June 14, 2006 4:12 PM PDT

Politicians lash out at video game industry

WASHINGTON--Politicians on Wednesday assailed what one called "twisted, homicidal imagery" in video games like "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" and suggested confining sales of certain games to a sort of red-light district.

At a hearing here, members of a U.S. House of Representatives panel on consumer protection said gaming companies aren't doing enough to protect children from explicit products and called for a re-examination of the voluntary ratings system used by the industry.

Committee Chairman Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican, and others also suggested that certain explicit games don't deserve traditional free speech protections. "Building a video game around a premise based on very realistic, cold-blooded assassinations of innocent bystanders and police" is "more akin to hate speech, not free speech," he said.

The meeting brought a renewed focus on a controversy revealed last year related to the wildly popular game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." The committee played a brief video of shooting scenes from the game, which created an uproar last year when the public learned of a sexually explicit scene embedded in its code.

The Federal Trade Commission recently published a proposed settlement with the game's developers after completing a yearlong investigation requested by outraged members of Congress. The agreement would require the game to strictly adhere to ratings rules or face fines of $11,000 per violation.

That deal came under attack by Michigan Republican Fred Upton, who said it provided "no consequences" for developer Rockstar Games. "I would've liked to think they would be fined millions of dollars for the trash they put out across the country with the label they got," he said.

Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau, said she understood those concerns, "but the fact is, simply, the commission does not have the statutory authority to impose civil penalties for Rockstar's conduct."

Upton said Congress may need to consider new laws to give the regulators heightened powers.

Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky said she was "especially concerned about those who, in their zeal to make a buck, make massive loopholes for those under 17 to get games rated 'Mature' or above." She said it's "easy as the click of the mouse to get mature-rated games from online stores like Wal-Mart."

Customers must check a box indicating they are older than 17 before being clear for online purchases of "Mature"-rated games, and the retailer doesn't sell "Adults-only" games, Wal-Mart Senior Vice President Gary Severson told the panel. When pressed by Schakowsky, he acknowledged that the check-box procedure is a "limitation of the Internet" and worth another look.

A couple of pending proposals in Congress would impose stiff fines on businesses that sold video games with a "Mature" or "Adults-only" rating to minors. But it's unclear how such bills will fare, as a handful of state and local laws criminalizing the sale of such games to minors have already been tossed out by courts as unconstitutional.

"For that reason, I believe self-regulation (by the video game industry) remains the best method in providing information to parents," said Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat.

Such self-policing will only be effective if the government forces the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the organization that rates the games, to make its review process more transparent and to submit new games to independent researchers for additional vetting, said Kimberly Thompson, a Harvard University professor who studies video game content. Her suggestions drew praise from Stearns.

Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, which represents the video and computer game industry, cautioned politicians not to overreact, reminding them that 85 percent of the games sold last year were deemed appropriate for children under 17. "No rating system, no parental control system will work unless the parent is engaged," he said. "But if the parent wants to be involved, wants to be informed, the tools are there."

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9 comments

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Who will protect us from Government numbskulls?
At what point did the Government decide that video games are more dangerous than hurricanes which have destroyed a city, or terrorists which have destroyed lives? This is just one more example of how out of touch our supposed "representatives" really are. Parents should be responsible for monitoring what our children have access to. As a parent I choose what my son sees and plays. I do not rely on a government full of people who cannot govern their own lives, much less the well-being of our country, to decide what my son will be exposed to.
Posted by Batotahell (35 comments )
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Welcome to the nanny state
I get real tired of people telling me what to do "for my own good".
Posted by RGarrard (22 comments )
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Citizens need to lash out at politicians
These folks just throwing up anything to get reelected this Fall.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.techknowcafe.com/content/view/484/42/" target="_newWindow">http://www.techknowcafe.com/content/view/484/42/</a>
Posted by (156 comments )
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Citizens need to lash out at politicians
These folks will support anything to get reelected.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.techknowcafe.com/content/view/484/42/" target="_newWindow">http://www.techknowcafe.com/content/view/484/42/</a>
Posted by (156 comments )
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They have nothing better to do...
than try to be the parents of America's kids and create a nanny state from the twisted visions in their heads. Of course I suspect this is little more than an attempt to make themselves look good for elections.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
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Elections Ploy
This is simply an ploy for congressmen to get there name in the paper for being "against the corruption of our youth" through violent videogames. This is also an attempt to get on the good side of older voters and parents who may not be familiar with videogames, and scare them with talk of Grand Theft Auto and other games. If you actually look at the issue, video games has by far the best rating system out of any entertainment industry. If there needs to be more legislation on entertainment it should be violent movies first, as opposed to violent video games.
Posted by crayton3 (1 comment )
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Hypocrites
These politicians are HYPOCRITES. If any one of them has read a fiction book or gone to a summer blockbuster movie, they are just as guilty as us gamers. Violence in movies and video games is an escape. Its the viewers chance to experience something they would not normally do in the real world or is too dangerous to actually do in the real world.

I agree with the other posters, this is election time grandstanding and needs to be categorized as such.

I've written my letters to my congressman, have you? Get on it!
Posted by Axiomatic13 (24 comments )
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Deeper issue
The entire enterainment industry (not just game developers) needs to take to heart the suggestion that violence in entertainment (whether it be active in a game or passive in a movie or song lyric) can cross the line from free speech to hate speech. We need to be asking ourselves WHY is it desirable to virtually experience "something they would not normally do in the real world" for some types of activities? One can reasonably argue there are some experiences that if you find them desirable, virtual or not, it probably indicates your personal moral/ethical compass is distinctly out of alignment. Persons with a strong religious grounding refer to these desires as "sins."

It is because the enterainment industry is not addressing this question itself that politicians are getting spooled up. I agree that heavy-handed government regulation is not a good answer. That said, I also believe producing an entertainment product of dubious character and stamping it "mature" is not a good answer either.
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
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Why just games ?
By these arguments, they should also make it illegal to sell an R rated movie to children under 17 as well. Let's see how that flies with the movie industry. The ratings are already there. Make the parents do their freaking job
Posted by cocob2 (1 comment )
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