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New Game Bill Coming From Clinton, Lieberman

29 Nov, 2005 By: Kurt Indvik

Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) today announced they will introduce the Family Entertainment Protection Act that bans the sale or rental of ‘M'-rated, ‘AO'-rated (adult only) and ‘Ratings Pending' video games to minors under 17. The senators plan on introducing the bill when Congress reconvenes in two weeks.

“I have developed legislation that will empower parents by making sure their kids can't walk into a store and buy a video game that has graphic, violent and pornographic content,” Clinton said.

The announcement said the provision was not intended as punishment to retailers who act in good faith to enforce the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating system. Retailers would have an “affirmative defense” if they were shown identification they believed to be valid or have other means of enforcing the code.

The bill would also require an annual, independent analysis of game ratings to ensure the ESRB system accurately reflects the content of each game, and calls on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to conduct an investigation to see if the recent incident involving embedded adult content on the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas game was a pervasive industry problem. It was that incident which prompted Clinton's initial interest in this issue, she said. The bill also authorizes the FTC to conduct annual audits of retailers to see how they are enforcing the ESRB ratings and allows for consumers to file complaints with the FTC if they find game content to be misleading or deceptive in relation to its rating.

Clinton cited a report released today that said retailers “have become even more lenient” in their selling policies of ‘M'-rated games. Citing the annual Video and Computer Game scorecard released by the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF), boys “as young as 9” were able to purchase ‘M'-rated games 42 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, the Video Software Dealers Association, fired back against the new bill, and cited information from the same games scorecard that painted a little different picture.

“Nothing about [the GTA incident] suggests any deficiencies in retailers' programs to assist parents in choosing games wisely for their children or to enforce voluntarily the game industry's ratings,” the VSDA said. The association noted that similar laws that have been reviewed by the courts have all been found to be unconstitutional. The association is now suing to have courts review similar laws recently passed in California, Michigan and Illinois.

The VSDA noted that the 2005 NIMF retailer scorecard showed that 71 percent of video game retailers are educating the public about ESRB ratings, and 95 percent have a policy not to rent or sell ‘M'-rated games to persons under age 17. It did acknowledge that while 56 percent of retailers turned away underage “secret shoppers” participating in the NIMF survey (up from just 19 percent in 2000), there remains room for improvement.

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