Published Online: December 15, 1993

Coalition To Develop Rating System for Video Games

Washington

With the threat of Congressional action looming, a coalition of video-game producers and retailers announced plans last week to develop a system for rating games for violence and mature themes.

However, the industry's united front evaporated later the same day, as representatives of the two largest game producers--Nintendo of America Inc. and Sega of America Inc.--traded jabs during a Senate hearing over the violence level of each other's games.

When a Sega official at the Dec. 9 hearing defended two violent games, saying they were intended for adults, Howard C. Lincoln, a senior vice president at Nintendo, said: "I can't just sit here and allow you to be told that the video-game industry has been transformed from children [as primary consumers] to adults.''

When Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., criticized Sega for a toy pistol called "the Justifier'' that comes with a Sega-system game called "Lethal Enforcers,'' William White, a Sega senior vice president, countered by pulling out a Nintendo accessory that looks like a bazooka.

Senator Lieberman said both toys looked like weapons and did not belong in the hands of children.

Despite their sniping, both officials pledged to help develop voluntary warning labels for games and advertising. Major game retailers and renters such as Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, and Blockbuster Video will participate, the officials said.

The Senate hearing was held by subcommittees of the Judiciary and Governmental Affairs committees. With Congress between sessions, only three senators attended, but the issue drew a crowd of onlookers. In addition to Sen. Lieberman, Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., attended.

Parental-Warning System

Senators Lieberman and Kohl have proposed legislation that would establish a five-member panel to create a parental-warning system. They said they would continue work on the bill to insure that the industry follows through on its promise to establish its own system.

"If you don't do something about it, we will,'' Senator Kohl said.

Senator Lieberman showed excerpts from two video games frequently cited as among the most violent on the market. In "Mortal Kombat,'' players of a martial-arts game may finish off their on-screen opponent by ripping out his heart or by decapitating him. Both Sega and Nintendo offer the game for their systems, but Nintendo's version eliminates some of the violence.

In "Night Trap,'' a player tries to keep hooded men from attacking scantily clad sorority members with a tool designed to suck their blood. Sega, but not Nintendo, sells a version of the game.

"'Mortal Kombat' and 'Night Trap' are not the kinds of gifts that responsible parents should give as gifts,'' Senator Kohl said.

Mr. White of Sega defended "Night Trap'' as "an appropriate form of entertainment for adults who want to be entertained in this way, shape, and form.''

He noted that since September, Sega has used a parental-warning system that labels games as appropriate for general audiences, teenagers, or people 17 and older.

But both Sega and Nintendo acknowledged that they have no way to prevent children from seeing some of the more violent games.

The panel also heard from Eugene F. Provenzo Jr., the author of a book on video games.

"Video games are overwhelmingly violent, sexist, and racist,'' he said. Of the 47 most popular video games in the country, 40 had violence as their main theme, he said.

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