Yesterday, President Barack Obama outlined a series of plans
to help stem the growing tide of violence in the United States, including a series of autonomous executive orders and a set of legislative suggestions to Congress. As we pointed out when examining Obama’s speech, gaming (and the media sphere generally) were largely ignored, with the exception of a $10 million study – which Congress may never pass – examining the effect of violent media on America’s youth.
But in the United States, it’s Congress’s role to create laws and legislation, and Utah Democrat Jim Matheson has done just that
. With the 113th United States Congress freshly sworn-in, the legislative maelstrom has begun unabated with H.R. 287
, entitled the “Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act”.
At first glance, this may seem confusing since the ESRB has been rating games in the United States for nearly two decades. However, the ESRB is entirely voluntary and self-regulating; this legislation, in essence, would make the ESRB the law of the land. “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.”
Should this legislation be brought up for a vote and pass unamended through both the House of Representatives and the Senate, it would give the Federal Trade Commission 180 days to “promulgate rules requiring all retail establishments engaged in the sale of video games to display, in a clear and conspicuous location, information about the content rating system of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.”
Specifically, “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”… to any person under the age of 18; or (2) any video game containing content rating of “Mature”… to any person under the age of 17.”
Breaking this proposed law wouldn’t result in a criminal charge; rather, it would result in a civil penalty of upwards of $5,000 per transgression.
Interestingly, The Hill points out “that video games are protected under the First Amendment,” citing a 2011 decision derived from contention over a California law in which Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas – and even social messages… No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm… but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”
In other words, if this law were to pass, it’s likely to go before the Supreme Court, and if the court’s decision from two years ago is any indication, the law would be nullified.
We’ll keep you updated on further developments.