As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter to Politicians & Parents

March 7, 2009 -

While the Utah State Senate mulls HB 353, a bill which would add age rating offenses to the state's existing Truth in Advertising law, ESRB President Patricia Vance has penned an open letter to "Utah's parents and leaders."

Vance called HB 353 a "grave mistake" and warned that it could undo years of effort by the ESRB and video game retailers to keep inappropriate content from underage players:

So why is this bill likely to put an end to those very efforts it seeks to support? On its face such an amendment makes good sense; after all, if a retailer says they’re going to do something, they should do it, right?

 

While the intent of this legislation would be to hold retailers accountable for compliance with their stated policies – presumably in that negligible 6% of instances where they fail to comply – the unfortunate reality is that it would introduce a liability that will likely force many retailers to seriously consider abandoning their voluntary policies and ratings education programs, undoing years of progress made on behalf of parents and their children.

The bill passed the Utah House, albeit in a somewhat diluted fashion, last week by a 70-2 margin.

For the full text of Vance's letter, hit the jump.

An Open Letter to Utah’s Parents and Leaders
March 6, 2009

As you read this, Utah legislators are preparing to pass legislation that risks, perhaps unintentionally, putting an end to hugely successful efforts to prevent children’s access to video games intended for older audiences. I write today in the hopes of averting this grave mistake, and to propose a more responsible course of action instead.

Legislation expanding Utah’s existing Truth in Advertising law (H.B. 353) would require that if a video game retailer promotes its adherence to a policy restricting the sale of video games rated M for Mature – which, like the R rating for movies, indicates it is recommended for those ages 17 and older – and then sells an M-rated game to anyone under the recommended age, they could be subject to a lawsuit, fines and/or the payment of additional costs and legal fees. In fact, all major retailers of video games currently have such policies, which they have put in place voluntarily and with which they are in compliance the vast majority of the time. According to a recent audit, Utah video game retailers enforce their store policies regarding the sale of M-rated games an impressive 94% of the time – without any laws or requirements that they do so. That level of compliance took many years to achieve, and speaks to the strong commitment of video game retailers to do the right thing.

So why is this bill likely to put an end to those very efforts it seeks to support? On its face such an amendment makes good sense; after all, if a retailer says they’re going to do something, they should do it, right? While the intent of this legislation would be to hold retailers accountable for compliance with their stated policies – presumably in that negligible 6% of instances where they fail to comply – the unfortunate reality is that it would introduce a liability that will likely force many retailers to seriously consider abandoning their voluntary policies and ratings education programs, undoing years of progress made on behalf of parents and their children.

It’s worth noting that when the Federal Trade Commission first began measuring retailer compliance with video game sales policies nationwide in 2000, a scant 15% of underage customers were turned away. However, the most recent such study reported in May 2008 found that national retailers refused to sell M-rated games to customers under 17 a remarkable 80% of the time, far surpassing the comparable rates of compliance for movies, DVDs, or music CDs rated for a mature audience. The unraveling of this substantial progress would be a tragic consequence, depriving parents of the assurance and control they currently have with respect to deciding which games their children can purchase and play.

Utah State Representative Michael Morley, the chief sponsor of this new amendment, was recently quoted in the Deseret News stating that, “if they’re one of those places that thinks, ‘Well, as long as they have a heartbeat and some money we’ll sell to them,’ then this won’t have any impact on them.” That statement reveals exactly why this law would
be so destructive. It would effectively penalize responsible retailers that have policies, and provide safe harbor for retailers that refuse to adopt a responsible policy in the first place. That is downright senseless. If the goal is to make sure our children are playing age-appropriate games, there is a better way.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), of which I am president, is a non-profit organization created in 1994 to help parents determine which computer and video games are appropriate for their children. Most retailers only carry games that have been rated by the ESRB, and game consoles and handheld devices include settings that parents can activate to block games by ESRB rating. Elected officials across the country, including Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, and groups like PTA have joined ESRB in helping educate the public about the rating system to great effect. The FTC recently reported that 73% of parents regularly use ESRB ratings when buying games for their children; 59% “never” allow their child to play an M-rated game, and 34% only do so “sometimes.”

The bottom line is that parents are more than capable of utilizing tools like the ratings to make the right choices for their families. And there is broad support of ESRB ratings from major retailers and the game industry alike. The proposed legislation is looking to fix a system that is not broken. Instead, we should all be focused on figuring out ways to encourage parents to use the excellent tools already available to them to make informed choices about the media their children consume. Punishing retailers for promoting responsible sales policies is irrational and counter-productive. I write in the sincere hope that Utah chooses to empower its parents with information rather than undo the substantial progress made by retailers to date to serve the best interests of Utah’s children.

