process.

In speaking about empowering children and keeping them safe, Byron turns to the following analogy. Noting that “children will be children – pushing boundaries and taking risks,” Byron offers, “at a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim.”

Byron notes that technology offers extraordinary opportunities for children and young people as well as adults. As for video games, the researcher indicates that such games offer “a range of exciting interactive experiences for children.” At the same time, Byron specifies that some video games are in fact designed for adults.

Byron recognizes that the debate on ‘media effects’ and violent content in video games is divided. She also confirms the obvious, that Internet and gaming technology is moving so rapidly that it is not possible for research to keep up with the developments.


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What is noteworthy about Byron’s work is she does head directly to the gray areas, the risks of potentially harmful or inappropriate content, that could have negative impacts on children. As we noted in our post about Drs. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson and their research for Grand Theft Childhood, Byron is not ready to take a cause and effect position regarding video game play and antisocial behaviors in children. Byron states, “Overall, I have found that a search for direct cause and effect in this area is often too simplistic.”

At the same time the researcher does not give a free pass on the topic, stating that it does “not mean that the risks do not exist.” Byron then moves correctly to another key element, that we must use our understanding of child development to “inform an approach that is based on the ‘probability of risk’ in different circumstances.”

What is so remarkable about Byron’s review is that she recognizes the sheer complexity of this issue. “We need to take into account children’s individual strengths and vulnerabilities, because the factors that can discriminate a ‘beneficial’ from a ‘harmful’ experience online and in video games will often be individual factors in the child. The very same content can be useful to a child at a certain point in their life and development and may be equally damaging to another child.”

In addition, Byron notes, “Very few people are genuinely addicted to video games but lots of time spent playing can result in missed opportunities for other forms of development and socialization.” In other words, concerns must develop when these gaming technologies negatively impact children at the expense of other activities and family interaction.

Byron does list some of the prevailing concerns regarding video game play. She notes, “There is some evidence of short term aggression from playing violent video games but no studies of whether this leads to long term effects.” She also states, “There is a correlation between playing violent games and aggressive behavior, but this is not evidence that one causes the other.”

Byron ReviewHer entire approach centers upon age appropriate gaming and reveals yet another critical element. “Games are more likely to affect perceptions and expectations of the real world amongst younger children because of their less developed ability to distinguish between fact and fiction (due to the immaturity of the frontal cortex).”

As for the interactive nature of games, Byron states the interactive nature may “also have a more profound effect than some other media, again especially amongst younger children (e.g. up to around 12 years old) who tend to use narratives to develop their values and ideas and who learn through ‘doing’.”

At the same time, Byron is not ready to castigate video games or refer to them as the source of all that is not well during adolescence. States Bryon, “These games offer new opportunities for social interaction between children and there are a number of potential benefits for children and young people from playing video games, including cognitive and educational gains and simply having fun. Interestingly the evidence to prove these benefits can be as contested as the evidence of negative effects.”

Ensuring Age Appropriate Gaming Opportunities
Byron calls for targeted efforts from the gaming industry to increase parental understanding of age-ratings and the available controls on gaming consoles. Byron recommends a new, hybrid classification system for games. She seeks to have the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the Pan European Game Information, under the auspices of the UK Council for Child Internet safety, “work together to develop a joint approach to rating online games and driving up safety standards for children and young people.” She proposes that the new combined BBFC and PEGI logo be prominently placed on the front of all games (R18, 18,15,12,PG and U) with industry equivalent logos across all age ranges placed on the back of all boxes (ratings regarding violence, language, sexual activity, drugs activity, etc.).

Byron also seeks to have greater efforts to enforce age ratings at points of sale to ensure that children have access only to age appropriate materials. Byron suggests that games with ‘12′ ratings and up carry legal requirements that such games cannot be sold to someone under the required age. At the same time, Byron calls on both the video game and advertising industries to comply with age-appropriate message targeting that matches the video game age classifications.

I Stock PhotoIn addition, Byron wants to see “console manufacturers work together to raise standards in parental controls on consoles, delivering clear and easy to use prompts and better information for parents on where console controls meet agreed upon standards.”

Parents Must Also Parent
The researcher notes that even concerned parents sometimes still buy adult games for their children. The rationale? “Either for a ‘peaceful life’ or because it is ‘only a game’.”

Byron notes that parents must be aware of the fact that some games are suitable only for adults. She writes of how many children she came across that had been allowed to play age 18+ video games despite the fact that some children were forbidden from watching films with that rating.

She further notes that parents must be educated about the parental controls available on game consoles. If the gaming industry is expected to produce consoles that provide specific controls regarding time of play, game ratings, et al, then parents must learn to engage the technology and enforce the use of that technology.

Lastly, there is no substitute for parental responsibility especially with respect to decision-making. We noted earlier Byron’s prophetic words, the “need to take into account children’s individual strengths and vulnerabilities. The very same content can be useful to a child at a certain point in their life and development and may be equally damaging to another child.”

Recognizing the differences in children is difficult. But ultimately that recognition will have to be the responsibility of parents, not the gaming industry.

Author: Tom Hanson, OpenEducation Blog, 2nd April 2008

Article available here.

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About

The purpose of this blog is to provide insight into the impact of computer games and pop culture, and effective ways of incorporating the positive surplus into learning experiences.

Please feel free to add comments and email me with any queries. I am also interested in relevant project collaboration.

Name: Alexandra Matthews
Location: UK

Email: info@gamingandlearning.co.uk / alex@gamingandlearning.co.uk

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