Exclusive GP Interview: Congressman Talks Video Game Ratings, Video Game Rape, The Daily Show

An exclusive GamePolitics interview with Rep. Lee Terry (R) demonstrates that the Nebraska Congressman, co-sponsor of a new video game ratings enforcement bill, has a grasp on some video game rating issues, yet a flawed understanding of others. 

As reported earlier this week by GamePolitics, Terry and Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) introduced the Video Games Rating Enforcement Act. If approved, the bill would mandate that game retailers check IDs of mature-rated game buyers. The measure would also require that information detailing the rating system be posted in view of customers. Terry spoke to GP about the proposal:

This is a rather simple bill in that it focuses on making sure that retailers ID young folks when they try to buy an M or A[O] rated game. And this is kind of my approach instead of trying to micromanage by legislation the standards or content…

What we’d rather do is just make sure that parents are empowered with information, what the standards really mean and then what’s specifically in that game and then to make sure that retailers don’t subvert the parent’s decision… If they don’t want their child to have an M-rated game, the retailers don’t sell it to them…

Based on the timing of the new legislation, we asked Terry whether it was planned to coincide with the intense publicity surrounding the April 29th release of Grand Theft Auto IV. Terry, however, maintained that the timing was purely coincidental:

As a matter of fact, I almost thought about waiting another week or two. I will have to take some responsibility. Mr. Matheson brought this to me several months ago and… it kind of got pushed to the back burner. So it was more coincidental… but [the GTA IV hype] probably did heighten the scrutiny of the bill within the press, which is a positive thing. But we did not wait until Grand Theft Auto IV came out to drop the bill. That was coincidental.

Oddly enough, the Terry-Matheson bill, which addresses video game rating enforcement, was introduced on Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the Federal Trade Commission’s latest report gave glowing marks to the video game industry for its retail ratings enforcement. Terry, however, was clearly not acquainted with the results of the FTC report, citing 69% as the rate at which FTC secret shoppers were able to purchase M-rated games. That figure, however, is from the FTC’s 2003 survey. In 2006 the number dropped to 42%. Yesterday’s figure was an impressive 20%. We asked Terry about the FTC report:

I had heard that the report found that 69% of unaccompanied 13 to 16-year olds were able to purchase M-rated video games from retailers.

After we explained the actual FTC figures, Terry said:

Oh, okay. Well, good. We’re going in the right direction. I think probably what’s really helped that improvement is that some of the big retailers like Wal-Mart, Target have software… at the point-of-sale that blocks M and then the cashier has to ask for ID…

We also queried Terry on public comments he made which cited rape as a way to earn a higher score in some games. When pressed, Terry could not cite an example:

That’s a good question. I don’t know of any [specific games] offhand… I just used the rape, pillage and plunder line…

The actual Terry quote as reported in Variety is:

In some games high scores are often earned by players who commit ‘virtual’ murder, assault and rape.

Terry was a good sport over his lampooning by The Daily Show host Jon Stewart following a contentious 2006 committee hearing on video game issues. He described the experience as:

Humiliating, as it was supposed to be… It was slightly out of context… That’s what fake news is about. I saw that. That was fun…

Later, Terry again made reference to his Daily Show experience:

One of the things that Jim [Matheson] and I talked about a great deal is that the ratings themselves seem to be very confusing. We did not to get into that morass because Jon Stewart showed us exactly what was going to happen to us if we did…

The Congressman, who said he occasionally plays NCAA sports games with his sons on their Xbox 360, was familiar with the issues surrounding the controversial but rarely used Adults Only rating. He also pointed out the inconsistency found in the M rating category, where some games, such as as Grand Theft Auto have far more mature content than others. Terry specifically mentioned Destroy All Humans, Call of Duty and Halo in this regard.

Listen to the interview with Rep. Terry (9:08 minutes, mp3) here.

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