Another Legislator Hops On Board The 'Violent Video Game' Bandwagon; Introduces Redundant Labeling Bill

from the Rated-M-for-'Moronic' dept

Recent events have returned video games (especially "violent" ones) back to their normal position as convenient grandstand/whipping boy (or girl, you sexist)/political football. Vice President Joe Biden recently met with representatives of the video game industry to inform them that they were just as responsible as the NRA for recent tragic events, and even if not, they'd be mentioned frequently in the same headlines. (The NRA also placed the blame on video games -- quite possibly the only issue on which it saw eye-to-eye with Biden.) New Jersey governor Chris Christie recently declared the M-rated "Call of Duty" games were not welcome in his home, quite possibly because he has four children and it's an M-rated game. And President Obama has called for a thorough study of any possible connection between gun violence and video games to be performed by the CDC.

So, it is with feigned shock that I pass on the news that a politician has introduced a bill aimed at violent video games -- one that looks to "implement" stuff we already have, only with Uncle Sam in charge.
In the wake of President Barack Obama's announcement that the CDC would study the effects of violent video games and other media, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) has introduced bill H.R. 287, which would "require ratings label on video games" and "prohibit the sales and rentals of adult-rated video games to minors."
Ratings labels, eh? You mean like these handy things that have been slapped all over video games for the past 19 years?

Oh, and "prohibit the sales and rentals of adult-rated [?] video games to minors?" You mean the sort of thing that nearly every respectable retailer has been voluntarily doing for nearly as long?

I understand that politicians are generally allergic to terms like "voluntary" and "self-regulating" and are more partial to terms like "government oversight" and "mandatory" and "nanny state," especially when the prevailing winds favor doing a bit of "something" in response to tragedy. But to force a redundant system into use in order to enforce a standards system that has worked well for years is not only a self-serving, needless expansion of government power, it's just plain stupid.

Matheson's bill would make it mandatory for all games available for sale or rent to sport a rating label, something that nearly every commercially distributed game already features. (Many indie games distributed exclusively via download do not carry these labels, as they are rarely submitted to the ESRB.) Strangely, Matheson's bill relies on the ESRB to provide the rating, rather than turn it over to another agency.

(a) Conduct Prohibited- It shall be unlawful for any person to ship or otherwise distribute in interstate commerce, or to sell or rent, a video game that does not contain a rating label, in a clear and conspicuous location on the outside packaging of the video game, containing an age-based content rating determined by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.
It also requires retailers to post rating information, as supplied by the ESRB. Again, most retailers already do this voluntarily. This goes beyond redundant and into some bizarre coattail-riding territory in which the government piggybacks its agenda onto an existing system and, presumably, rewards itself with raises and high-fives shortly thereafter.

The only difference between what exists now and Matheson's "bold" "vision" for the future is the weight of government enforcement.
It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or rent, or attempt to sell or rent--

(1) any video game containing a content rating of ‘Adults Only’ (as determined by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board) to any person under the age of 18; or

(2) any video game containing a content rating of ‘Mature’ (as determined by such Board) to any person under the age of 17.
Matheson turns this enforcement over to the Federal Trade Commission, adding an "up to $5,000" fine to any violations. Once again, the question is why? All this does is add a layer of unneeded regulation and fines to a system that a majority of game buyers and sellers feel is working just fine. This is just Matheson turning a system from voluntary to mandatory just so he can appear "tough on video games," which is a terrible plank for any platform.

On the upside (for us -- not so much for Rep. Jim Matheson), legislation tracking site,, currently gives the bill (as it stands) a 3% chance of getting past committee and only a 1% chance of being enacted. Part of this is due to the fact that many other states have tried (and failed) to enact government regulation of video games, something the Supreme Court declared violated the First Amendment. Another factor is the general inactivity level of our representatives (often considered "ideal" by small government types) which has resulted in only 11% of bills making it past committee and only 2% into actual law.

For now, it's more of the same old video game scapegoating, with this effort being surprisingly lazy in its approach. It's cyclical and repetitive, like EA's release schedule -- comforting in its familiarity and unsurprising in its lack of imagination.

Filed Under: free speech, jim matheson, labeling, video games, violent video games

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  1. icon
    shane (profile), 19 Jan 2013 @ 9:56am


    I'm pretty sure they've done multiple studies of that sort already. It won't work.

    The reason it won't work is that, even as any single part of the culture is going to be hard to correlate with individual behavior, it is also impossible to ignore that cultural values impact behavior. Even if you are, like me, one who argues that poverty is correlated with violence, and that human rights and just distribution of the means to sustain one's self would ameliorate much of the violence in any society, you are nevertheless left then with one irrefutable fact.

    You are arguing that society's values are motivating certain members of society to behave in specific ways.

    Human behavior is complex even when taken one by one. Trying to scientifically analyze all of culture in order to control everyone is almost hopeless.

    I have played probably all of the most disgusting video games and watched some of the most vile entertainment there is. Happily, to date, I have not participated in any of the anti social behaviors depicted. Even when watching something that depicts gross immorality as something appealing, rather than using it as a way to tag a specific character as a bad person, I still don't go out and do things that I am aware are wrong. I tend even to avoid doing things OTHER people think are wrong, unless of course I think THEY are wrong to think so.

    So sure. Video games don't cause the violence. But people do nevertheless get tired of entertainment that seems to just sort of gratuitously go against the expectations of society. It is a constant drain on the energy of many people to have to deal with it day by day, protect their kids from it, be exposed to it.

    Nothing is ever going to make them stop trying to make it go away. Simultaneously, nothing is ever going to stop other people, who rather enjoy all of this stuff, from telling them no.

    You may as well get used to it. Society is always going to have its little expectations.

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