A new bill before the U.S. Congress seeks to mandate age checks for customers who wish to purchase M (Mature) or AO (Adult Only) rated videogames.
Variety has reported on the bill, introduced by Republican Lee Terry and Democrat Jim Matheson and known as the "Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act." Along with requiring ID checks for the purchase of games, retailers would also be required to post an explanation of the rating systems in their stores. Any retailer violating either aspect of the bill would be hit with a $5000 fine.
"The images and themes in some videogames are shocking and troublesome. In some games high scores are often earned by players who commit 'virtual' murder, assault and rape," said Terry. "Many young children are walking into stores and are able to buy or rent these games without their parents even knowing about it. Many retailers have tried to develop voluntary policies to make sure mature games do not end up in the hands of young kids, but we need to do more to protect our children."
Similar laws in several states have been struck down for violating the First Amendment, but Terry says this proposal will avoid such challenges because it does not involve the content of the games themselves. "It simply requires the retailer to post what the industry has defined as "mature" and "adults only" so that parents can know, and requires checking of identification," he said.
The bill has the support of the Parents Television Council, according to Dan Isett, public policy director for the group. "The entertainment industry would have us believe that these brutally violent videogames have little effect on the player, and that a ratings system exists that supposedly prevents the same of mature-rated games to minors. Yet the Federal Trade Commission has found that more than 40 percent of all kids were able to walk into a store and leave with an M-rated game, despite assurance from the videogame industry and retailers that safeguards were in place to protect children from games that are clearly inappropriate for them."
The most recent FTC study actually found that only 20 percent of children were able to purchase M-rated videogames, compared to the 35 percent who were able to enter an R-rated movie and 47 percent who could purchase an R-rated DVD. The movie and music industries are not being targeted by Congress for special child-protecting legislation.