Federal Lawmakers Target Ratings

In June, the US House of Representatives Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the increasingly hot topic of violence in games. The hearing grew contentious in places as politicians grilled representatives from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and Entertainment Software Association over the way games are rated and marketed.

The man who presided over that session, subcommittee chairman Rep. Cliff Sterns (R-FL), has proposed legislation to correct what he believes is wrong with the system. The “Truth in Video Game Rating Act” (H.R. 5912), proposed by Sterns last week, would order the Federal Trade Commission to create rules governing the rating of games.

First and foremost, Sterns’ bill would require any ratings body whose label will appear on a game’s packaging (basically just the ESRB) to review the content of the game “in its entirety” before providing a rating. Currently, the ESRB rates games based on a video tape of each game’s most objectionable content, as determined and compiled by the publisher submitting it for review.

The new rules would also prohibit publishers from failing to disclose the content of a game to the ratings board and prevent anyone from providing a rating that grossly mischaracterizes the content of the game. It would fall upon the FTC to determine what constitutes gross mischaracterization.

Finally, the bill would require the US General Accounting Office and the General Comptroller to study the effectiveness of and possible alternatives to the ESRB, including a universal ratings system that would also cover movies, music, and TV.

After being introduced, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.