An episode of the BBC current affairs show Newsnight that shows underage kids playing mature-rated videogames has angered U.K. developers, who say the show acted "irresponsibly" in pursuit of a sensationalized story.
The show, broadcast last week, featured two 13-year-old boys playing a Mortal Kombat title, which is rated 15 and up in the U.K. Reporter Liz MacKean asked the boys if the violence in the game bothered them, leading one of the two to claim his friends become addicted to games and act violently as a result. "One friend, it affected them a lot," he said. "They used to be normal and really nice, but because of a game called Grand Theft Auto they got really violent and use a lot of bad language."
Speaking to Develop, Newsnight editor Peter Barron said the show represented the fact that children can quite easily access material inappropriate for their age. "In this item we aimed to show the reality that children are routinely playing games intended for older children or adults," Barron said. "Obviously we wouldn't try and alter that reality - we simply asked to film and talk to some young people about their game-playing habits, with their parents' permission. This was done in the same way as we would, for example, show the reality of underage drinking."
Veterans of the gaming industry claim the show failed to provide any context about the games or even why the kids were playing them. "Newsnight filmed children playing an 18-rated game and allowed children to play it. Would they do the same with an 18-rated video nasty, sitting idly by whilst they watch?" asked James Brooksby of Kuju's Doublesix studio. "What parents would buy such 18-rated games for their children in the first place? Parents that allow children to play 18-rated games or watch 18-rated movies need to be educated as pointed out in the Byron report."
"The Newsnight article focused on two young children exposed to a violent game, but had nothing to say about who gave it to them," commented David Millard of NikNak, a studio that specializes in making games for kids. "In fact, Liz MacKean came across as the person showing the game to the children for the first time, clutching the box as if she had walked in with it. Would a sensible adult show an 11-year-old an 18 certificate film and ask them what is going on? It's just another example of irresponsible journalism."
"An increasing number of people seem to get stuck at the concept of the word 'game', thinking that this means a harmless piece of fun," he continued. "Some parents still seem to think that a game is always safe for any age group, and are perhaps under the false impression that there cannot be realistically violent content that could in anyway harm their child. We seem trapped in a circular argument when it comes to video game violence, claiming that it is disgusting and depraved to expose children to it, forgetting the simple fact that it must be exposed to them in the first place."
The Newsnight episode in question is available for viewing here. (U.K. audiences only.)