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Video Games

Volume 708: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what criteria they will apply in deciding who should classify and regulate video games.

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of this Question to parents, users and providers. We are committed to using the nine criteria set out by Dr Tanya Byron in her report Safer Children in a Digital World. These formed the basis of the consultation document which was published in July last year. We are currently considering responses on which of the four options best fulfils the criteria, and we will announce a decision shortly.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. He will be aware of the real concern that many parents have about the dangers of these sadistic and violent videos to children. I am glad that Dr Tanya Byron’s recommendations are going to be taken into account along with those of the other place’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which agreed with her. I wish the Government well in their considerations and their deep concern for children’s well-being.

My Lords, when we publish our decision I hope the noble Baroness will be equally comforted by what we conclude. It is worth putting on the record that, while we rightly recognise the issues of parental concern, clarification, signage and the argument that these things are not clear, we start from the position that this is a successful UK industry, it has doubled in size in the last two years, it is a significant employer and we are regarded in the creative industries as world-leading in the design, implementation and software of video games. So while we wish to provide a framework for guidance, we do not wish to contain the industry.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that since, with modern technology, a lot of video games are the equivalent of interactive films, there is a strong case for collocating the regulation of both with the British Film Classification Board?

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that four options were put out in the consultation, one of which was a hybrid structure or, as he describes it, collocation. We are examining the pros and cons of combinations of the BBFC’s historical and current approach, the voluntary pan-European approach—the so-called PEGI system—and a completely new approach. He will understand that there are a number of pros and cons for each. As well as trying to get the right answer, we are focused on trying to find the answer to the point that lies behind his question: that as the world increasingly goes online and the delivery of video games moves from physical to digital formats, whatever system is designed needs to be able to survive that transition.

My Lords, can I press the Minister further on the hybrid system proposed by Dr Byron and the BBFC? Surely one of the key criteria is clarity of guidance for parents and video games users. Does the proposed hybrid system not risk causing confusion, when it will differ considerably from the European system and given that so many games are now played over the internet?

My Lords, those are some of the questions around maintaining or enshrining a hybrid system. There is an attraction to a unitary system and self-evidently to Britain aligning itself with the European system. I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for not saying at this stage, “Therefore the answer is…”, as we are still examining the pros and cons. However, as he rightly points out, avoidance of confusion or lack of clarity is an important criterion.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important to differentiate between education and regulation of video games? As a father of four young children under the age of 13 who are all mildly addicted to video games, I share the concerns of many parents about the enormous amount of time—the waste of time—that children spend on video games and the potential effects on their behaviour. What aspects of video games need regulation?

My Lords, the noble Lord is slightly ahead of me. I am the father of only two children addicted to video games, but if my experience is anything to go by, they are trying to keep up with at least four, if not six, in their consumption. I share his observation that there are some questions. The particular issue raised by the noble Baroness is classification, thereby allowing parents, providers and retailers clarity on what is being sold, licensed, distributed, bought and used. The question of regulation is different.

My Lords, I accept what the Minister has said so far but, as he will know better than most, this is a vast industry. It is also very complex, with a huge amount of competition in it. There are two or three very different systems competing hard at all times, and the edge of the industry is also in the main line of film-making in this country and doing well. My concern is the same as everyone else’s in this country, including the noble Baroness, Lady Howe: that the Government keep their eye on the main focus of protecting our children—the Minister’s children, the noble Lord’s children and the country’s children—because that is going to be a difficult problem, not only for this Government but for future Governments, and it needs to be looked at on a large scale, not piecemeal.

My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s sentiments with regard to providing the necessary level of protection and clarity for children and parents. However, it is worth dwelling on the fact that the average age of a game user is between 20 and 30, and adult consumption of games is the growth sector in the industry. In our legitimate desire to provide guidance and protection for children and parents, we must not stultify an industry that is producing innovation and creativity consumed by consenting, highly informed and highly technically experienced adults in this sector.