Japanese game industry moves to restrict sales to minors

Voluntary retailer program to separate mature games from all-ages games hopes to stem government-imposed controls.

TOKYO--As the Hot Coffee controversy percolates across the Pacific, the Japanese gaming industry has announced plans to restrict the sale of games for mature audiences to people under the age of 18.

Under a new plan outlined by the Computer Entertainment Supplier's Association (CESA), Japan's main games lobby, games rated as "Over 18" by the Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (CERO) will not be sold to minors. However, the games can be sold to minors if a consenting parent or guardian accompanies them. To strengthen the consumer's awareness of the CERO rating system, CESA will ask retailers to post rating information in their shops. Retailers will also be requested to separate mature-themed games from all-ages games on shelves.

Cooperation in the program is entirely voluntary, and there have been no announced penalties for stores that continue to sell "Over 18" titles to minors. But CESA distribution committee chief and Koei president Kiyoshi Komatsu was optimistic about the plan's effectiveness. "These self-regulation proposals have been accepted by 95 percent of retailers at the current time. That includes not only game stores, but electronic shops and convenience stores as well," Komatsu said.

The policy is expected to launch in the next few weeks. Its implementation period will differ between retailers, depending on a store's size and format.

The industry is also looking at other avenues of self-imposed control to keep games out of the wrong hands. These include more activities on the part of CESA to make the CERO rating system widely acknowledged by the public, such as making CERO labels on game packages more visible. The organization also plans to send notices about its self-imposed restrictions to government agencies, which have recently blamed violent games for negatively affecting youth.

"We plan to extensively do whatever we can in order not to give the impression that 'video games are a bad influence,'" commented CESA executive director and Square Enix president Youichi Wada. "We hope to do this in order gain the trust and relief of users and the government, rather than as a measure against the government."

The industry's self-control is seen as a move to deter the Japanese government from imposing regulations on the industry. The move comes on the heels of Kanagawa prefecture's decision to ban the sale of Grand Theft Auto III to minors as a "harmful publication." The ban has led other prefectures to consider taking similar steps for violent games. Osaka prefecture will address whether it will impose an age-limit restriction in September. Ishikawa and Saitama prefectures are planning to regulate sales of violent games as well.

In February, a 17-year-old boy was arrested for killing one teacher and stabbing three others in his former elementary school. The boy was later found out to be a hardcore gamer and fan of the Resident Evil series who wanted to work in the gaming industry. More recently, a 15-year-old boy, who murdered his parents and blew up their Tokyo apartment with homemade explosives, was linked in the media to Grand Theft Auto III.

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