Congress Proposes Video Game Ratings Changes

Steve Javors
WASHINGTON — Proposed federal legislation called the Truth in Video Games Act, or H.R. 5912, would fundamentally alter the way the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) assigns ratings to computer and video games, and contains language that gives the Federal Trade Commission oversight of the ratings system.

The legislation proposed by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., would effectively prohibit video game producers from failing to disclose its games’ content to the ratings board. The new rules also would stop producers from mischaracterizing content to circumvent the ratings board. The FTC would act as the arbiter of how “mischaracterization” is defined.

The ESRB was created by the Entertainment Software Association to function as an independent ratings board. The legislation would require the organization to view video games in their entirety before issuing a rating. Currently, the ESRB depends on producers’ statements about a game’s objectionable or adult content to assign a rating.

Video game publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. settled with the FTC in June over a graphic sex scene in its game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” The cheat only could be unlocked and viewed with a computer download and implementing “cheat codes” on PlayStation 2 and XBox equipment. Under the proposed legislation, Take-Two would have had to divulge the scene’s inclusion, which would have fundamentally changed its rating.

The new bill establishes rules that “prohibit video game publishers from failing to disclose the content of a game to the ratings board,” said. And it would “stop any party that mischaracterizes the content of the game from participating in the rating process.”

While there has been some movement to restrict the sale of violent video games at the state level in Illinois, Minnesota, Louisiana and California, among other states, most of these measures have been unsuccessful and struck down by state judges.

“The fact that Congress decides to do something about video game violence is much more serious than one of 50 states doing something or even five of 50 states doing something,” In-Stat Senior Analyst Brian O'Rourke told TechNewsWorld. “The Congress, at least in theory, represents the voice of the entire country.”

Additionally, the bill would require the General Accounting Office to study the effectiveness of the ESRB and devise possible alternatives, suggesting a universal ratings system that spans across the various mediums of movies, music and TV.