Senator zaps biz for violence, sexual content

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a likely 2004 presidential candidate, on Thursday called for Congressional hearings on what he called “more and more vivid and violent” videogames.

Lieberman’s press conference sent a strong signal that he will make showbiz a campaign issue, as he did when he was Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 prez race.

As he has each of the past nine years, Lieberman (D-Conn.) held a press conference Thursday to present the findings of an annual study of the game business conducted by the National Institute on Media and the Family, a Minneapolis-based pressure group targeting violent and sexual content in games, movies and other media that are accessible to children.

This year, for the first time, the group gave the industry an F on its annual Video Game Report Card.

“The content of many cutting edge games is becoming more and more vivid, violent and offensive to our most basic values,” Lieberman said. “This relatively small but highly-popular minority [of games] is not just pushing the envelope, they are shooting, torturing and napalming it beyond all recognition and beyond all decency.”

One likely focus of the hearings, which Lieberman wants to hold in January, would be lax retail enforcement of game ratings.

Both Lieberman and the Institute singled out Take Two’s “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” and TKTK’s “BMX XXX” as particularly egregious examples for their depictions of nudity and violence aimed at women.

Interactive Digital Software Association president Doug Lowenstein, however, dismissed the Institute’s report as “a cynical attempt” to grab headlines.

“Last year I think we got an A or an A-minus and we’re not doing anything different,” Lowenstein said.

While acknowledging that the content of some games could be found objectionable by many people he added “that’s why we have ratings.”

Lieberman, however, hammered retailers for failing to do enough to keep violent and explicit games out of the hands of children. “The fact is that too many retail outlets don’t have policies prohibiting children from buying or renting M-rated games and those that do too often fail to enforce them.”

Although Lieberman praised the rating system devised by the IDSA, calling it “a model system,” he called on retailers to adopt a nationwide standard for enforcement.

Despite the harsher tone in this year’s report, though, Lowenstein said he sees no imminent political threat to the industry.

With the Democrats now in the minority in the Senate, however, Lieberman will no longer chair a committee and will lack the authority in the 108th Congress to schedule hearings himself.

Instead, he will have to rely on a Republican committee chair who may not share the same agenda.

(Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.)

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more