EMA Head: Video Game Laws “Shock My Conscience”

If you think the video game idustry is feeling the political pressure, you’re right.

Bo Andersen, president of the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), the trade organization which represents many game retailers and game renters, talked about the legislative heat with editor James Brightman of GameDaily Biz.

While Andersen discussed other topics, including the recent VSDA-IEMA merger which spawned the EMA, GP, of course, is focused on the political side of Andersen’s remarks.

The EMA boss said his organization is working with elected officials, "but this area presents a great challenge. The solution is as simple as it is obvious: increase parental awareness of and utilization of the ESRB video game ratings and enhance retail ratings education and enforcement."

"The problem for legislators is that is a longer-term, more labor-intensive solution. They want something more immediate. It’s my personal belief that this issue will lose its resonance as a political issue only when we can demonstrate, based on surveys by the Federal Trade Commission, that retailers are enforcing the Mature rating the vast majority of time. To my mind, "the vast majority" means 85% or higher enforcement."

Andersen said there was "no doubt" that video games are being singled out for political attack.

"In my view," he added, "it is a generational disconnect. The vast majority of people over age 40 – and that includes most legislators – are unfamiliar with today’s video game products…  Too often, all they hear about are the extremes… what they get from sensational news reports and a few, admittedly disturbing, clips from games, and it shocks them. So their first reaction is, ‘There ought to be a law!’"

"Legislators have singled out the game industry unfairly," Andersen continued. "The censorship laws they have introduced and passed are so repugnant to this nation’s history that they shock my conscience."

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  1. 0
    Marshie says:


    The difference between mere ignorance and WILLFUL ignorance is the key, philoetus. While the ESRB can and do make an attempt to explain their practices and policies to the ignorant, many of these people CHOOSE to maintain the belief that games are just for kids WHILE they whine about the existence of games like San Andreas under that mistaken belief.

    To use your example of the woman renting the anime for her son… When she first brought the rental to the counter, she was just ignorant about the contents of the movie. This isn’t something we can blame her for because she honestly didn’t know. Ignorance is a perfectly legitimate reason to rent something she might later think is innapproriate for her child.

    However, she became WILLFULLY ignorant when you presented information which told her that the anime was not appropriate for her child and she insisted she knew better than you. At this point, your responsibility to her has ended. You have told her that the rental is inappropriate and she has chosen not to believe you.

    Let’s say she’d actually gone ahead and rented it anyway after you’d told her it was inappropriate. Little Jimmy takes home the violent anime (say, Ninja Scroll) and sees cartoon nudity and rape, men getting violently killed, and a rock giant drinking blood out of arms he’s just ripped off of someone. Little Jimmy’s mother is appalled. You are NOT responsible for this, Jimmy’s mother is the one who is to blame for using the new information she had to make her decision.

    A similar situation to the above exists on a national scale within Canada and the United States. The ESRB (as well as the rest of the game industry) is telling people every day, in the stores and in press releases that video games are NOT just toys for children but entertainment which has the same diversity in it’s audience as the movie industry. The ESRB is being you telling that mother that Ninja Scroll isn’t appropriate for Jimmy just because it’s presented as a cartoon. Parents nation-wide are little Jimmy’s mother, saying “Oh, but it’s a CARTOON” and taking the game little Jimmy wants home to him and then being surprised when they discover that it isn’t appropriate.

    The difference between you and the ESRB is that you had the time to talk to little Jimmy’s mother and explain to her that it was inappropriate. You had the chance to have an actual dialogue with her and challenge her beliefs, answering her questions and countering her willfully ignorant arguments.

    The ESRB does not have the time to talk to every mother and father and challenge their individual preconceptions and biases. The ESRB doesn’t have the manpower to spend ten minutes with every mother and father who doesn’t feel like paying attention to the posters and pamphlets and news articles, let alone the names and descriptions on the packaging itself. The ESRB only has the resources for a thirty second commercial, a package of pamphlets at the store counter, a poster, and a website. They have the resources to explain to those willing to listen how their ratings system works, why it works, and how parents can use it to help choose appropriate games for their children.

    Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the parent to take that last step and accept the information that they are being presented. The ESRB cannot and SHOULD not be held responsible for those who refuse to accept the information with which they have been presented. It is not their job to force understanding on people, it’s their job to make sure the information is there for people TO understand. At that point, their job is done and the parent’s job begins.

  2. 0
    philoetus says:


    In most cases it isn’t willfull ignorance, it’s human nature, we catagorize things a certain way and once our brain does that it takes work to break us of our habit. Is this the ERSBs fault, no, but like most things in life just because its not your fault doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something about it. Its like claiming we shouldn’t have a push to let people know how scientific principals work even though the info is out there, that would be folly.

