Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz' widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial offers analysis of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GamesIndustry.biz newsletter subscribers.
In the wake of the publication of the long-awaited Byron Review into the effects on children of videogame and internet content (two subjects seemingly lumped together on the strength of the fact that most of our public representatives don't have the first clue about either of them), the world and its uncle seem to have stepped up to offer an opinion on the question of videogames.
In the case of Dr Byron herself, who gets the loudest voice in all of this, the opinion in question has, thankfully, been an enlightened, educated and informed one. In broad terms, she likes games, she supports the right of adults to enjoy adult-oriented content, she thinks the existing rating system is pretty sensible and she'd just like parents to be a bit more aware of it so that they can make more informed choices.
The reaction to the Byron Review in some parts of the media, however, has been rather less enlightened, much less educated, and barely informed at all. The Times Online saw author Giles Whittell comparing videogames to "smack and teenage pregnancy", and describing them as "a colossal waste of time" - although somewhere in his furious rant was buried the basic admission that he knows nothing about the medium, and refuses to learn.
The Telegraph, meanwhile, carried a piece from Jenny McCartney complaining about games in which one spends "long hours electronically rehearsing the prolonged agony and detailed humiliation of other human beings". Not exactly a scenario I recognise, unless you count the long hours I've spent learning to win at Mario Kart (something which generally results in my own prolonged agony and detailed humiliation at the hands of my opponents, sadly) - and it soon emerges that Ms McCartney is once again trotting out the line about games in which you play "the mass murderer, the torturer, the street thug, drug dealer or pimp".
Top marks, however, go to the Daily Mail - the UK's daily dose of fear and loathing for the terminally insecure - which invited Anne Diamond (a former British TV presenter) to give her "chilling verdict" on violent videogames.
Diamond, writing with the slightly disturbing fervour of someone who can't quite get a grip on the separation of reality from fiction, tells us that she stopped playing Clive Barker's Jericho when "I was set on fire and something splattered blood all over my visor". She goes on to opine that Resident Evil 4 "shouldn't be allowed to be sold, even to adults", because "when I played, I was stabbed to death with pitchforks amid fountains of my own blood."
Meanwhile, almost lost amidst the week's business was an interesting reminder of just how low some parts of the media are prepared to stoop in order to get a nasty headline about videogames - yes, even lower than asking Anne Diamond for her opinions. Nestled away on a talent-hunting site was an advert for a national newspaper willing to pay "hundreds of pounds" for the right person to contribute to a story they're planning. "Write a few lines about how computer games turned you to crime and if it's something we like, we'll call you straight back," continued the ad.
All of these stories demonstrated a basic ignorance about the videogames medium - from the outright refusal of The Times' Whittell to properly research his piece, through to the Daily Mail's seeming belief that the Byron Review's recommendations will see BBFC ratings applied to games for the first time, when of course they've been prominently displayed on boxes for years.
There could be no clearer display of the "huge generational divide" which Dr Byron describes as the videogame industry's biggest challenge last week. We all know the relevant arguments here, and there's no point reiterating them. I'd be surprised if a single person reading this column isn't keenly aware of the evidence that videogames are just the latest in a long line of new forms of expression to be considered suspicious, immoral and dangerous by an older generation.
(The Times, in particular, has some wonderful form in this department - back in 1816, it warned "every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion". The culprit? The waltz, a new type of "indecent foreign dance" recently arrived from Europe, which the Times judged an "obscene display" more appropriate for "prostitutes and adulteresses". Old habits die hard, I suppose.)
However, in spite of this crop of nonsense in the newspapers, it's been a heartening week overall for followers and fans of the videogame medium. The Byron Review itself is largely speaking an excellent document (in terms of its comments on games, at least - some of its comments on online content are extremely disquieting, but outside the scope of this column), and the Government's response to it has gone some way to quelling fears of a censorious move to increase Parliament's oversight of the BBFC and the ratings system.
Moreover, the negative response in the media has, quite simply, been weaker and shriller than ever. The Times and Telegraph columns barely count as anything more than whinging, while the Daily Mail's scare-mongering not only comes across as mildly deranged, but is also buried alongside so much other scare-mongering that the paper's readers are liable to forget to be afraid of games, because they're so busy being afraid of everything else.
If anything, there's a real sense now that we're turning a corner. That's not to say that there won't be battles on the road ahead - we don't doubt that opportunistic MP Keith Vaz will have plenty more to say on the topic of games, and the newspapers are likely to pounce on videogames again when there's a quiet week for terrorists, house prices, immigration and underage drinking.
However, the Byron Review gives the industry a solid, well-researched and well-considered document to point its detractors at. Its acceptance by government gives hope of a long-lasting accord between the industry and legislators in this country. The press is running out of things to say - and the public increasingly isn't listening anyway, as more and more of them are exposed to videogames and the generation to whom Mario and Sonic were childhood icons gradually age.
Meanwhile, a study this week suggested that 72 per cent of people in the United States played games in 2007. The more that number grows - and sadly, we have no idea whether the UK is ahead of or behind that curve - the less of this nonsense we'll have to put up with. As much as the struggle over the acceptance of videogames in society has been entertaining at points - who can honestly say that Jack Thompson's antics have never raised a smile? - we should all be pleased that the day is coming when we can close the book on this lengthy episode for good.
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