With warm regards,
Patricia E. Vance
President


Comments

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

Well Adult rated games should not be given to kidsr4 nintendo ds as it imparts severe impact on their mind and they tend to become pervert. laptop reviews
Gavin Williams

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter to

If I was a retailer in Utah, upon the bill taking effect I would suspend the policy of not selling R-rated movies, Parental Advisory music and M-rated games to minors. I'd leave up the ESRB & MPAA signs though. I'd just have a notice that due to the new law I simply cannot afford the consequences of an honest mistake.

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter to

Actually, I actually think passage of this bill could be a good thing for videogames in the long run.  Before you try to lynch me for saying so, just let me explain a bit first.

Let's look at it this way.  Say the bill passes (which it probably would anyways).  In response to the bill passing, all previously responsible Game Retailers remove all their policies regarding the sale of ESRB rated games to minors.  They don't want to be caught with policies saying that they don't sell M rated games to kids, so they'll want to get rid of them.  Major retailers like Gamestop add fine print to their policies saying that such rules are void in Utah.  Utah reatailers should even be encouraged to promote that they no longer enforce ratings as well as promoting the reason why.  If possible, aslo attempt to gain the support of movie theaters and movie retailers and try to get them to follow the same protocol. 

As soon as the next FTC study is published, and Utah shows such low scores, the ESA, ESRB, ECA, VGSA, and all the others launch a nationwide program to show that ESRB rating enforcement works best without government legislation.  Have a concentrated focus in Utah specifically, showing people the real reason their State is now the shame of ratings enforcement.  Play dirty.  Publically disgrace those responsible for the bill.  Don't focus much of this smear campaign on Thompson though.  The man is a nobody, and the public doesn't care in the least about him (plus I don't think you can smear or tarnish his reputation more than he's already done).  Focus the attack on the Eagle Forum and Rep Morley.  Make it so that even the notion of what Utah has done politically toxic.  With any luck, the Utah bill would be repealled, thus marking a great victory and possibly preventing any more of these stupid bills to be passed in the future.

Is this likely going to happen?  I'm not going to hold my breath.  First off, the major Game Retailers would need the balls to stop enforcement in Utah.  Such an action, if spun the right way (well, the wrong way for our cause), could be a significant political and possibly economical hit to these retailers.  Many won't buy the argument that the companies are protecting themselves from being sued in Utah compared to the opposition's "but what about the children?" arguments.  On top of this, the ESRB, ECA, ESA, etc probably doesn't have the funds or the power to support such a large counter campaign, and if they did few would probably listen.  More legislation will probably still be attempted in the future as politicians love the PR of being attached to doing something "for the children," even if the idea is completely daft and retarded.

So, could this bill actually be a good thing for the gaming industry?  The smart money is on "No.  No it would not be good you idiot."  However, I do see the possibility of it working out to our advantage in the end, and as this bill will pass, I feel like betting on the long shot.

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter to

The letter might get ignored by the willfully ignorant, but it probably won't matter, since there's only 4 days left in the session.

Geaux Saints, Geaux Tigers, Geaux Hornets, Jack Thompson can geaux chase a chupacabra.

Geaux Saints, Geaux Tigers, Geaux Pelicans. Solidarity for the Saints = No retreat, no surrender. 2013 = Saints' revenge on the NFL. Even through the darkest days, this fire burns always.

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter to

This letter will be ignored.

The people who drafted this will cant, nay, won't see how they can possibly be wrong and usually parents hate being taken to task over how they raise their kids. Ask some VG store clerks who try to inform parents and you'll see what I mean.

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

I asked and I can see now. mike geary scam and buy regcure.

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

"Ask some VG store clerks who try to inform parents and you'll see what I mean."

YO!

Used to work at a Rhino Video Games Store (miss that chain so much, *tear*).  I can't count the number of times some mother would come in with a child no older than 10 and want to buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (new at the time). I would always tell them it was a bad idea and explain what is in the game. (Cursing, lewd behavior, violence, etc) and advise them against the purchase.

 

For every one that would listen and be shocked. (I would also explain the ESRB rating system to them and explain that you can see exactly what it got the rating for on the back of the box if they don't mind if a game has blood in it or anything like that), I got 2 more that would be pissed at me for telling them how to raise their child.  "He can have it if he wants! It's his birthday! It's just a game!"

Made me shake my head everytime.

