He's high-profile, ambitious, and definitely not afraid to pursue indictments, issue subpoenas and drag corporations into court. He's Eliot Spitzer, New York's Attorney General. He's also the state's leading candidate for governor in November.
And - just this morning - the Democrat went on record as being in favor of two of the video game industry's recurring nightmares: retail legislation as well as a universal rating system for all media.
Spitzer spoke at the Buffalo-Niagara YMCA, spending much of his time talking about corporate responsibility in marketing to children. Although he also hit on tobacco usage, gun availability and junk food, a good part of Spitzer's speech was directed at media influence. He clearly fired a shot across the bow of the video game industry. His remarks, in part:
"Like all parents, I know it is increasingly difficult to protect our children from negative influences. Parents and schools need the government's help in curbing irresponsible behavior by corporations that market harmful products to our kids."
"...today I want to talk about a different kind of 'corporate responsibility,' one that does not get nearly the attention it deserves: that is a responsibility for corporations to stop treating our children as fair game for products that cause them great harm. And if corporations fail to live up to that responsibility it is vital that government step in..."
"...self-regulation doesn't always work... we have learned that when self-regulation fails, government must step in... these two lessons have informed my actions as Attorney General and they will inform my actions as Governor. Today, I would like to lay out a strategy to ensure we start defining deviancy up instead of down, to make sure our children are not left to be mere prey in a race to the lowest common denominator. "
"...we must do more to protect our children from excessive sex and violence in the media... Many children spend more time interacting with media - whether it be television, radio, video games or the Internet - than they do in school or with their parents."
"...media content has gotten more graphic, more violent and more sex-based... And it is not just television anymore. We now have to deal with video games, the Internet and a proliferation of other media that have made our jobs as parents even more challenging."
"The effects of media's influence on our children have been well documented. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that 'Playing violent video games is to adolescent's violent behavior what smoking is to lung cancer...' Industry leaders must confront the failure of self-regulation... As Senator Clinton has urged, industry leaders like the... the (ESRB) for videogames... should come together to set uniform rating standards across all forms of media. Currently, we have an incomprehensible web of different rating systems that are inconsistently applied. A uniform rating system would make it easier for parents..."
"While we wait for these organizations to take action, New York State must take matters into its own hands. We should follow the lead of states like California, Illinois and Michigan and pass 'Safe Games' legislation, which would ban the sale and rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to children under 18. The (ESRB) does have a rating system that warns consumers of content unsuitable for children, but it's often ignored. Laws protecting underage kids from harmful products are nothing new – laws preventing kids from buying cigarettes serve as just one example. But currently, nothing under New York State law prohibits a fourteen-year old from walking into a video store and buying a game labeled 'Adult Only' - a game like 'Grand Theft Auto,' which rewards a player for stealing cars and beating people up. Children can even simulate having sex with a prostitute and then killing her."
"'Safe Games' legislation should also require retailers to post signs explaining the video game rating system to customers. Democrats and Republicans both have bills that would address these problems, but they have gone nowhere. It is time to make this a priority."
GP: Aside from Hillary Clinton, Spitzer just might be the highest-profile politician to jump into this fight. This is definitely not good news for the video game industry. We've asked the ESA and ESRB for reaction, and will publish those as they are received.