Grand Theft video game prompts Ontario warning

October 27, 2004
CTV News

Stopping short of slapping an "R" rating on the latest instalment in the Grand Theft Auto video game series, Ontario's consumer minister says parents must keep an eye on what their kids are playing.

Commenting on the release of the new game, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," Ontario's Consumer and Business Services Minister Jim Watson says he finds the game disturbing.

GTA player kicking woman"There's blood, there's gore, there's a lot of violence, and we have to ensure that parents know what their kids are buying and what they're watching,'' Watson said before the government's weekly cabinet meeting.

Nevertheless, he won't slap it with the same rating he gave to another game from the same company a few months ago.

"Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" allows players to adopt the So-Cal gangster lifestyle in a wide-open recreation of Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Copies of the game are flying off store shelves at a record clip. Analysts expect the exclusive Playstation 2 game to ring up worldwide sales in the neighbourhood of $270 million in its first week alone.

Concerned that youngsters were buying a game not meant for them, Watson put a Restricted rating on the controversial Rockstar video game, "Manhunt," in which players control a murderous fugitive who earns points for executing a series of increasingly gruesome murders.

Calling it "vile and violent," Watson said at the time that the game industry should be held to the same standards as the movie industry, with the same rules and penalties for kids who access material only deemed appropriate for adults.

Watson says he's not going to do the same thing with this game, and will instead rely on the province's proposed ratings system to give parents the information they need to decide whether the game is right for their family.

"Parents, shopkeepers, and young people will know what the rating is, and they won't be allowed to purchase it if they're... under 17," Watson told reporters Wednesday.

"Our role, as I see it, is to ensure that parents, and shopkeepers, and the people buying it know exactly what the contents are through the ratings system, and that seems to be working."

Although Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec have all taken steps towards restricting access to video game content, there is no single, enforceable, national standard.

Instead, video game makers voluntarily submit their products to the New York-based Entertainment Software Rating Board for rating before they hit the shelves.

Under Bill 70, which is now awaiting third reading in the Ontario legislature, the province would institute a system of mandatory ratings and a framework of penalties for retailers who don't heed them.

In August, Watson said Ontario's system would likely follow the ESRB model when a mandatory video games rating system is established in the province.

Here's a breakdown of the ratings assigned by the ESRB:

EC: Early Childhood. For kids aged three or older. Parents would have no problem with the content.

T: Teen. For children aged 13 and older. May contain violent content, mild or strong language, and/or suggestive themes.

M: Mature. May contain mature sexual themes, more intense violence and/or strong language. Not for people under age 17.

AO: Adults Only. May include graphic depictions of sex and/or violence. Adult Only products are not intended for persons under the age of 18.

E: Everyone. May contain minimal violence, some comic mischief and/or mild language.

While some critics say even those ratings aren't thorough enough, others are equally concerned by the prospect of switching from a voluntary to a legislated solution.

Worried that new laws could hurt business if they're forced to acquire a licence or stock adult titles in a separate part of the store, for example, retailers have vowed to voluntarily control kids' access.