Manitoba could become the first province to rate all video games, making it illegal to rent or sell adult-rated games to people under 18.

Under the legislation introduced on Wednesday, retailers who break the law could face fines of up to $5,000, said Manitoba's culture minister Bruce Robinson.

The legislation is Manitoba's attempt to help concerned parents who complain that video games have become too sexually explicit and too graphically violent.

Both British Columbia and Ontario have each restricted access to a specific game after receiving complaints, but Manitoba's Amusement Amendment Act would go further than the other two provinces' ad hoc approach.

The Manitoba Film Classification Board would rate the games, most likely following the example of the U.S.-based industry self-regulation body, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

It measures the violence, sexual content, adult content and coarse language in video games, and allots classifications from EC for Early Childhood to E for Everyone to A for Adult.

The system is voluntary, and anecdotal evidence shows that Canadian minors can easily rent or buy age-inappropriate and restricted games.

The province's film classification board would enforce the law, but likely using only a single person, who is already busy enforcing film restrictions.

The board's only full-time investigator would respond to specific complaints, rather than patrol video stores in search of violations, the minister said.

The effectiveness of the industry's video game ratings has also been questioned. A Harvard School of Public Health study in 2001 found that many video games rated for minimal violent content actually contained a high level of violence. It showed that 35 out of 55 E-rated games, considered suitable for those age six and over, actually depicted violence such as killings, and the use of weapons.

Manitoba's opposition said it supported the legislation in principle, but doubted its effectiveness in replacing parental controls.

Some sort of regulatory action has been in the cards for years following high school shootings in Colorado, Georgia and Alberta. The teens responsible for those killings were reportedly influenced by the violent content of music, films and video games.

Federal ministers promised to take a look at the issue in 2001, but there has been no legislation.

Janet Robinson, vice-chair of the Ontario Film Review Board, said Canada's six film boards were currently discussing how to take a co-ordinated approach to video game ratings. However, no specific legislative moves were on the agenda.

Ontario this year gave an R-rating (Restricted) to Manhunt, a game where the player takes the role of an escaped death-row inmate, and the objective is to kill as many people as possible.

In 2000, B.C. gave the same rating to Soldier of Fortune, where the protagonist is an anti-terrorist mercenary whose task it is to kill as many people as possible.