New York State Senate passes new video game rating legislation

A press release has been issued to announce the passing of new legislation regarding video game ratings, sales, and violence awareness in New York State.

Introduced four days ago by Senator Andrew Lanza, the bill enforces the use of visible rating labelling and makes the selling of a rated game to an innapropriate buyer an illegal offense. So far, nothing the film industry hasn’t had to do for years. 

Where the legislation differs from the standard for DVDs however, is in its formation of both an advisory council pertaining to youth violence, interactive media and the ESRB, and a parent-teacher violence awareness program.

The advisory council is set to include the likes of parents, teachers, psychologists, child welfare workers and games industry members, and will monitor the effectiveness of the ESRB as well as reviewing regulation and public education on the matter of violent games. The parent-teacher program will “will empower parents and teachers to work with students and children on issues related to violence in video games”, and will be funded by fines on retailers who break the rules. 

This last part makes me rather ambivalent about the bill on the whole. Hit the jump for why, as well as the full press release.

While on the one hand, solidly enforced, standardised ratings can only be a positive step in making video games a “respectable” medium on a par with cinema, the advisory council and awareness initiatives are no doubt going to come under fire from some corners and have the bill accused of out of touch overkill and gamerphobia.

Lanza himself doesn’t help this assumption when he cites amateur Flash game V-Tech Massacre as a reason the legislation is needed. Of course the bill covers gaming awareness, but using such an extreme and emotive example of gaming violence (and one created outside of the US at that) over any one of countless higher profile professional games isn’t going to win him any moderation points.

However the outcome of this all depends on the tone of how things are executed. If we’re being honest, there can be few separate to those involved who genuinely expect the bill to bring about any major changes outside of the ratings measures. With the ESRB already well-established and the games industry now of Hollywood-rivaling scale, the other initiatives feel like rather a token gesture.

If things are run well though, it could be a good piece of PR for the industry if nothing else. Let’s face it, the best way to engage the hysterical Jack Thompsons of the world is to sidestep the engagement altogether. The more we argue against these people, the more our responses dignify their ravings, and to quietly and sanely lead by positive example instead will definitely help in painting us as the good guys we are.

Regardless of their actual effectiveness, at least being seen to be sympathetic to initiatives like these has got to do good work in drawing a favourable comparison between us and the jabbering publicity-hounds on the other side. As long as no-one gets stupid and tries to use this as a hitting stick, it shouldn’t be a big deal. 

And now the full release:

FOR RELEASE: Immediate, Monday, May 21, 2007
https://www.senate.state.ny.us

SENATE PASSES LEGISLATION TO CRACK DOWN ON VIDEO GAME VIOLENCE
Bill Would Establish Advisory Council On Interactive Media and Youth Violence

The New York State Senate today passed legislation, sponsored by Senator Andrew Lanza (R-I, Staten Island), that would take steps to crack down on video game violence, and combat and reduce children’s exposure to violent and inappropriate materials within these games.

The bill (S.5888) would establish the Advisory Council on Interactive Media and Youth Violence to review the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating system and its effectiveness, and recommend additional steps that can be taken to curb children’s access and exposure to such “adult-only” material.  The advisory council would consist of nine members and six ex-officio members.

The bill would also require New York State’s retailers to place ratings labels on all video games, and establish a Parent-Teacher Anti-Violence Awareness Program to work with students and children on issues related to violence in video games and seek to increase awareness of the ratings system on games.

“The recent release of ‘V-Tech Massacre,’ a sick game which exploits the Virginia Tech University tragedy, is a painful reminder of the culture of violence which has severe consequences on our youth and society,” said Senator Lanza, Chairman of the Senate Task Force on Youth Violence and the Entertainment Industry. “The emotions and behaviors of our children are far too often shaped by the virtual reality of violent movies and video games. It is imperative that we find a way to prevent these virtual realities from continuing to fuel and teach the violent behavior which is corrupting our youth. My bill will provide parents with important information about violent video games so they are better able to make informed decisions.”

“Everywhere we look, violence surrounds us and it is unfortunate that our children are exposed to this explicit material, whether found in video games, movies or on television,” said Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno. “Our children our spending too much time watching television and playing video games without any adult supervision, and we cannot sit back and allow them to be exposed to this senseless violence anymore.  I applaud Senator Lanza for his leadership and we will continue to push the Assembly to take action against these issues.”

“No child should be playing ‘games’ that involve mutilating people with chain saws, having sex with prostitutes, or dealing drugs,” said Senator Martin J. Golden (R-C, Brooklyn), Chairman of the Senate Critical Choices Task Force.  “This hyper-violent material is mind-boggling in its brutality, and our kids should simply not be exposed to it.  These commonsense proposals will better inform and empower parents throughout our State, while also helping to prevent our kids from gaining access to these video games.” 

Currently, video games are rated “E” for everyone, “T” for teens, “M” for mature, and “AO” for adults only. A study by a group of Harvard University researchers published in 2004 reviewed a random sample of 81 “T” rated video games and found that 48 percent contained violence, sexual themes, substance use, gambling, or profanity that was not noted on the game box as it should have been. In addition, a recent study published in Applied Developmental Psychology found that only twenty-five percent of parents surveyed said that they “always” check the industry rating of computer and/or video games before renting or buying them.
 
This legislation would establish the following:

> Advisory Council on Interactive Media and Youth Violence — would establish a new Advisory Council on Media, Entertainment Software and Youth Violence, which will review and make recommendations on the effectiveness of the current Entertainment Software Ratings Boards (ESRB) ratings system in keeping violent video games out of the hands of youth. The panel, which will include parents, educators, experts in child psychology, child welfare advocates, concerned citizens and industry representatives, will also develop policies relating to public education and advocacy against youth violence, examine efforts being undertaken in other states, and develop recommendations for additional ways of regulating the exposure of youth to these games.

> Rating System Labeling Requirement — under current State law, there is no requirement that retailers place labels on video games sold in New York.  To address this shortcoming, would establish a new requirement that every video game sold in New York by a retailer or over the Internet, whether new or for resale, must have a clearly displayed rating indication on the game cover or elsewhere (such as on a website).  Individuals who violate these provisions will face fines and penalties. 

> Parent-Teacher Anti-Violence Awareness Program — would also establish a new Parent-Teacher Anti-Violence Awareness Program, which will empower parents and teachers to work with students and children on issues related to violence in video games. The program will also seek to increase awareness of the ratings system on games, and the importance of appropriate parental supervision.  The Anti-Violence Program would be funded through fines on retailers who violate the new labeling law. 
 
The bill was sent to the Assembly.

[Via Kotaku

David Houghton