Video Virus

Criminalizing game sales


Last year Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) said the electronic entertainment that kids enjoy is "a kind of contagion," a "silent epidemic" threatening "long-term public health damage to many, many children and therefore to society." Now she wants to find out if it's a problem.

In March a Senate committee approved Clinton's bill authorizing government-funded research on "the effects of viewing and using electronic media, including television, computers, video games, and the Internet, on children's cognitive, social, physical, and psychological development." Fittingly, since Clinton likens these diversions to a plague, the research would be overseen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Before a single CDC grantee has confirmed there's a problem, Clinton already has proposed a solution: the Family Entertainment Protection Act, which would make it a federal crime to sell video games with "mature" or "adults only" ratings to anyone under the age of 17. The law also would instruct the Federal Trade Commission to evaluate the industry's rating system, conduct secret annual audits of retailers, investigate "hidden" game content, and collect consumer complaints about ratings and content descriptions.

In a March report from the Progress & Freedom Foundation, Adam Thierer warns that Clinton's bill could undermine "the most sophisticated, descriptive, and effective ratings system ever devised by any major media sector in America." Clinton and her co-sponsors claim "parents are struggling to keep up with being informed about content." Yet all they have to do, Thierer notes, is look at the box or check the title at the Web site of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.