Vidgame Biz Touts Content Ratings with PSA Campaign

Effort comes as D.C. scrutinizes violence in games following Sandy Hook massacre

With lawmakers focusing in part on the role of video games following the Newtown, Conn., school shootings in December, the video game business is launching a new public service campaign focused on the industry’s existing ratings system as well as parental controls.

While the motion picture and broadcast business announced a PSA effort several weeks ago, the video game industry has been singled out by lawmakers, in part because of the interactivity of the play. President Obama has called for a $10 million study of the impact of video games on youth, along with a more general probe of the impact of viewing violent “media images.”

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The Entertainment Software Assn., representing video game publishers, said that the PSA campaign would appear on video game platforms and they would encourage broadcast outlets to run the spots on local channels. They also will provide the spots to news and fan discussion sites, distribute to retailers for in-store and online channels and work with lawmakers to extend the ratings to the “broader games ecosystem of smart phones, tablets, and online social games.”

In the weeks following the Newtown tragedy, the ESA has defended the industry and pointed to research showing no causal link between virtual play and violent behavior. But the reports that Adam Lanza, the shooter in the Sandy Hook massacre, was an avid player of video games, have been cited by some lawmakers who are proposing state-level action.

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In its announcement of the PSAs on Monday, the ESA included statements from two lawmakers, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. “I commend the industry for raising awareness of the tools available to parents that can help them make informed decisions about the games their children play,” Thune said.

Vice President Joseph Biden’s office also appeared to endorse the effort, as it send out a tweet pointing followers to an explanation of the industry’s PSA campaign.

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Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of the ESA, said that the “campaign will connect with consumers in an immediate and sustained way in addition to the traditional mechanisms over TV outlets.” He noted that the Federal Trade Commission, in its latest report on entertainment ratings system, found that the video game business had the strongest self-regulatory code. The ratings are overseen by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which was established in 1994.

The industry has been lobbying Capitol Hill, cautioning that the focus should be on other solutions to gun violence and that the videogame business should not shoulder the blame. In the wake of the Newtown shootings, the National Rifle Assn. pointed to videogames as a symptom of the violent culture.

Nevertheless, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, called the PSA campaigns “not sufficient to protect our children from dangerous exposure to violent content.

Rockefeller has been a frequent critic of violence in the media, and has also called for a study of the impact of videogame and media violence, to be conducted by the National Academy of Sciences.

“In today’s world where kids can play games across a variety of devices often without parental supervision, it is unrealistic to assume that overworked and stressed parents can prevent their kids from viewing inappropriate content. I believe that the only real solution is for the entertainment and software industries to reduce the often obscene levels of violence in the products they sell.”

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