If, as Wal-mart officials maintain, Jack Thompson's Florida lawsuit wasn't what motivated the retail giant to block Bully pre-orders from its website last week, what is?
One answer may lie in June 14th's contentious House subcommittee hearing during which chair Cliff Stearns (R-FL) grilled several video game industry executives including Wal-mart's Gary Severson. Here's what Rep. Stearns had to say to Wal-mart during that hearing:
"I'll start with the questioning. I went, Mr. Severson, I went to the Wal-mart website, where you sell Grand Theft Auto and it's rated "M" there on the the website... (the website said) by ordering this item you are certifying that you are 17 years of age. If you agree to the above terms click 'I agree.' If you click, 'I agree,' you can get this pretty easily."
Stearns next launches into a somewhat confused explanation of last year's Hot Coffee scandal:
"So, Mr. Lowenstein, what we're talking here is not this singling out Grand Theft Auto. We're talking as Mr. Walsh saw, a grander problem here in which children can get access to Grand Theft Auto."
"Or even people that get this game don't realize that once they get it - as I understand - the manufacturer of this game, Rockstar, put in two codes. One, dealing with explicit sex and another, I guess, with explicit violence that is not part of the game."
"And it turns out that somebody in Holland put on the Internet, Mr. Severson, a way that a child could get that connection so that he or she could go into Grand Theft Auto and, by gosh, can get into this whole scene. And Mr. and Mrs. America have no idea about it."
"And yet, it's easy to go to your website. And you might stop selling the game, but just today I can go onto your website and get this and I can have anybody agree (that they are of age). And bingo, they got the game and then they go to the other to get this (Hot Coffee mod)."
Despite Rep. Stearns rather flawed grasp on the Hot Coffee episode, his message, delivered on Capitol Hill, directly to Wal-mart's number-one video game exec, was clear: Congress has concerns about how retailers enforce video game ratings while conducting web-based sales.