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Florida officials take aim at violent games

Florida lawmakers are moving to stiffen penalties for retailers who sell or rent violent video games to minors.
/ Source: Reuters

Bolstered by outrage from Haitian Americans and parents over a top-selling game, a group of Florida lawmakers is moving to stiffen penalties for retailers that sell or rent violent or sexually explicit computer games to minors.

Legislative critics in Florida of violent computer games have been thwarted before in attempts to make selling them to minors a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine.

But they believe they may now have a better chance of gaining support after ire over Rockstar Game's "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," in which players are urged to "kill the Haitians" and score points for rape and murder.

"We want to make sure that parents are educated and that retailers are aware that this game and others like it are not appropriate for children," said Florida state House sponsor, Rep. Sheri McInvale, a Democrat from Orlando.

Rockstar and its owners Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. have agreed to remove the "kill the Haitians" phrase from future copies of "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," but the concession has failed to assuage many critics.

The Florida House bill, and a similar Senate proposal, would require merchants to demand identification for any purchase or rental. Both proposals exempt Internet sales.

Ranking system already exists
But retail associations are urging lawmakers to shelve their plans because, they say, the proposals ignore the Entertainment Software Rating Board system that already ranks video games based on content.

Furthermore, the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, an industry group including such retailers as Wal-Mart and video chain Blockbuster Inc, agreed to have procedures in place by next Christmas to stop the sale of mature and adult video games to minors.

"This is a case where the industry is way out in front of government," said Bill Herrle, vice president for governmental affairs for the Florida Retail Federation.

The Florida lawmakers' action is the latest in a series of legal efforts to reign in violent, sexually explicit or profanity-riddled games, including an ordinance given preliminary approval last month by North Miami City Council.

"We're not banning them and requiring retailers to go to expensive extremes. We're just saying we need to deal with video games in the same way we deal with pornography, alcohol and R-rated movies," said McInvale.