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Ratings help gift-givers pick age-appropriate games

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 1999


WASHINGTON -- With holiday gift-giving just around the corner, an entertainment software panel has a message for Santa: Check the ratings.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board launched a national education campaign to help parents choose the right computers and video games for children.

In addition to a public service announcement featuring golfer Tiger Woods, the campaign will try to reach parents by placing educational materials in major retail stores.

"When parents check the ratings, the control is in their hands right where it belongs," said Arthur Pober, the board's executive director.

Industry figures show about half of the estimated $6-billion in annual video game sales will be in the last month before the holidays.

The independent ESRB panel, established in 1994 by the Interactive Digital Software Association, the trade group representing computer and video gamemakers, has rated almost 6,000 games.

Under its rating system, a symbol on the front of a game's box tells for which age group the product is appropriate: "EC" for early childhood, age 3 and older; "E" for everyone, age 6 and older; "T" for teen, age 13 and older; "M" for mature, age 17 and older; and "A" for adults only.

Also, the games have content descriptions in a black-and-white box on the back of the package that provide information about among other things violence, sexual themes, language, even drinking alcohol and tobacco usage.

People who rate the games are retired educators, parents and others with no ties to the computer or video game industry, industry spokesmen said.

Few parents know about the rating system.

A recent survey conducted for the organization found that only 45 percent of parents are aware of it, and when the system was described to them, 80 percent said it is helpful.

"The campaign is founded on the core principle that when people know about the ESRB, they use it and trust it," said Doug Lowenstein, president of software association. "Our job is to make sure they know about it."

Pamela Eakes, founder and president of Mothers Against Violence in America, said, "Knowing what's right for your kid takes a lot of work, and this is going to help a lot of parents."

Stores such as Wal-Mart, Target and Hollywood Video have agreed to help distribute educational materials, officials said. Wal-Mart plans to run the Woods announcement on its in-store television network.

Other stores, including Toys "R" Us, Babbages, Funcoland and Electronics Boutique, have programs under way.

Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Herb Kohl, D-Wis., praised the campaign but said the industry can do more.

"My hope is that the gamemakers will not stop here, that they will commit uniformly to stop marketing ultraviolent games to kids and that ultimately they will reduce the amount of digital murder and mayhem they are creating," Lieberman said.

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