Sony's Play for Parents

If you've followed the recent controversy about sex and violence in video games, then you're probably not too surprised by Monday's announcement that Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) will include parental controls in its PlayStation 3 console.

After all the uproar about hidden explicit sexual content in Take-Two Interactive's (Nasdaq: TTWO  ) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas game last summer (relive the scandal through two Foolish opinions here and here), it's no surprise that console makers are striving to help parents monitor and control what their kids see -- and play -- in video games. Legislators have been eyeing the industry, which faces public pressure over what many consider inappropriate content in some games.

I'm a strong believer that parents should take an active role in what their children view and play, whether that's video games, movies, or music. If anything irritated me about the San Andreas controversy, it was the sense that a lot of the outrage came from people -- including parents-- who seemed very poorly informed. The graphics in question weren't easy to unlock, and it was no secret that San Andreas was a violent game to say the least -- it already had an "M" (for mature audiences) rating. To me, that suggests that a lot of parents were asleep at the wheel, seeing how sales of M-rated games are already prohibited to kids under the age of 17. (After the controversy, the game received an "Adults Only" tag.)

Sony's no groundbreaker for including parental controls in its console; in fact, it's last to the party. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) included that feature in its latest console, the Xbox 360, which is in stores now -- and seems to be a holiday sensation. Nintendo also announced that its Revolution console, due to launch in 2006, will also include such features. It's hardly a surprising move, given the industry's desire to keep Congress from legislating stricter regulations on video game content.

It's going to be six to nine months before Sony launches its latest PlayStation in stores. Microsoft beat it to the punch with the Xbox 360 for this year's holiday season, and it's looking like Microsoft's console is now one of the hottest electronics gifts around. Today's news out of Sony strikes me as nice ... but ultimately, investors will have to wait for its launch to see whether the Playstation pays up.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.


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