A new online computer game is poised to go where few games gone before: the bedroom.
"Naughty America: The Game" is an online, massively multiplayer game that claims to be "the first of its kind." By combining one-on-one chat functions, player profiles and multiplayer dating games with options to interact both online as well as in the real world, the game offers players a sexy alternative to the typical fantasy and science-fiction of most role-playing games.
Available in adult stores, "Naughty America" can also be downloaded online and that -- among other things -- is causing controversy. While adult stores require photo ID in order to make purchases, how can the game's makers be sure their customers aren't children?
'Naughty America' Too Naughty?
In "Naughty America," players can let loose their wild side with trips to the game world's casino, tattoo parlor or sex shops. They can own their own apartments or use one of the public venues provided to throw a sex party or to indulge in a personal fetish.
Safe Escape Studios and Eight Legs Inc., co-creators of the game, insist that Naughty America is intended only for mature gamers.
Eight Legs President Noah Dudley said enacting safeguards is a major concern.
"We're working with a company called Sentry that provides background checks and can assist in age verification," he said, though he admits that the specifics of Sentry's involvement are still up in the air.
The game will also require a monthly subscription fee paid with a credit card.
But Donna Rice Hughs, president of "Enough Is Enough," an organization dedicated to protecting children from Internet dangers, is unconvinced those steps will be enough.
"Kids are adept," she said. "If there is a way of getting around them [Internet safeguards], they will find it."
The Entertainment Software Rating Board, which determines ratings for video games, requires that all online games rated "M" (for mature) or above, must verify the player's age with a credit card.
Video game consoles like Playstation 2, Xbox or Gamecube have built-in parental controls that allow parents to restrict the games their kids are playing.
Dan Morris of PC Gamer Magazine believes efforts like these show that the industry is succeeding in upholding "age gates."
"It's hard to even look for a Spiderman game without going through [one]," he said.
Morris believes that most publishers take the regulations seriously, in some cases almost too seriously.
He notes that the industry is going through "some growing pains" and said most publishers are "hyper-aware" of the guidelines set up by the government and industry watchdogs.
Yet he also points out that there are bound to be those who push the boundaries.
"You're always going find an outlier company really trying to make a splash," he noted.
Despite reassurances from experts, the power of video and computer games concerns politicians in Washington.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, charged with consumer protection, is holding hearings today about the violence and sexual content of these adult games.
Games: By the Numbers
For some, video games may seem like child's play, but the majority of the industry's customers are actually adults.
The Entertainment Software Association reports that the average game player is 33 years old and that 69 percent of all game players are over the age of 18.
Aside from broadening their market, the game industry's influence continues to grow as well. According to the ESA, games brought in $7 billion in combined computer and video game sales in 2005 and an estimated 42 percent of Americans have or will purchase a game in 2006.