Some in Congress Want to Regulate Sex and Violence in Video Games

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - A bipartisan group of House lawmakers announced their latest efforts Wednesday to make it more difficult for children to gain access to video games with violent or sexual content. Representatives of the videogame industry believe parents need to be more aware of their rating system and what games their children are playing.

Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif) said he got involved in the issue of videogame sex and violence after parents in his district began to call his office about the wildly popular videogame Grand Theft Auto III.

"They were concerned about the graphic sexual and violent content in the game and about how easy it is for kids to purchase these games," he said. "Parents are not aware of the content of these games. The more they learn and the more educated they are the more support we receive."

Grand Theft Auto III is rated "M" for mature audiences and is not supposed to be sold to anyone age 17 or younger under the industry's self-imposed ratings system. The game challenges players to earn points by car-jacking vehicles; assaulting and killing drivers; injuring and killing pedestrians and police officers; and kidnapping, raping, robbing and murdering prostitutes.

Baca's Protect Children from Video Game Sex and Violence Act of 2003 (H.R. 669) would fine videogame retailers $1,000 for the first offense of renting or selling an adult-rated videogame like Grand Theft Auto III to anyone age 17 or younger. The second offense would carry a $1,000 to $5,000 fine and subsequent offenses would be fined at not less than $5,000.

"Do we want our children to portray taking a prostitute and raping someone? They're actually feeling the emotions and the feelings from the games that they are playing," Baca complained. "We shouldn't be teaching that to our children. That is wrong."

Jason Della Rocca, program director with the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), acknowledged that not all modern video games are suitable for children.

"Their concerns are legitimate in terms of youth culture," he said. "I'm sure they feel they're doing a service to the populace in terms of protecting the children."

But Della Rocca questions whether the majority of games are even potentially harmful to minors.

"I don't think that there's any clear idea or proof of harm or damage or anything of this nature," he said. "There's never, ever, ever been an example of a videogame actually causing harm to anyone."

Della Rocca believes lawmakers are doing a disservice to parents by "intruding" in areas where parents must make decisions.

"It shouldn't be the state or the government that censors and controls content," he argued. "Having parents rely on retailers to enforce that ... is actually abdicating responsibility for the parents even more so [than it is abdicated] today."

Adults often make purchasing decisions for their children, Della Rocca believes, based on memories of the video games they played a generation ago.

"Many parents still assume that games are like Pac Man or like Space Invaders and are just like harmless toys that don't really contain any sort of content that they may not agree with," he added. "If you go in with the mindset as a parent that assumes that every game is like a Disney cartoon and then you show them BMX-XXX or [Grand Theft Auto], well, of course, they're going to be stunned and say, 'Oh my God, what is this?'"

But Baca argued that his proposal is no different than other laws society has embraced to protect children from decisions they are not yet prepared to make.

"We do have laws that are already in place right now that deal with alcohol, tobacco and pornography," he said. But yet, when it comes to video games, there is no legislation or enforcement at all and it's on a volunteer basis."

Both sides have statistics and studies supporting their positions, along with a litany of experts willing to testify before Congress that exposure to video games with graphic sexual and violent content is or is not harmful to children. Both sides also agree that more needs to be done to help parents keep mature-rated games out of the hands of children unless they have their parents' permission.

Baca believes the way to do that is through enforcement. Della Rocca believes education is the key.

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