Federal Legislation on Mature Games Announced

WASHINGTON — Federal law that would prevent the sale to minors of video games classified as “violent’ or “mature” came one step closer to reality Friday when Senators Hillary Clinton and Joseph Lieberman announced they would propose such legislation before the year is out.

The proposed bill, called the Family Entertainment Protection Act, is scheduled to be introduced on the Senate floor when it reconvenes in two weeks.

Essentially a federal version of several existing state laws, such as those already passed in Illinois, Michigan and California, the law would impose hefty fines on violators and require retailers to face annual audits.

“There is a growing body of evidence that points to a link between violent videos and aggressive behavior in children,” Lieberman said. “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.”

The bill also would call for the Bureau of Consumer Protection, a branch of the Federal Trade Commission, to receive customer complaints, and an annual analysis of the video game industry’s ratings system. The FTC would be given the authority to investigate misleading ratings if they come about, though how it would determine violations of this sort was not disclosed, nor were the exact fines violators would face.

“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.

Launched concurrently with the senators’ pledge Friday was the National Institute on Media and the Family's 10th annual Video and Computer Game scorecard. The NIMF’s report blasted the industry this year, claiming young children were easily able to buy “mature” games at a number of popular retail outlets.

“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,” Clinton said.

Clinton was quick to point out, however, that her bill was not intended to violate the first amendment rights of video game developers.

“This is about protecting children,” Clinton said. “The Family Protection Act will in no way impede the sale of video games to consenting adults.”

Despite her assurances, however, Clinton’s intentions were not well-received by those in the video game industry.

In an open letter to both senators, Hal Halpin, president of the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, blasted the proposed bill, calling it as fundamentally misguided as it is fatally-flawed.

“The IEMA retailers committed voluntarily to a self-regulatory enforcement system substantially similar to the motion picture business, which the very same legislators hold up as the ‘Gold Standard,’” Halpin said. “We are making significant and tangible progress and have successfully implemented policies and procedures in each and every member company store across the country in just two year's time.”

Halpin said despite the difficulties in self-regulation, the government should not involve itself in determining what movies to watch, what music to listen to or what games to play.