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ESRB Scrutiny Proposed By Latest Video Game Bill

Florida Republican Cliff Stearns, who most recently presided over a hearing entitled “Violent and...
Florida Republican Cliff Stearns, who most recently presided over a hearing entitled “Violent and Explicit Video Games: Informing Parents and Protecting Children”, is now proposing U.S. legislation, HR 5912, being dubbed the “Truth in Video Game Rating Act”. It aims to direct the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to “to prescribe rules to prohibit deceptive conduct in the rating of video and computer games.” If passed, the act, which is being co-sponsored by Democratic representatives Jim Matheson and Mike McIntyre, would force the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to play a game in its entirety prior to giving it a rating, a move that would no doubt require much more time and manpower than the current system which has no such restriction. This would seem to present a particularly weighty concern with regards to lengthy games, such as Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which recently came under fire and was subsequently re-rated from T (Teen 13+) to M (Mature 17+), following the revelation of a topless game skin contained within the game. In addition, publishers themselves would be held accountable for any content found after the fact that was not revealed to the ESRB beforehand, a move no doubt sparked by the heated “Hot Coffee” debate surrounding Rockstar and Take Two Interactive's Grand theft Auto: San Andreas. The act would also prevent any person or entity (i.e. The ESRB) from “gross mischaracterization” of video game content, as defined by the FTC. Lastly, the legislation would have the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct its own study concerning the effectiveness of the ESRB, whether or not ratings, such as those issued by the ESRB, should be peer-reviewed, and whether an independent ratings system would offer better accuracy and effectiveness. The study would also investigate the marketing of inappropriate video games to young audiences, as well as the “efficacy of a universal ratings system for visual content” across multiple platforms, not just those pertaining to video games. However, comments from ESRB President Patricia Vance during the June subcommittee hearing made comments that would seem to allege that the act which Stearns has proposed would be unnecessary. In her defense of the ESRB in June, Vance noted that the “ESRB commissions independent research on an annual basis to measure parental awareness, use and agreement with the ratings,” and that the organization's most recent findings indicate that 83 percent of parents with children who play video games are aware of the ESRB ratings. In addition, she noted during the hearing that 74 percent of these parents use the ratings as guidelines when deciding what games to buy. [Thanks to GamePolitics.com for bringing this bill to our attention.]

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