Commentary > Game Over
Congress vs. Gamers: Round two
As Baca introduces 'protect children from video game' bill, the readers speak up.
February 4, 2003: 12:37 PM EST

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Later today, Rep. Joe Baca (D. Calif.) is expected to stand on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and introduce the "Protect Children from Video Game Sex and Violence Act of 2003."

An altered version of a similar proposal that died in committee last year, the bill proposes making it a federal crime to sell or rent "adult video games" to people under the age of 18. Adult, in this instance, would mean a game featuring nudity, sexual conduct or "other content harmful to minors." Violators of the act would be slapped with a fine of up to $1,000 the first time, up to $5,000 the second time and a minimum of $5,000 and/or 90 days in jail for subsequent offenses.

This year's iteration of the act is a little more far reaching than expected and goes beyond the industry's own rating system. Currently, games that earn an "M" rating are considered suitable for anyone age 17 and older. And the somewhat ambiguous wording "content harmful to minors" is bound to upset opponents.

CNN/Money has obtained a late draft of the bill, which defines the term (in part) as "video game content that predominantly appeals to minors' morbid interest in violence or minors' prurient interest in sex, is patently offensive to the prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material for minors and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors."

Renting "Grand Theft Auto" to a 17 year old would earn you a $1,000 fine under Baca's bill.

Here's the problem: Rep. Baca's handle on what is 'patently offensive' among the adult community when it comes to video and PC games may not be as strong as he thinks it is. The average gamer is 28 years old, according to the Interactive Digital Software Association. Of the estimated 145 million Americans who play video games, roughly 87 million are adults who likely hold much different views than Baca has been hearing.

The bill has undergone a few changes since I discussed it three weeks ago. Cyber Cafes are not mentioned and, while it has greatly expanded its definition of certain terms, it reads very similar to last year's proposal, which had more than two dozen co-sponsors.

As such, it has many of the same problems. Violent content is not uncommon in games. Sexual content is less common, but not unheard of. However, compared to the level of sex or violence in movies and television, the gaming industry offers minimal doses. And the thought of fining or jailing cashiers for selling or renting a game to a minor is absurd. (Notice ticket-takers at movie theaters aren't penalized or incarcerated for letting a 16-year old into "The Matrix" or "Analyze That.")

In a previous column, I asked readers for their thoughts on the bill, as well as their suggestions on how to keep "M"-rated games out of children's hands. The response was overwhelming, with hundreds of emails pouring in. Even more overwhelming was the solidarity of opinion: This is an issue for parents, not the government.

I can regulate which games I want my kids to play. I don't need some congressman to do it for me. Darren

I'm a parent of a seven year old who loves his PS2. ... I know what I consider acceptable is wildly different from that of my neighbor and therein lies the problem with blanket regulation. Mark

There are a couple hundred other emails echoing this sentiment. And I wholeheartedly agree with most of them. The problem is too many parents refuse to take an active interest in what their children play yet quickly point a finger at the industry if trouble arises. Game ratings do an exemplary job of detailing content that could be objectionable, but very few parents seem to realize this, something that several readers pointed out.

Maybe a little more focus on the education of parents is in order. 'squeaks'

Have the retailers advertise the rating system more. Most stores I go to do not have any signs or flyers showing the customer what the rating system is and how they can use it to make a decision on buying the game. Jeffery

Most major computer/technology stores such as CompUSA, Best Buy, etc. conduct training classes on everything from how to install a PC to how to use the Internet. Perhaps they ought to add a class to their roster: "Fun 101 - A Parents Guide to Gaming" Melody

Of course, not everyone was willing to let retailers or the gaming industry off the hook.

The IDSA and ESRB say they have no power to make retailers enforce game ratings, but they do. Publishers could easily impose sanctions on retailers that sell games to minors, giving them smaller shipments than they request or not giving them access to M-rated games at all. Kyle

Check ID at the Cash Register just like they do with Alcohol Sales (Beer & Wine). Works for that doesn't it? Lee

Yarr! Here ye be clicking for previous columns.

Have Retailers treat Mature rated games the same way that magazine publishing and the movie industry treat X rated material. Have Mature rated games segregated from the rest of the games on a special rack, much like Playboy. Kurt

The most interesting questions were about enforcement, since if passed, this would be a federal law.

Which federal agency is going to enforce this law? Do we need or want the federal government to add a Department of Videogames? The FBI and CIA's time and resources are better spent on homeland security instead of enforcing this law. - Eduardo

Good question, Eduardo.  Top of page

Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.

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