According to an official statement from Senator Hillary Clinton's office, the Democratic Senator for New York will team with Senator Joe Lieberman to introduce the Family Entertainment Protection Act into U.S. Congress when it reconvenes in two weeks.
Senator Clinton was originally motivated
to take action on this issue when it was revealed in July that Rockstar Games had embedded what the statement describes as "illicit sexual content" in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
, and this new bill, while preserving the existing ESRB ratings, intends to make it illegal to sell games to minors in contravention of the current guidelines.
"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," said Senator Clinton. Senator Clinton acknowledges that video games are fun and entertaining and does not support any limitations on the production or sale of games to adults. "This is about protecting children," she commented.
"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," Senator Lieberman added.
The Family Entertainment Protection Act is divided in five main areas:
I. Prohibition on Selling Mature and Adults Only video games to minors: The centerpiece of this bill is a prohibition against any business for selling or renting a Mature, Adults-Only, or Ratings Pending game to a person who is younger than seventeen. This provision is not aimed at punishing retailers who act in good faith to enforce the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) system, according to Clinton. That's why retailers would have an affirmative defense if they were shown an identification they believed to be valid or have a system in place to display and enforce the ESRB system.
II. Annual Analysis of the Ratings System: Since the bill relies on the video game industry to continue rating the appropriateness of games for minors, this bill requires an annual, independent analysis of game ratings. This analysis will "help ensure that the ESRB ratings system accurately reflects the content in each game and that the ratings system does not change significantly over time."
III. Authority for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to Investigate Misleading Ratings: This bill requires the FTC to conduct an investigation to determine whether what happened with GTA: San Andreas
is a pervasive problem. It also includes a Sense of Congress that the Commission shall take appropriate action if it determines that there is a pervasive problem.
IV. Authority to Register Complaints: This bill requires the Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP) of the FTC to ensure that consumers can file complaints if they find content to be misleading or deceptive and requires the BCP to report on the number of such complaints to Congress.
V. Annual Retailer Audit: This bill authorizes the FTC to conduct an annual, random audit of retailers - sometimes referred to as a secret shopper survey - to determine how easy it is for young people to purchase Mature and Adults Only video games and report the findings to Congress.
A number of video game industry trade bodies, including the ESA, have already issued statements countering Clinton's proposal, and Gamasutra will have further coverage on reaction to the Family Entertainment Protection Act in the near future.