"

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

It is just a game.  I wasn't much older than that when I first picked up GoldenEye, or played Mortal Kombat.  Hell, I watched R rated movies  for as long as I can remember.  It's all just fake, and if the kid knows that then there's no harm that can be done.  If the parent thinks the kid can handle it, then that should be enough.  The fact that you scoff at their decision only gives creedance to game legislation. 

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

"The fact that you scoff at their decision only gives creedance to game legislation."

Sorry, but I support the ESRB and do feel that some games shouldn't be in the hands of young kids. period.

I also don't think people under the age of 13 should be watching R rated movies.

Oh, and please don't use the phrase 'It is just a game' because games like Rapelay and such exist and if you think an 8 year old should be playing that, there is really something wrong with you.

"

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

Just wanted to add an addendum to the whole RapeLay thing I talked about and how your argument was horrible.

I forgot to mention that like any Japanese H-game, the thing is probably censored to all hell.  Anyone who's taken a quick browse through 4chan knows that apparently the Japanese think genetalia comes only in randomized 8-bit.  So, on top of not understanding the context or the language, but they won't even realize sex is even occuring since the act will be hidden by a pixelated shield.

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

It sure is hard to find. Unless you do a 3 second google search for it.  It is also available uncensored.

"A work of fiction can't hurt anybody."

Go read about the crusades.

"

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

Yeah, fiction many people believe to be real.  Last I checked, a bit over a billion.  A work of fiction can't hurt anyone if you understand that it's fiction.  

On a side note, religion was not the reason for the Crusades, but was merely the facilitator.  There has been decent, war, and "bad-blood" between the peoples of Europe and those of SE Asia for a lot longer than Christianity has existed.   

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

Oh, and please don't use the phrase 'It is just a game' because games like Rapelay and such exist and if you think an 8 year old should be playing that, there is really something wrong with you.

Wow, this has to be the most sensationalized argument I've heard recently.  Do you even realize how much this argument fails in the most absolute of terms?  First off is availability.  It's no longer on Amazon.  Practically no retailers anywhere outside of Japan sell the game, and very few in that country probably do.  Seeing how the game is hardly publicized anywhere outside of GP and the chamberhalls of feel-good politicians, the kid wouldn't even know of the game's existence.  And you would have to know of this game's existence to even find it at this point.

Then there's the fact that the game is in Japanese, and what's more probably in kanji seeing as it's made for older audiences.  No 8 year old, japanese or not, would be able to read what the hell's going on.  They proably wouldn't be able to install it.  If they managed to do so, they wouldn't be able to start it.  If they were able to start it, they sure as hell wouldn't be able to play the damn game.  All of this would take far too much time for the attention span of an 8 year old who'd probably much rather pop in a game he does understand and play that right away.

Then there's the issue of sex, which is the entire point of such a game.  An 8 year old has no interest in sex.  The grand majority of 8 year old boys probably still think girls are infected with cooties.  Most (and I mean all but those that were the victims of unspeakable travesty) don't even know what sex is.  So, they don't know what it is, they have no interest in it, and even if they saw it they probably wouldn't even understand it.  Then why the hell would they feel compelled to play a game where sex is the only point to it, and what's more in a language they don't even understand?

You're point fails to withstand a logical viewpoint.  It succeeds only in being purely sensationalist.  I repeat my earlier statement that it's because of reasoning like this that worthless legislation continues to be proposed. The only difference between you and a politician like Vaz, Lee, or Morley is that you have faith in the gaming industry to regulate itself while they do not.

----------

Sorry, but I support the ESRB and do feel that some games shouldn't be in the hands of young kids. period.

I also don't think people under the age of 13 should be watching R rated movies.

I agree with you in support of the ESRB, but realize that all ratings are suggestions.  They're figured out by a group of people that don't know you or most anyone else who's going to buy the game they're rating.  It is they who suggest that a movie is rated R, or a game rated M.  It is from this rating that buyers can guage what they are about to purchase.  Just like an early 20s guy knows that the G-rated movie his girlfriend wants to go see cause it "looks cute" is nothing but a disney-filled pile of crap, a mother knows that the M rated game her son wants is probably going to contain material which portrays some of the darker aspects of humanity.  It is a means to facilitate your choice in purchasing they game or not.  If a mother sees an ominous "M" on the game box and decides she doesn't want her child playing it, that's her decision and it should be supported.  However, if she thinks that it's alright, then that decision should be equally supported.

It all comes down to this.  Do you think fiction can hurt you?  If you understand that something is not real, can it have a negative affect on you?  I fully believe that the answer to that is no.  So long as you understand that something is fake, it loses all influence on you.  If a 10 year old knows that he's not really running over people on a side walk, then he won't be doing it in the future because the game taught him how to do it. 

