Game Politics (gamepolitics) wrote,

Clinton, Lieberman Announce Federal Game Legislation

A bad day for the video game business just got quite a bit worse. With the industry still reeling from the shabby grades assigned this morning by the MediaWise Annual Video Game Report Card, another, perhaps far heavier, blow has landed.

Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) announced moments ago that they will introduce federal legislation aimed at protecting children from inappropriate video game content. The bill, to be called "The Family Entertainment Protection Act," will prohibit the sale of adult-themed games to minors. The senators plan to introduce the bill when Congress reconvenes in two weeks.

A press release issued by Sen. Clinton's office said she was motivated to take action on the issue by July's Hot Coffee revelations. Readers may recall that the Senator ordered up an FCC investigation of the incident. That probe is ongoing.

"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," said Senator Clinton.

According to her press release, she acknowledges that video games are "fun and entertaining" and does not support any limitations on the production or sale of games to adults. "This is about protecting children."

Senator Lieberman, who stood with Dr. David Walsh of NIMF this morning during the release of the video game report card, added, "There is a growing body of evidence that points to a link between violent videos and aggressive behavior in children. We are not interested in censoring videos meant for adult entertainment but we do want to ensure that these videos are not purchased by minors. Our bill will help accomplish this by imposing fines on those retailers that sell M-rated games to minors," Senator Lieberman said.

Speaking of the report card, Sen. Clinton said, "Today's report is yet further proof that we need to make sure parents have the tools and support they need to make informed decisions for their children."

The following is from Sen. Clinton's press release:

Summary of the Family Entertainment Protection Act

Video game content is getting more and more violent and sexually explicit, yet young people are able to purchase these games with relative ease. In its 2005, 10th Annual MediaWise Video and Computer Game Report Card, The National Institute on Media and the Family found that retailers were more lenient in their selling practices this year compared to last. Boys as young as nine were able to purchase Mature-rated games 42 percent of the time. At the same time, a majority of parents are feeling increasingly victimized by a culture of violence that makes it difficult to protect their children against influences they find to be inappropriate. This bill would help empower parents by putting them back in the driver's seat. It would ensure that children can't buy games the video game industry itself has determined to be inappropriate for them.


I. Prohibition on Selling Mature and Adults Only video games to minors

The centerpiece of this bill is a prohibition against any business for selling or renting a Mature, Adults-Only, or Ratings Pending game to a person who is younger than seventeen. This provision is not aimed at punishing retailers who act in good faith to enforce the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) system. That's why retailers would have an affirmative defense if they were shown an identification they believed to be valid or have a system in place to display and enforce the ESRB system. Similar prohibitions have become law in the last several months in California, Michigan, and Illinois.


II. Annual Analysis of the Ratings System

Since the bill relies on the video game industry to continue rating the appropriateness of games for minors, this bill requires an annual, independent analysis of game ratings. This analysis will help ensure that the ESRB ratings system accurately reflects the content in each game and that the ratings system does not change significantly over time.


III. Authority for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to Investigate Misleading Ratings

Part of the genesis of this bill was the revelation that the makers of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had included, through embedded code that was discovered and made accessible to the public, sexually explicit content inconsistent with the game's Mature rating. This bill requires the FTC to conduct an investigation to determine whether what happened with GTA: San Andreas is a pervasive problem. It also includes a Sense of Congress that the Commission shall take appropriate action if it determines that there is a pervasive problem.


IV. Authority to Register Complaints

This bill requires the Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP) of the FTC to ensure that consumers can file complaints if they find content to be misleading or deceptive and requires the BCP to report on the number of such complaints to Congress.


V. Annual Retailer Audit

This bill authorizes the FTC to conduct an annual, random audit of retailers - sometimes referred to as a secret shopper survey – to determine how easy it is for young people to purchase Mature and Adults Only video games and report the findings to Congress.

Tags: esrb, fcc, hillary clinton, lieberman, nimf, ratings
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