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VSDA Reacts to Clinton/Lieberman Bill
posted by: Shawn Rider
date posted: 10:47 AM Wed Nov 30th, 2005
last revision: 10:47 AM Wed Nov 30th, 2005

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Click to read.Senators Hillary Clinton and Joseph Lieberman have announced plans to introduce new legislation entitled the Family Entertainment Protect Act (FEPA). The law would make it illegal to sell Mature-rated games to minors, create a formal avenue for consumer complaints, and initiate an annual review and \"secret-shopper\" survey of retailer compliance.

In a statement posted on her website, Senator Clinton stated that the FEPA \"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.\"

However, in a statement released today, the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) argues that the Act is ultimately unconstitutional:

\"What Senator Clinton is proposing has been enacted in various forms in several states and localities in recent years and has been found to be an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of expression in every instance where courts have ruled on the laws.\"

Whether unconstitutional or not, the issue at hand is anything but clear. As if to illustrate potential confusion on the topic, the posting on Senator Clinton\'s website quotes Senator Lieberman stating his reason for supporting the Act, which illustrates an apparent confusion between \"videos\" (movies, we presume) and \"games\" (interactive software).

Senator Lieberman is quoted as saying, \"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.\"

In fact, scientific and cultural research about the connection between violent media and violent action has been anything but clear. Conflicting studies are cited on both sides of the argument, and in 2002 a group of academics and researchers formed the Free Expression Policy Project specifically to combat the notion that violent videogames inspire violent behavior.

At the same time, the VSDA statement misuses figures from the 2005 National Institute for Media and the Family (NIMF) Videogames Report Card. They cite that the NIMF report shows that \"while there remains room for improvement, retailers are committed to video game ratings education and enforcement.\"

In fact, the 2005 Videogame Report Card states almost exactly the opposite. Discussing enforcement of ESRB ratings on videogames, the report concludes that \"this year it appears that retailers are actually more negligent in enforcing their policies than last year. As stated earlier in the report, it seems that retailers would rather appear as if they care about children than actually take simple steps to protect them.\"

Clinton and Lieberman hope to quell the debate by legislating mandates that are very similar to current ESRB guidelines. There are five major points to the bill:

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

    The bill will make it illegal for retailers to sell Mature or Adults Only games to minors, and will impose fines and penalties on retailers who violate this policy.

  2. Annual Analysis of the Ratings System

    The FEPA requires the ESRB to continue rating the games, but it will mandate an annual independent review committee to inspect the appropriateness of ratings and allowed content.

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

    This would put game publishers such as Rockstar Games, who were found to have included content in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas without informing the ESRB, at direct risk of federal investigation and possibly liable for other damages and fines.

  4. Authority to Register Complaints

    Consumers will be given a clear path to register complaints about game content and ratings or retailers selling inappropriate games to minors. These complaints will be registered by the Bureau of Consumer Protection, an office of the FTC

  5. Annual Retailer Audit

    Secret shoppers will conduct random, annual audits of retailers on the authority of the FTC to check for compliance with the law.

Senators Clinton and Lieberman plan to introduce the bill when the next session of Congress commences. The VSDA hopes the two Senators will reconsider their legislation and reiterates its offer to \"work together to educate parents about video game ratings and encourage them effectively to utilize these ratings.\"

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