Then there is the schools angle to it. Mark and his colleagues do go out and do media and literacy work in schools. We have some websites that can help – children’s website, student’s website and a new parent’s website, where we provide extended consumer information – so we provide in-depth information as to why the title is a 12, 15 or 18 and full listings of what the key content issues are that produced that result. Again, this is something that is easier to do under our system than it would be under a questionnaire-based system like PEGI.
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TechRadar: Do you not think there may be a naming issue here – while we refer to them as games then many will continue to treat them as toys?
David Cooke: It’s a question that lots of people have been struggling with. It is why ISFI is called ISFI isn’t it? But then again, ‘interactive software’ doesn’t really trip of the tongue does it?
TechRadar: The games industry does seem to be under constant bombardment from sensationalist tabloid scaremongering. Tanya Byron seems to have made a real, concerted effort to distance herself from that.
David Cooke: She did. And that was very healthy, I think. And I sometimes wonder that perhaps games industry people like [Electronic Arts UK MD] Keith Ramsdale, with some of the things he’s said about us, if they that we are more in the ‘Daily Mail’ camp. The answer is no, with a big ‘N O’, we are an independent organisation who’s examiners have actually been snooped on by Daily Mail journalists. We’ve had Daily Mail journalists phoning up the building pretending to be colleagues trying to get information out of us.
We know that the media selects certain research to back up these types of stories, we know all the problems with the claims of the American research into media violence. I think maybe things are skewed a little bit in the thoughts of people like Keith Ramsdale. They are conscious, for example, that we have this reject power and they don’t like that.
We’ve only used it twice over the last ten years for god’s sake! And you cannot have a reject power and never, ever use it. Tanya Byron did find a very strong amount of public support for having this type of last resort. But it really is a last resort, for us. As I’ve said, with a lot of our decisions, it’s possible for age-ratings to be lower and less strict than PEGI, which often pushes games up to a higher rating, even when it’s clearly not a sensible thing to do. If everything goes up to a level where it is not credible, then it’s clearly a bad thing for the games industry, as there is a much reduced parental confidence such a system.
TechRadar: The power to ban of course is still very much an issue in the games industry, following the case of Manhunt 2 last year and early this year.
David Cooke: Let me tell you how I think about Manhunt 2. I think it was… well, it was bloody hard work! It was not a decision to be taken lightly. It was a decision that we arrived at absolutely on the merits. There was no political pressure, despite what many accused us of. Our initial decision was the same as the ESRB in the US, so there was some changes made to the game by Rockstar, which the ESRB accepted but we still thought the changes hadn’t gone quite far enough. So that was the version that then went to appeal at our independent judicial appeals tribunal [the Video Appeals Committee] where there was a 4:3 decision in Rockstar’s favour.