Capcom considering legal action against GTA3 age ban in Japan

Capcom retaliates to GTA3's age restriction in a Japanese region, citing that the movement can cause issues in freedom of expression in future games.

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TOKYO--Last week, the local government of Kanagawa prefecture, a region located immediately south of Tokyo, announced that it will ban the sales of Grand Theft Auto III to minors as of June 7. Saitama, another region neighboring Tokyo, also announced that it is considering the age restriction on the gratuitously violent game as well.

The possibility that the ban may spread into neighboring regions has caught the eye of the game's Japanese publisher, Capcom. (Rockstar, which publishes the game in other regions, has seen similar threats.) With other games noted for violence and gore, such as the Resident Evil series or the upcoming Xbox 360 game Dead Rising, Capcom fears that such restrictions could affect future releases. In a public statement saying that the age ban was inappropriately implemented, the company has announced that it is considering taking legal action.

"Japan's Videogame industry is a world-class business, which foundations are supported by the freedom of expression and intellectual property protection laws. Like our country itself has been practicing, it is essential that we continue to make efforts to sustain these two factors that are essential for growth of the game industry," said Capcom in a public statement.

"It is especially important to handle freedom of expression with care. It is a powerful factor in society, but also something extremely delicate. Our company does not believe that videogames should be completely free of any regulations under the freedom of expressions, and we have censored our games when seen to be required within our judgment."

The statement goes on to explain that the gaming industry in Japan has a nonprofit organization known as the Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (CERO), which rates every game sold to retailers and marks them with a label according to their suggested age range. In the case of violent games such as GTA3, they are marked with a sticker on the front that suggests the game is for "Ages over 18," and some games come with an additional sticker that warns that the content includes violent or grotesque scenes. In addition, CERO gives guidelines to retailers on how the games should be divided on the shelves so that games won't be picked up by inappropriate age groups.

Capcom's statement blasts Kanagawa prefecture for single-handedly coming to its decision without making any efforts to discuss the matter with those involved. Just as publishers discuss their releases with retailers and businesses related to the industry to make sure they are appropriate for the market, Capcom feels that like two-way meetings should exist between prefectures and the gaming industry.

The company's statement goes on to say that the prefecture's decision was not based on any clear precedents.

Capcom concludes its statement by saying that it will strengthen its self-regulation on future titles, but that it is considering taking legal action on the current issue surrounding GTA3's age ban.

Capcom is one of the major companies in the game industry when it comes to the protection of software publisher interests. President Kenzo Tsujimoto is also the chairman of the Computer Entertainment Supplier's Association (CESA), an organization specializing in the promotion of game software. CESA is best known to the general public as the host of the annual Tokyo Game Show.

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