    The truth of the matter is people with incorrect notions on a subject usually outnumber those that understand the issue, if those that understand the issue don’t take it upon themselves to explain the issue things don’t change, and in this case we will continue to see legislator after legislator attack us, we need public understanding. To attack the people who these politicians are pandering to only serves to turn them against us even more.

    As for your assertion that the parents should ask about anything they don’t understand, that is unrealistic. Human nature often dictates that we don’t like to seem unknowlegable to others, it also dictates that we process the information we understand and discard the rest. How often do you read the back of your computer monitor or even the side of a cereal box and know exactly what and why those things are on there, if you are like the bulk of society you don’t, you make assumptions because that is how we are wired, to go around questioning everything you don’t understand would prevent us from ever getting anything done.

  3. 0
    Marshie says:

    philoetus said: “took me 10 minutes to explain to a parent that the Anime she was trying to rent for her child was not meant for children (I can’t remember which it was, but I know it had Nudity and/or Extreme Violence) and the only reason it took so long was her insistance that cartoons are/were/and always will be made kid-friendly.”

    And this is the kind of willful ignorance which proves it’s not the ESRBs fault. Parents NEED to start paying attention and LEARNING. The ESRB ratings are larger than the MPAA ratings on DVD cases (which are the exactly the same size as videogame cases) so curiousity and an interest in knowing what their children are up to, if nothing else, should prompt a parent to ask what the M 17+ on the cover means. Content descriptors like Realistic Violence and Drug Use should also clue the parent in that MAYBE little Jimmy’s XBox plays more than games suitable for kids.

    I’ve got no sympathy for a parent who rents their child anything they bring up to them without at least glancing at what it is the grotty little bugger wants. Most videogames give a pretty clear idea of the content even without the ESRB ratings, especially games which get tagged with the Mature rating.

    The problem with this kind of willful ignorance is that it’s willful. More advertising won’t change little Jimmy’s mother’s opinion that cartoons and games are just for kids and thus don’t need to be watched, so it’s a waste of time and energy for the industry to try to reach people like that. Can you imagine trying to explain to not just one mother, but hundreds of thousands that that anime you mentioned wasn’t for children? Do you have that kind of patience? Lord knows I don’t.

  4. 0
    Beacon ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    @ Marshie
    A quick little excersize. Put yourself in a parents shoes. You don’t know anything about video games. You’ve never played them, and you don’t really care to. All your knowledge comes from what you’ve seen your kid playing. Are you going to look very long at the box? No. They all look the same to you. Assuming you have any brains, you’ll look at the title, and a quick glance at the cover image to see if any of those give off any major warning signs. However, despite the size, the ESRB rating is likely to interpreted as just noise.
    Now, let’s say, on your way to the check out stand, the store’s TV starts playing an ESRB commercial (they do that in some stores). You catch a glimpse of the rating symbols, and look down at the box again. Knowing what an ESRB rating looks like now, it immediately jumps out at you.
    In short, I think the problem isn’t that parents ignore the ESRB ratings, it’s that they don’t even register it. Granted, I’ve heard plenty of stories from friends who have told the mother that this game is rated M and isn’t designed for children, only to be ignored. There’s no getting through to those people.
    On the other hand, how much more awareness do we need? If I remember, the ESRB took a poll and concluded that somewhere around 80% of parents used the ESRB ratings when buying a game for their child. I think we actually fall into the same trap the politicians use on non-gamers. We assume that most parents don’t know about the ESRB because the politicians and sensationalists say so.
    Here’s a thought: Why don’t we take our own poll. We can help spread awareness at the same time, too. Next time your at a video store, if you see a parent getting a video game, go up and talk to them. Find out these things:
    1) Confirm that they are in fact a parent (just to be safe)
    2) How many children do they have and how old are they.
    3) Are they concerned about the games their children play.
    4) Do they know about the ESRB.
    5) Do they use the ESRB when deciding whether to get a game.
    If anyone wants to participate, send me whatever information you collect to me at rurouni_kenouki@hotmail.com. Also include what store you were in and an estimate of how old the parent was.
    If enough of us participate in this, I think we should be able to get some fairly accurate results.

  5. 0
    philoetus says:


    I think they do, when I used to work in a movie store you would not believe how often it turned out parents just didn’t know those things were ratings. It’s about breaking preconceived notions, people often overlook the obvious because they think they already understand the issue, but often times they don’t. The best example I can think of this is not video game related, but in the movie store I used to work at it took me 10 minutes to explain to a parent that the Anime she was trying to rent for her child was not meant for children (I can’t remember which it was, but I know it had Nudity and/or Extreme Violence) and the only reason it took so long was her insistance that cartoons are/were/and always will be made kid-friendly.

