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, govtrack.us, 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.


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  1. identicon
    Nick-B, 18 Jan 2013 @ 9:04am

    As one of the few democrats in Utah... I apologize for Matheson, for he knows not what he does.

    When I first heard about this the other night, I instantly derided the bill as idiotic garbage. Not only is enforcement of sales to age groups by the VOLUNTARILY IMPLEMENTED ratings system by the ESRB been declared unconstitutional (ask a handful of states that passed it and had it overturned by courts, thus paying millions to ACLU lawyers), but the other half of the bill is also horrible.

    Declaring that any game cannot be created (and sold) from inside one's garage-band website without review by a third-party VOLUNTARY ratings system goes against too many principles our country is proud of. Imagine musicians cannot sell their music without going to a board to make sure songs with bad lyrics have an age rating. Imagine an author not being able to sell his book online because he didn't take it to a board for mature content first. Imagine an artist being unable to sell a painting without it going to a board of other artists for approval first.

    Not to mention that the vast majority of games sold ALREADY have and SELF ENFORCE said ratings system. I don't know of a single store that doesn't "card" it's customers for mature video games already. I don't know of a single store that will sell a game without a rating already on the box (unrated are as bad as AO, which NOBODY sells). In order to even release a game for all the consoles (which is a majority of game sales) you must have an ESRB rating before you can be licensed to make it for said game system.

    The only location this will stop are the various "indie" developers that are making the games people WANT to play. They do it out of their own pocket expenses, sell it on their own websites, and keep all their money. They don't want to be fined up to $5000 for every copy they sell because they didn't go to some third party group and beg them to rate their game (at their own expense, mind you).

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