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Thompson responds to ESRB letter on Utah legislation

Justin McElroy

Last week, ESRB chief Patricia Vance urged lawmakers in Utah to reconsider a bill that would punish retailers that advertise an adherence to the game rating system when they fail to comply. Proving that we're still in Reality Prime and not some alternate, Cubs-just-won-the-World-Series history, disbarred lawyer Jack Thompson has responded with some of the old classics: Misleading information and scare tactics.

First, let us say we agree with JT's point that he should be allowed to peruse the audit which claims a 94 percent compliance rate for Utah retailers (it does seem high). But scarcely can we nod our heads in agreement before Jack drops a line like, "Testimony in the U.S. Congress has established that the ESRB doesn't even play the games it rates! " No, Jack, it watches video of the games, because members of the ESRB are not Nintendo Game Play Counselors manning the 1-900 line in the late '80s. They're not trying to boost their Gamerscores, they're doing a boobies check.

He then goes on to complain about the lack of ratings enforcement on the internet, which has nothing to do with the Utah legislation. Finally, Jack doesn't address Vance's most compelling point: Retailers who don't attempt to comply with the ESRB would be utterly unaffected. Lest you think we're nit-picking, we've put the full thing for you after the break.

This may sound nutty, but it's almost nice to see that, after all these years, we're not just vilifying Jack Thompson out of habit.

Dear Ms. Vance:

I have read the above, if you actually are the author of it, with a great deal of bemusement. Please note, by way of response:

1. We have asked for the alleged "audit" of Utah video game retailers that supposedly reveals a 94% compliance rate, but those who supposedly have it have refused to produce it. I wonder why that would be? The Federal Trade Commission, on the other hand, finds a much higher failure rate throughout the country, which includes Utah. Frankly, given the endemic mendacity and fraud of the video game industry, there's absolutely no reason to believe any "audit" that it commissioned.

Testimony in the U.S. Congress has established that the ESRB doesn't even play the games it rates! As then Senator Clinton said, "The game rating system is broken." It's more than broken. It is a fraud.

2. This bill is not just about video games. It's also about movies and other age-rated products. The FTC has found widespread, startling refusal by movie renters, sellers, and exhibitors to enforce its age ratings. We're not picking on the video game industry. We're being consistent.

3. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has done PSA's with the ESRB, and yet he has no problem whatsoever with this bill. Neither do the Utah retailers, who dropped their opposition to the bill.

4. As you know, there is absolutely no attempt whatsoever by your industry to enforce age ratings on video games sold directly to kids via the Internet. This is outrageous. In the case of certain pornographic games featuring lap dances and sex in cars with prostitutes, who are then killed, these sales constitute criminal activity.

5. You and your organization talk a good game about wanting parents to make these game-buying decisions, but when a state, by legislation, tries to make sure that parents make these choices rather than their unaccompanied 12-year-olds, the ESA and ESRB fly into court and try to have the parent-empowering legislation struck down.

That shows you don't really want parents making the ultimate decision. You and your industry want a direct shot at kids' wallets without the parents knowing what they are buying.

Finally, the bill has passed the Utah House by a vote of 70-2. You are, as we used to say, a day late and a dollar short.

What you should have done in a timely "open letter" was praise the Utah House for trying to look out for parents' rights to rely upon truthful advertising.

Your industry, according to the FTC, has a 20% failure rate across the country, as I already noted. You have rules at the ESRB which promise that you will punish those retailers who are not adhering to the age ratings. You know who they are. The FTC has identified them. What are you doing to punish them? Answer: Nothing.

So Utah is acting because the ESRB has not acted, and it is about time. The ESRB says one thing and does quite another. Parents have had enough of that.

Regards, Jack Thompson

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