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British Columbia to limit sale of violent video games

Proposed law calls for classification and distribution licences

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The government of Canada's British Columbia province is seeking to enact a law that would force games developers to have their software rated and sold as if it were a movie.

The proposed legislation, recently announced by BC's Attorney General, Graeme Bowbrick, will see the territory essentially adopt the US' Entertainment Software Ratings Board's rating scheme, changing a few of the ratings to change which age groups they apply to.

The BC scheme will see software graded on audience suitability, with games rated as suitable for Teens (14- to 16-year-olds) and Mature (M) players (those aged between 17 and 18). Adults Only (AO) titles are only suitable for, and can only be offered to people over the age of 18.

However, while the ESRB's US ratings are provided for parental guidance, BC's legislators propose that their own scheme will also restrict how rated games may be sold. So, titles rated M or AO will have to be viewed and approved the territory's film censor before they can go on sale through specially licensed vendors.

Retailers will have to place M-rated titles in a special section of the store, and AO games will have to be tucked out of the way in a special room of their own - no doubt hidden behind one of those curtains made out of strips of tinfoil.

All of which sounds rather draconian, even to we Brits, who've had to put up with video game classification for some years now. Essentially, BC's proposals put computer games on a par with the territory's existing movie classification and distribution legislation, just like the British approach. Over here, however, while a title rated 18 must not be sold to someone under that age, at least the game isn't hidden away from view like it's just some pervy video.

Which appears to be how the legislature sees games. Certainly the proposed legislation cites a "growing body of research" that reckons to show found links between computer games and violent behaviour - and probably even masturbation, foul language, listening to pop music, dancing and bed wetting, if you dig deeply enough. It doesn't offer anything that counters that viewpoint, even though there are plenty of researchers out there who believe there is no connection.

It's telling that the Attorney General's press release quotes one Jillian Skeet of the British Columbia Coalition Opposed to Violent Entertainment. No representative of the games or software industries are quoted.

The timing of the legislation may also provide a clue to the reasoning behind it. An election is coming to BC, so it's no surprise that populist proposals like these are coming out of the legislature. To become law, the proposed legislation must be voted through three times - which, ironically, may not prove possible thanks to said election. If it does get through, the law would become effective next September. ®

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