  6. 0
    Marshie says:

    I disagree here that the game industry needs to “raise awareness” of the ratings system. There’s a rating on every single console game in a store. If little Jimmy’s mother can’t bother to ask the clerk what the big M means (or bother to pick up a pamphlet, look at the posters, or even go online to find out), little Jimmy has a much bigger problem than being able to play a violent game… He’s got an intellectually bankrupt mother who is far too unmotivated to raise her child properly.

    It is not the state’s job to make raising little Jimmy as mindless as possible for Jimmy’s mother and father and it is most definately NOT the industry’s job to hammer information into little Jimmy’s parents until they FINALLY start to pay attention. The information is on the game box with a clear explanation of what the rating means. More information about the ratings and what they mean can be found in stores, in take-home pamphlets, and online… and there’s even a write-in address for technophobes. Any parent who claims they “can’t” find the information they need is a moron.

    I can’t support any opinion which states the ESRB hasn’t raised enough awareness. Personally I think people just need to open their eyes and pay attention to what their children are doing for five minutes.

  7. 0
    Zerodash ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Just about every “alternative” mentioned here is valid- I say it should all be done at once.

    1) The ESA needs new leadership with some balls. They should be speaking out against the lies and misinformation. The legal “chilling effect” card should be used against blatant liars with agendas like JT. Also, the ESA OWES IT to gamers to speak out against those who portray Gamers as social deviates. We are the ones who spent the $$ and enthusiasm to make the industry what it is today- its why developers and publishers even have jobs.

    2) Politicians are not interested in working with the ESA about public education and volountary retail enforcement. Hence, the ESA should do it themselves, and with something MUCH more mainstream than Penny-Arcade. I’m talking more celebrity involvement. Those Regis videos they play at Target is a good step.

    3) Gamers need to organize and speak up. Many of us are older with children of our own and real careers- not shut-ins at mom’s basement. Who can blame Soccer Moms for fearing us when their only idea of Gamers is gun-toting lunatics? We need something along the lines of a “national organization of videogamers” or something.

  8. 0
    aniki21 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Jabrwock Says:
    Screw the politicians. The EMA & ESA should just go it alone, spend a few million, and push ahead with their own PSA campaign.

    Here is truth.

    Not only would that do the job of educating parents and even kids about the intent and meaning of ESRB ratings, it would nullify any complaints that the games industry is irresponsible or complacent about the potential (if unproven) dangers to children of playing violent games.

  9. 0
    Dagrak ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    What is needed is less legal action and more of a voice. At the moment the only information the public gets about games is from the media. Unless they themselves play the games then they will simply believe what the media says. The gaming community, the US gaming community to be slightly more precise, needs to start an organised response. Nothing mad, no marches etc, they just need to have their voice heard. If radical Christian fundamentalists can get their ideas heard and reported on then so can the gaming community.

    We started something like that on the forums but it didn’t really progress very far. We have all kinds of people read this site, and even places like VG cats (Worship) now link to this page, so we surely have a wide audience to help get people organised. All thats needed is to get people interested in what gamers have to say, show them that the stereotypes of useless 13 year old Counter Strike players and psychopathic Grand Theft Auto devotees aren’t a true representation of the community. More importantly show the media just how wrong/out of context the reports have been so far.

  10. 0
    Stormwarden ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The reality of it is that the Politicians see it as an election-year opportunity. Everyone here knows that this bill won’t do squat to protect kids from anything. It just makes the politicos look good. If they get shot down, they can shift the blame to an “activist judiciary.”

  11. 0
    Grahamr ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Ugh..he tears off his….!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Moving on…

    I’m kind of like you with the legal activism thing,but i also think that the Average gaming public should organize itself to fight game laws. and,i feel rather disconcerted that dennis doesn’t want us to campaign against jack,solely because he is an Individual. flowers for jack showed just how organized gamers can be.

  12. 0
    pixelante_ninja ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’m glad that as more people are pushing game legislation, more people are speaking out against it. I’m just waiting for the day when it isn’t someone in the industry or a gamer because even though it sucks, they don’t seem to hold us in the highest opinion.

  13. 0
    Cecil475 says:

    There really does need to be more action done on the Video game industry’s side. The Antigaming crowd attacks and all the VGI does is defend. It needs to get on the counter-offensive.

    I miss an off-topic fourm. :(

    – Warren Lewis

  14. 0
    Terminator44 says:

    Don’t forget the disturbing way the dectective killed the bad guy at the end of Sin City. I’d describe it, but it seems to comment system spit it back out.

  15. 0
    Terminator44 says:

    Don’t forget the ending of Sin City in which *DISGUSTING SPOILER ALERT* the dectective rips off the bad guy’s penis before beating him to death. That scence shocked even me.

