Could Federal Enforcement of the ESRB be in our Future

esrbSadly, every couple of years there seems to be another mass shooting somewhere in the country. While these events are unique and tragic, public reaction is typically the same. Time and time again we hear the same stale arguments about the evils of popular culture; movies, music, and especially violent video games. The public reaction to this cycle of violence almost seems scripted. One could design a flow chart with variables concerning age of shooter and number of casualties to accurately predict just how much heat video games will feel from a particular event. The recent events in Aurora and Sandy Hook have triggered a not often seen legislative response regarding violent video games.

There are two new proposed laws that have been grabbing headlines lately. The first is proposed by Representative Franklin of Missouri and calls for a 1% tax increase on violent video games. With no clear definition of “violent video game” and being predicated on the idea that sixty cents will un-disturb the already disturbed, Rep. Franklin frankly doesn’t have a shot at getting this thing passed. Jim Matheson of Utah on the other hand does have a chance at getting his piece of legislation passed. HR-287 takes advantage of the definitions provided by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). HR-287 seeks to change video game industry participation in ratings administered by the ESRB from optional and voluntary to required and enforceable by law. The burden of enforcement would be put on retailers with fines, $5000 per infraction, for selling games to persons under the rating defined age appropriate group. By using an already existing ratings system that is almost universally submitted to and putting the responsibility of ratings enforcement on those selling games, HR-287 is poised to get some real traction with the general public and law makers alike.

The ESRB, the MPAA rating system, parental advisory on music, and descriptions of age appropriateness on children’s toys are all unquestioningly good things. They provide a base-line for the decision making of adults, not only for themselves but for what ever minors might be in their care. So when we begin discussing legal mandates on these ratings, really we are talking about legislating parenting. Is it right, is it fair to hold retailers accountable for poor parenting? Most parents read and understand ratings and age appropriateness guidelines on products because they care about the safety and well-being of their children. So, is it ok to hold retailers financial and legally responsible for the failings of a few parents?

Alex Bauman (95 Posts)

ALEX BAUMAN is COIN-OP TV’s features writer/contributor. Alex is a Seattle area writer who has been covering the games industry since 2008 with three years of contributing for the Examiner.com. Alex has covered numerous events, including regular trips to PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) in Seattle. Husband, father, and life long gamer Alex embraces his unnatural Xbox 360 obsession with vigor; sometimes sacrificing food and/or sleep for that next achievement.