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New York politician calls for videogame regulation

US politicians have gained a new champion in their battle against the sale of violent videogames to minors, as New York Attorney General and Governor hopeful Eliot Spitzer voices his support of governmental regulations.

US politicians have gained a new champion in their battle against the sale of violent videogames to minors, as New York Attorney General and Governor hopeful Eliot Spitzer voices his support of governmental regulations.

Spitzer asserts that political intervention, in addition to educational reform, is a necessary measure to protect children from negative or harmful media influences, stating: "Parents and schools need the government's help in curbing irresponsible behaviour by corporations that market harmful products to our kids."

Advocating a "uniform ratings system" that would be maintained and controlled by the government, Spitzer also supported recent legislative efforts introduced by California, Michigan, Illinois and, most recently, Oklahoma, although he admits the failure of almost all of those efforts on constitutional grounds and hopes to change that for his state.

He went on to largely dismiss the current ESRB self regulatory system, labelling it as ineffective and largely ignored, despite evidence to the contrary submitted by several industry trade bodies.

"The Entertainment Software Rating Board does have a rating system that warns consumers of content unsuitable for children, but it's often ignored," Spitzer stated. "Laws protecting underage kids from harmful products are nothing new - laws preventing kids from buying cigarettes serve as just one example. But currently, nothing under New York State law prohibits a fourteen-year old from walking into a video store and buying a game labelled Adult Only."

The industry was quick to return fire on the comments, Video Software Dealers Association president Bo Anderson issuing a statement which maintains that Spitzer's comments are based on a misunderstanding of the effectiveness of current ESRB ratings, commenting: "the latest findings of the Federal Trade Commission on the ability of minors to purchase Mature-rated video games shows a substantial increase in self-regulation, particularly by major retailers."

The VSDA provided figures showing a 362 per cent increase in the enforcement of store policies restricting the sale of M-rated games since the original FTC shopping survey in 2000, almost doubling between 2003 and the most recent study. The turn-down rate in national retail chains where the vast majority of games are purchased is currently 65 per cent, and much effort is going into improving that figure on a daily basis.

"The best outcome for parents and their kids would be for Attorney General Spitzer to add his name to the effort to remind parents about the game ratings system and assist and empower them in making informed choices for their children," Anderson concluded.

Adding comment to the debate, ESA president Doug Lowenstein, who remains actively involved in supporting industry self-regulation and opposes the various stringent legislative proposals introduced in recent months, stated: "A uniform rating system is a good idea in principle. But there are practical problems involved with applying the same standards to fundamentally different media that make realization of this ideal immensely challenging. By imposing a 'one size fits all' formula on these widely divergent entertainment mediums, a universal ratings system could actually create confusion, not simplicity."

ESRB ratings board president Patricia Vance reiterated comments on the effectiveness of the current regulation system, stating: "ESRB ratings are clear as day on the front and back of virtually every video game sold nationwide, and they provide consumers with useful and easy to understand information with which to decide about whether they consider a game appropriate for their family. Consumer research shows that 74 per cent of parents with children who play video games are regularly using the ESRB ratings."

"We would be happy to provide information about our ratings to Mr. Spitzer, and hope we can find ways to cooperatively ensure that children play age-appropriate games, as we have done with other Attorneys General around the country," Vance concluded.

It is unknown at this stage exactly what measures Spitzer plans to implement, or, perhaps more importantly, how those measures will differ from the slew of failed legislative proposals put forward in other states - each of which has been dismissed not only for being overtly vague in their definition of what constitutes an inappropriate videogame, but also for being based on unsubstantiated and inconclusive evidentiary support.