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SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jim Matheson has reintroduced legislation that will make it illegal to sell certain video games to children.
Matheson's bill, Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act, would require that all retailers ID customers when purchasing or renting video games with the M (Mature) or AO (Adult Only) rating.
"In a world of rapidly changing technology, parents deserve every resource available to evaluate programming to which their children might be exposed," Matheson said. "This bill is designed to back parents up in their effort to protect their children from what the industry has labeled as violent and/or sexually explicit material."
Matheson said technology has advanced video games in such a way that the images portrayed are nearly realistic.
"The images and themes in some video games are shocking and troublesome," he said. "There are popular games where players advance through acts of ‘virtual' murder, assault and rape. Many children are able to access these games without their parents' knowledge. I believe that retailers have made a good faith effort to institute policies that keep mature games out of the hands of young kids, but at the end of the day, these policies are voluntary and parents deserve piece of mind that they are the final authority in what their children rent or purchase."
Speaking to Doug Wright on KSL Newsradio Wednesday afternoon, Matheson said he recognizes that some retailers are already checking ID's for those purchasing certain video games, but would like to see it done nationwide. Matheson added that he was not looking to change the ratings system, but looking to enforce the sales to children.
"I'm accepting the industry's own rating system," Matheson said. "Some people want to go further, but I'm not sure the government wants to get into setting standards for how you rate this content. I'm accepting the industry rating system, flawed as it may be or not, but I'm suggesting that we ought to have at a point of sale, for the ones that are rated 17 and above, we ought to have an ID check.
"We do have that now for cigarette purchases — you've got to be a certain age for that. Pornographic material we require age verification," Matheson added. "It seems to me that we've already got systems in place to do this."
As introduced to Congress, Matheson's bill says that video games could not be purchased or rented online without proper identification and that all games must have a rating by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board in a "clear and conspicuous location on the outside packaging of the video game." "(More) and more games are actually being purchased in a virtual way and not buying a shrink wrapped product; they're actually purchased online," Matheson said. "We want to make sure that in that world they're clearly labeled where the purchase happens.
"Some people say, ‘Hey, how do you check ID if it's an Internet purchase?' Well, it turns out there is technology out there called age-verification software. It's used already today for Internet purchases of cigarettes, for example. Technology gives us the ability to do this even with online sales, and that's what we're trying to capture for the legislation."
Matheson readily admits there are constitutional issues with the legislation, but said he hopes to add a second line of defense for parents in the purchasing of adult-themed video games.
"I'm not trying to get in the way of constitutional rights of adults at all, but I'm at least suggesting that we have this conversation if there ought to be a way to deal with this for kids who have access to this without having some age verification.
"I also recognize that parents are supposed to be the first line of defense anyway, but I think it's important for parents to have these tools available to them," Matheson added. "And that's the motivation for the bill."