  16. 0
    Blitz Fitness ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The violent movie point is a major one. These guys like to stand around and claim interactivity makes the difference, but I have a better idea on how to work firearms after watching movies (in which props tend to be actual firearms) than I have a videogame.

    I’ve also never been bothered by the violence in games, but definitely have to say that horror flicks and war movies gore (specifically the realistic sort) always makes me go “Oh God” and turn away. Needless to say, I’m not becoming desensitized by it either. Saving Private Ryan still scares the crap out of me.

  17. 0
    Elixer says:

    I love how politicians are pushing to “protect kids” with game laws, but they have no problem with gun control, drugs, and alcohol. Not to mention violent movies.

  18. 0
    Juggernautz ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Goddamnit. How much more clear can they be? The ratings are displayed in GIANT LETTERS on the cases, with short descriptions of the ratings guidelines within. What do they want?! A sales person standing next to each individual copy of the game screaming “Don’t buy this game! It has boobies and animated blood!”

    I feel angry. Oh and Yukimura don’t stop with your opinions. That’s what makes forums like this so valuable, I’ve found that most of the discussions in these forums are very intelligent and well constructed. Kudos to everyone.

    Even Blitz for his FF tangent. 😛

  19. 0
    Blitz Fitness ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    I just noticed the “Support GP @ Amazon page” link. My first thought was, “How does buying something from Amazon help GP?” (which I am posting here in hopes for an explanation). However, I then saw that this store includes FF 12 and decided “WHO CARES!?! SIGN ME UP”.

  20. 0
    Yukimura sanada ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I know i’ll get some backlash for this, but again, this is why i’ve become an advocate of legal recourse against the media,politicans, and people like Jt.

    While I don’t like having to resort to such extremes, it’s perhaps the only way the lies, misinformation, and deciet will stop and some real discussion will get started.

    While I had once been a strong supporter of the ESA, lately I’ve grown fed up with there lack of action. they sit by and let themselves, the industry, and gamers be maligned and assualted by the media with no response. It’s angering me that we support them and yet they continue to let us get slandered left and right.

    Like I said, if the ESA is not capable of action, then lets get someone in there who IS!

  21. 0
    Blitz Fitness ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    You bring up a great point, of course! However, I was thinking more along the lines of parents that weren’t taken by the beginnings of video games. In other words, I’m not looking at the EMA to put forth effort on the Lieberman’s, Thompson’s, Walsh’s and Clinton’s, but instead to put the screws to their audience. But you’re point really can’t be beat, so despite how it is a sad truth, it is a truth nonetheless.

  22. 0
    Jabrwock ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Screw the politicians. The EMA & ESA should just go it alone, spend a few million, and push ahead with their own PSA campaign. Because it’s obvious that most politicians are just out to get re-elected.

    If a political leader wants to jump on the education bandwagon, ala Utah AG, all the power to them. If not, just fight the fight in court, and keep on educating the public outside the legislatures.

  23. 0
    Jabrwock ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I agree, it’s hard to educate them when they go “but but, teh Border Patrol!, teh Super Columbine RPG was in Best Buy, I swear!” “but this law worked great in that other state!”

    It’s almost like they are willfully not paying attention.

    Then again, how often do we hear of politicians ACTUALLY paying attention to what they’re voting for/writing?

    Seriously, that’s what policy staff and lobyists are for. The politicians just take what they wrote and baske in it’s glory.

  24. 0
    kurisu7885 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    @ Blitz Fitness

    “So what do we do to educate those outside of our frame of references?”

    Well, if by outside you mean the politicians and anti gamers, if they don’t want to be educated, or they are still blocking what they don’t want to hear, then workign to educate them would be pointless.

  25. 0
    Blitz Fitness ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I, like many others, am tired of hearing the same rhetoric out of the ‘anti-game’ crowd. But to be honest, I’m getting sick of the repeated rhetoric of the ‘game’ crowd. I like Bo Andersen, but how many times should I be told that the solution is to increase awareness of parents for the ESRB ratings without ever hearing exactly what that entails.

    I think we should put an end to crime. So…..now what? How do we do that.

    I’m not saying that they aren’t making any effort at all, after all, I think the Penny Arcade deal is powerful; but there again lies the trouble. How many politicians pay attention to or care about Penny Arcade. That deal seems to indulge singing to the choir rather than anything else.

    So what do we do to educate those outside of our frame of references?

  26. 0
    Beacon ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’m rather glad to hear that. I think the industry is a little too complacent. Yeah, the first amendment is a pretty strong shield, but rather than wait for someone to figure out a way past that, the industry should be more active.

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