Then there's the whole "adult themes" to these forms of entertainment.  $5 down says most kids not "ready" to know about the stuff will completely miss it entirely.  Guess what?  In "Who Framed Rodger Rabbit," patty-cake is an allusion to having sex.  I absolutely loved this movie as a kid, and then I didn't watch it again till I was in my late teens.  Then the movie was just as funny, but for completely different reasons.  Then there's the matter of fake violence.  I say fake of course because it's not real, and people know it's not real going into the movie. You're really going to prevent some kid from watching Jurassic Park, even though any kid over the age of 3 knows that dinosaurs aren't real anymore?  Watched it in the theaters when I was 8.  Awsome movie. 

Basically, it comes down to this.  It's fake.  It's not real.  Anyone who's not a sociopath understands the difference between reality and fiction, and a sociopath will find a reason to facilitate his madness regardless of if he played violent video games or watched R-rated movies as a kid.  Preventing kids from watching R rated movies or playing M rated games does absolutely nothing in the long run besides make the child completely sheltered, which in my opinion is a far worse alternative.

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter to

It won't work, they shouldn't even bother, this is Utah. Not that I'm shitting on the place, but the fact is that the state is well known for being vicious censors. Regardless of public opinion.

Remember, we are talking about Mitt Country.

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter to

Well it depends. It's hard to claim censorship when you're talking about private organizations.

I've written my state senator about the issue, but I doubt that will do much good. I'm not sure how amendments work but if it goes to the governor that is another letter to be sent.

 

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--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Hookers and Ice Cream aren't free. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/comics/stolen-pixels/5137-...

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

If this bill passes the senate, I'll go to the PA state legislature ans ask them to create a law that'll indict JT (then pass the law in several states so if he goes near Fox news again) he'll be arrested for perjury[sarcasm]

Watching JT on GP is just like watching an episode of Jerry springer only as funny as the fights

America has just became its own version of the Jerry Springer Show after a bizarre moment in Florida involving a carnival worker.

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter to

Although the myth has been proven false (Thanks Jamie and Adam!), it seems to be infinitly easier to teach an old dog new tricks than:

A) do your fucking job as a parent and say "No, you're not getting this game yet."

B) reason a conservative with the slightest bit of power in hand.

One day, they might realize that the most prominient figures in a person's existence are those of his/her parents, and thus, are likely the one most responsible for one's fucked up/succesful life.

 

Being quite oblivious to American law.. The senate approves, but the people still have to weight in their approval/refusal of the law... right?

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

Am I the onlyone who accidently misread the title at first as:

As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Pen Heads Open Letter to Politicians & Parents

I really dont know why either... but I thought it sounded funny...

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Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter to

Oh no she di'n't!

While it's sadly late, I'm sure we're all eagerly awaiting Jack's rebuttal to this. Sadly, since it states facts and uses logic, he will pretend it doesn't exist, as he always does, especially when he knows the person he's responding to has access to actual facts and references that will destroy any of the claims he makes.

Saying that Jack Thompson is impotent is an insult to impotent men everywhere. They've got a whole assortment of drugs that can cure their condition; Jack, however...

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

So why is this bill likely to put an end to those very efforts it seeks to support? On its face such an amendment makes good sense; after all, if a retailer says they’re going to do something, they should do it, right?

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Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter ...

um... not that i dont appreciate what has been said...

but isnt this a bit late?

Wouldnt this have been better if it was sent to all the people involved in its discussion in the Utah house on march 3rd?

Are Utah parents really going to get to read (or even know that this letter exists).

Surely this view should have been made more public, alot earlier if it was going to reach the ears of the people who need to hear it.

I dont understand why it takes so long for the industry to stand up to stupidity like this and its really frustrating.

Dont get me wrong, i appreciate this has been said. But tbh i dont think that is forceful enough in stating the utter stupidity of this bill (its only a 3 line section saying ''It would effectively penalize responsible retailers that have policies, and provide safe harbor for retailers that refuse to adopt a responsible policy in the first place. That is downright senseless. If the goal is to make sure our children are playing age-appropriate games, there is a better way.)

Would have thought this would have headlined the letter really :S

 

Re: As Utah Bill Nears Passage, ESRB Head Pens Open Letter to

It's a shame most parents won't notice and/or give a damn about that letter. It should be printed out and posted to every household in Utah to show the stupidity of this bill and the harm it'll do.

 
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