Yesterday, U.S. Representatives Joe Baca (D-CA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) introduced a bill called the Video Game Health Labeling Act that would federally mandate warning labels on a large subsection of video games.
Should H.R. 400 be passed, it would mandate that any game that is given a rating of Teen (T) or above by what is called the “Electronics Software Ratings Board” (note to Rep. Baca: It’s the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. Do your homework before putting bills into Congress, tiger) have a big warning label on it that specifically says “WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behavior.”. The bill does not have any allowances for whether a game is actually violent or was rated that way for any other reason, it just specifies games rated T and up.
In defending the bill, Rep. Baca stated the following (quote taken from Ars Technica):
“The video game industry has a responsibility to parents, families, and to consumers”â€to inform them of the potentially damaging content that is often found in their products. They have repeatedly failed to live up to this responsibility. Meanwhile, research continues to show a proven link between playing violent games and increased aggression in young people. American families deserve to know the truth about these potentially dangerous products.”
Just as we warn smokers of the health consequences of tobacco, we should warn parents – and children – about the growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior. As a parent and grandparent, I think it is important people know everything they can about the extremely violent nature of some of these games.
The link between games violence and real violence is questionable. The American Psychological Association came to the conclusion that games can increase the chances for violence in some – but not all – people. The National Institutes of Health put out a study that says that violent video games could lower the chance of violence in children. Lastly, Australian Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O’Connor put out a report stating that there was no conclusive evidence that video games induce child violence.
The staunchest advocate that violent games could be harmful to children has been California State Senator Leland Yee, who’s bill requiring by law that violent video games not be sold to children under the age of 18 was recently argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. Senator Yee, who has started an exploratory committee with the purpose of looking into a run for Mayor of San Francisco, is a child psychologist by trade. Representative Baca represents California’s 43rd District in southern San Bernadino County.
I’m not even going to spend time pontificating on the questionable studies and science that says that video games are harmful to the health of children; I’ve done that before, and in America, anyone who wants a study saying anything can get a group to provide that study with the right amount of money. Furthermore, it’s not worth wasting time talking about how clueless the people introducing the bill are if they can’t even get the name of the ESRB right. But there’s an interesting little disconnect between Leland Yee’s bill (which would only affect California) and this one (which is federal). Leland Yee, in defending his bill, has stated that the ESRB can’t be trusted because it’s self-regulated; he likened it to wolves guarding a hen house. This bill not only utilizes the ESRB, but it wants to make them *mandatory*. Is this some kind of roundabout way to bring the ESRB under government control? As it stands, if anything, congressional weight would actually make Sen. Yee’s concerns of a conflict of interest worse.
As for putting labels on games, did you know that there’s actually an iPhone app that lets you take pictures of game boxes, load them into your iPhone and find out *exactly* what a game has? It’s true! I even tested it! If that’s not enough, the back of the boxes actually say why the game was rated like it was. A big square on the back says that this game in question has alcohol references, mild fantasy violence, and mild language. Furthermore, I just took some boxes off of my shelf – just the ones I don’t have sorted yet – and looked at the back of the boxes to see why the ones that were rated “Teen” were rated the way they were:
* Generation of Chaos, PSP: Alcohol Reference, Language, Mild Fantasy Violence
* Hexyz Force, PSP: Mile Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes
* Phantasy Star Portable 2, PSP: Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes
* Trinity Universe, PS3: Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes
* Tales of Legendia, PS2: Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes
* Sakura Wars: So Long My Love, PS2: Language, Fantasy Violence, Sexual Themes
* Sin and Punishment: Star Successor, Wii: Fantasy Violence
Notice a trend? Other than the fact that I own *WAY* too many Japanese RPGs for my own good, every game had the a lot of recurring themes: Fantasy Violence, Language and Suggestive Themes. They are defined as such:
* Fantasy Violence: Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life.
* Language: Mild to moderate use of profanity.
* Suggestive Themes: Mild provocative references or materials.
The only thing that referenced violence on the shelf that I picked up games from were of a fantasy variety, which the ESRB itself says is “easily distinguishable from real life”. Even better, under Japan’s CERO rating (their equivalent to our ESRB), two of those games – Trinity Universe and Tales of Legendia – were given a CERO A rating, the all ages rating. Therefore, it could be argued that half of those games received a T rating only because of cultural differences between America and Japan. Needless to say, a game like Trinity Universe doesn’t need a warning that tells parents that the game might make their kid want to kill someone.
Regardless of all of this, I think this bill is dead on arrival. It’s already been written off as a low priority by House leadership, and it’s very highly doubtful that even a “bipartisan” bill like this gets out of a Republican controlled house, especially with the new Tea Party influence that, if they even take this up, is going to shut it down as an example of increased government spending. If there’s one benefit to the Tea Party having an increased influence in Congress, it’s that, at least.
Christopher Bowen is the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN. He has also written for Talking About Games, Daily Games News and Not A True Ending in his six years of working as a journalist in the industry, and is a frequent guest on the Post Game Report podcast. He specializes in issues relating to industry business, politics and law. Prior to joining the games industry, Christopher worked in IT as a Network Security Engineer and spent four years in the United States Navy, fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom before separating in 2004. He is engaged to Associate Editor Aileen Coe.