Official blasts "Beer Pong" rating

July 7, 2008 5:34:30 PM PDT
Connecticut's attorney general said Monday that a video-game-rating board's decision to approve a game called "Beer Pong" for children as young as 13 shows the organization needs to take the issue of teen drinking more seriously. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Monday that the Entertainment Software Rating Board made a mistake by clearing the game for young teens and he worries other games in the yet-to-be-released Frat Party Games line will be approved for those same gamers.

"Beer Pong" was designed by Las Vegas-based JV Games Inc. for Nintendo Co.'s popular Wii game system. JV Games Vice President Jag Jaeger informed Blumenthal last month that the company is renaming the game "Pong Toss" and eliminating all references to alcohol, though the company's Web site still promotes the game as "Beer Pong."

"We stopped this game, but that is only a minor victory if it is followed by others," Blumenthal said.

The video game is based on a popular college drinking game where competitors toss a pingpong ball into the opposing player's cup. If the ball lands in the cup, the opposing player typically has to guzzle beer.

Blumenthal said he believes the game glorified alcohol abuse and binge drinking, but the rating board's president disagreed in a letter to the attorney general last month. Patricia E. Vance defended the original game's rating, saying that alcohol played a minimal role in the game and no one was shown drinking beer.

"Despite being premised on a drinking game, the game's content involves essentially nothing more than tossing pingpong balls into plastic cups," Vance wrote.

Vance said three "specially trained, adult raters" with no ties to the industry reviewed the game and recommended the "T" rating for people 13 years old and older. There was also a description of the game's content that mentioned the alcohol references.

Blumenthal said the "Beer Pong" name itself belies claims that the role of alcohol in the game is minimal. He added that beer was depicted in the graphics used for the game's title, some of the beer pong tables in the game displayed images of kegs and mugs of beer, and a full bar was in the background.

"The whole basis for the games is heavy alcohol consumption - simply not appropriate for teenagers and deserving more consideration by the Board," Blumenthal wrote.

That's also the opinion of some Virginia school groups, drug-free coalitions and anti-underage-drinking groups. Last month, a coalition newsletter was sent to parents, warning them about the game's teen rating. They also sent a petition to JV Games protesting the game's release.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board is a nonprofit, self-regulating board that independently assigns ratings and provides impartial information about the content of computer and video games for consumers, especially parents. The group is funded by fees charged to companies that volunteer to have their products are rated.

Blumenthal sent a second letter to the board on Monday, asking that other video games that contain alcohol content be given an adult rating, for users 18 years old and older.

Jaeger said it would be "ridiculous" to rate his game for adult audiences, and added that Nintendo will not publish such games. He said the game "Grand Theft Auto," known for its violence, was given a lesser "M" or mature rating.

Jaeger said the video game was never about alcohol, but rather the growing sport that has developed around beer pong. There's even a World Series of Beer Pong that is held in Las Vegas where contestants vie for $50,000 in prize money.

"The game never showed any drinking, it never depicted anyone getting drunk," he said Monday in a telephone interview from his Las Vegas office. "The thing is, it's becoming a really well-known sport."

Jaeger said he hopes the revised "Pong Toss" will be released at the end of July. The other games in the "Frat Party Games" line are not yet finalized.

--- On the Net: