NJ task force recommends game regulation

State's SAFE group calls on Gov. Christie to take steps to stamp out mass violence by regulating games, educating parents.

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The New Jersey SAFE Task Force has released a comprehensive report calling on Republican Governor Chris Christie to regulate games sold in the state, increase educational efforts about games, and review violent media overall as a means to help stamp out mass violence.

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"The interactive nature of video games, as opposed to other forms of media, may dictate particular regulation of such games," the group wrote.

The first regulatory action the group recommends is requiring minors be accompanied by an adult when purchasing games with an M or AO rating, as judged by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). The task force also recommends a "request for identification" for the sale or rental of games with M or AO ratings.

On top of this, the group seeks to require game retailers to "conspicuously" display ESRB ratings at the point of sale. These retailers should also develop, maintain, and display their own policy on selling M or AO games, the group said.

Another bullet point on the task force's recommendation list to Christie is the removal of violent games from state property, namely highway rest areas. The appropriate authority with jurisdiction over such property should "consider the practicality and feasibility of regulating those video games to ensure that violent games are not made available to children," the group wrote.

The New Jersey SAFE Task Force also would like to see the state conduct a review concerning whether or not violent media is inappropriately marketed to young people.

"Specifically with regard to violent video games, the Task Force encourages the appropriate agency to explore the question of whether retailers should be required to label video games with stickers, in addition to the ESRB rating symbol, to make clear the appropriate age range for a particular video game," the group said.

Concerning education, the task force said it recommends that the Department of Education (or another appropriate agency) help educate parents about how to make "healthy" media choices for their children. On top of this, the group said it advises industry associations within the state to conduct a comprehensive public information campaign to bolster understanding of media ratings systems.

"Our recommendations are provided cognizant of the fact that violent media has received a great deal of blame for youth violence in the recent past, but most people agree that exposure to media violence alone does not cause a child to commit a violent act," the group wrote.

"While several major public health organizations have voiced their shared conviction that exposure to violent media leads to more aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, they have also acknowledged that it is not the sole, or even the most important, factor contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes, and violence," the statement goes on.

Recommendations for action regarding video games are just one part of the task force's five-chapter, 83-page report to Christie. Other highlights include calls for new gun control measures, new strategies to combat urban violence, various mental health initiatives, and new school safety guidelines.

Christie is in no way bound to follow through on any of the recommendations, as the report is first and foremost a guide to help the governor prioritize these initiatives he feels are most appropriate and pressing.

One of the report's recommendations is already being acted upon. Following the publication of the report, assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union) announced plans to introduce a bill that would ban video games containing mature and adult content in public places.

"Games that are meant for older, more mature audiences have no place in places where children can easily access them. Video games alone do not influence violent behavior, but they can play a role. Some of the most prolific mass shootings not just in this country, but in the world had links to violent video games," Stender said in a statement.

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"The longer a child is exposed to video games where killing is the sole objective, the greater the chance that he or she will become numb to this type of behavior and even consider it acceptable. This bill would ensure that video games with graphic adult content would not be available to children who are not old enough to make a distinction between fantasy and reality."

If signed into law, the legislation would prohibit M- and AO-rated games from public spaces and carry a fine of no more than $10,000 for a first offense and no more than $20,000 for any subsequent offense. On top of the monetary fines, a violation could result in cease and desist orders from the Attorney General, punitive damages, and the awarding of treble damages (three times the amount), and cost to the injured.

Stender's bill is not the only such piece of game legislation to go before the New Jersey Assembly. Earlier this month, republican state lawmakers Sean Kean and Holly Schepisi introduced a bill that would make unlawful the sale of an M- or AO-rated game in the state to any person under the age of 18 without parental consent. In this case, consent means the purchaser's parent or guardian is present during the transaction and consents to the sale either verbally or through writing.

The bill specifies that anyone caught selling such games to minors would have committed an unlawful practice, which under the Consumer Fraud Act is punishable by a penalty of not more than $10,000 for a first offense and not more than $20,000 for any subsequent offense. Violators could also face further legal action from the state Attorney General, similar to Stender's legislation listed above.

Video games have been a much-discussed topic since December's Connecticut schoolhouse massacre. A reportedly "deranged gamer" killed 20 children and six adults before taking his own life on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Most recently, Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein argued that violent games can serve as simulators for would-be mass murderers.

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