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Kmart limits sale of violent computer games

From now on, you'll have to prove you're old enough to buy Quake

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US retailer Kmart yesterday said it will clamp down on sales of violent computer games to young children. The company will now require would-be buyers to prove that they're old enough to meet a game's age rating.

The US games industry established its rating system, in which titles are graded according to their level of violence and adult content, some time ago. Ratings are given by the industry-appointed Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

The ESRB was set up to show that the games industry was willing to police itself - ie. not have a rating system imposed upon it by government - amid concern that exposure to violent games was having a harmful effect on young players.

The flaw in the scheme is, of course, that without legal back-up, there's nothing to force stores to take any notice of the ratings whatsoever. The fact that it's taken Kmart so long to make the move it made yesterday - and then under some pressure from various US senators, including Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut - arguably shows just how worthless the ratings system has been.

In the UK, the games rating system, based on the nation's movie classification system, makes it illegal to sell titles to under-age buyers. A parallel voluntary code, set up by the European Leisure Software Publishers Association (Elspa), rates games that do not fall into the film system's remit. Most major UK games retailers abide by the Elspa code of conduct forbidding sales of violent games to buyers who are too young.

"While manufacturers have put ratings on the games, we think education has to occur with the retailer too," Dale Atley, Kmart's Vice President for Public Policy, told US newswires.

It's worth noting that Kmart claims that only around three per cent of the games it sells have an M rating, which shows the game is unsuitable for anyone under the age of 17, so the store isn't exactly going to be badly hit financially if it turns away 12-year-olds trying to buy Quake III.

The company did not say what penalties it will apply to any staff at its 2000 stores who sell games to under-age buyers despite the new regulation.

The band of politicos who asked Kmart to take a stand against violent games made the same request of other US retail chains Target and Toys-R-Us. They have yet to respond. Retailers Sears and Wards, meanwhile, earlier decided to stop stocking M-rated games altogether, again under pressure from Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan. ®

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