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Video game makers say they are making progress on ratings

By
KAREN J. COHEN States News Service

WASHINGTON, March 4 -- In an attempt to avoid government regulation, video game industry executives told a Senate panel Friday they are developing a voluntary rating system to warn parents and children about games that have violent or sexual themes.

In testimony before a joint hearing of the Juvenile Justice and Regulation and Government Information subcommittees, industry leaders said their newly formed committee has laid the groundwork for a voluntary rating system.

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Senators said they were pleased with the industry's progress but criticized the content of some of the games being produced.

'Let me give you my honest perspective on this issue: Violent video games that degrade women are harmful to our children and are garbage,' said Sen. Herbert Kohl, D-Wis.

'But we live by and cherish a Constitution that prevents government from censoring material. So we will try to live with a rating system...' said Kohl, chairman of the Juvenile Justice subcommittee.

Kohl, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., held hearings last December on violent video games, during which games such as Sega's Night Trap, were criticized for their violent images.

Night Trap depicts masked men attacking a scantily-clad young women. After the hearings, Sega withdrew Night Trap from the market for re- editing.

Under the rating system proposed by the industry, an independent board, composed of educators, parents and others, would give each new game a rating, as well as a short content description.

Companies that produce about 60 percent of the videos marketed have joined the Interactive Entertainment Industry Rating System Committee, the industry representatives said. The voluntary rating system, however, may not become reality if other companies refuse to sign on, said Jack Heistand, an executive with Electronic Arts Inc., and chair of the industry rating committee.

The group is opposed to rating games already on the market, but hopes to have a system up and running for games that will be marketed by Christmas, Heistand said.

Industry executives balked at a suggestion by Lieberman, who chairs the Regulation and Government Information subcommittee, that the industry consider guidelines to cover game contents and themes.

'We don't believe our business is to restrict game content,' Heistand said.

Lieberman said, however, that if 'the video game industry had practiced self-restraint before now, we wouldn't be here today.'

Video companies expected to cooperate with the voluntary rating system are Electronic Arts, Acclaim Entertainment Inc., Atari, Nintendo of America Inc., Philips, Sega of America Inc., and The 3DO Company.

In addition, retailers such as Wal-mart Stores Inc. and Toys 'R' Us Inc. have promised to sell only rated videos.NEWLN: (Distributed by UPI)

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