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Bill would legally enforce ESRB ratings

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Pretty much any game carried in a U.S. retail store has a rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board on its packaging. But they are not legally required--much like the MPAA ratings given to films, they're voluntary self-classification on the industry's part. Representative Jim Matheson (D-Utah) wants to get rid of that "voluntary" part.

Matheson introduced House Bill H.R. 287 on Monday, which would fine any person up to $5,000 per violation for: selling any game without a rating on its packaging, selling any game rated "Adults Only" to anyone under 18, or selling any game rated "Mature" to anyone under 17. The "Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act'' would also require retailers to clearly display information about the ratings within 180 days of its enactment.

Few, if any, major retailers carry AO-rated games, and many are at least supposed to card customers buying M-rated games. But the bill would bring the U.S. in line with several European Union countries, including the UK, which have legislation requiring PEGI ratings on any games sold.

From the bill's text, it appears this could be used to prosecute smaller game creators for selling their projects online. For instance: Would Blendo Games need an ESRB rating to sell 30 Flights of Loving on its website or risk a $5,000 fine?

Blendo could get a rating for free, but it would still mean one more gatekeeper between small creators and potential consumers if enforced. We've contacted Rep. Matheson's office for clarification and will update this story when we know more.

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ESRB politics

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51 comments

  • JokerJ0613 - January 28, 2013 8:17 a.m.

    Well, with all the little CoD players out there... This is probably a good idea. I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner.
  • LordzOfChaos - January 18, 2013 2:44 p.m.

    I am completely for this. It already exists for movies so why not for other forms of entertainment? (Besides I'm already 17 so this doesn't really matter to me)
  • cgriff63 - January 18, 2013 10:50 p.m.

    This doesn't exist for movies, as stated in the article. You can buy movies that are "not rated." or "unrated." anywhere in the country. plus, this completely restricts the sale of Adult Only games. Most of which are total shit, but hey, if I wanna buy one, I should be able to.
  • cgriff63 - January 18, 2013 10:52 p.m.

    *edit* I missed the under 18 part. so ignore the part about adult only games.
  • LordzOfChaos - January 19, 2013 4:38 p.m.

    Have you ever tried to by/rent/enter a rated R movie when you're under 17? They won't let you. It might not be a law, but it's practiced all over the country. Besides most "not rated" movies are shitty B-movies or foreign. "Unrated" are director's cuts and are treated like rated R movies. And AO is porn. There are laws on porn.
  • D0CCON - January 20, 2013 3:22 p.m.

    This actually does not exist for movies or music. Both are self-regulated, exactly like videogames and the ESRB. It is not illegal for, say, Target (I've worked there so I know how they do things) to sell you an R rated movie or an M rated game. However, Target, like all major chains, follows the ratings set up by the MPAA and ESRB. That's why if an R rated movie or M rated game is scanned at the register, they will ask you for ID to scan because the computer refuses to let you check out a game until it can verify that you are of age. That is currently happening, right now, without a bill. If the bill were introduced, severe fines would be applied in the event that an M rated game was sold to a minor in some way. Since the liability would go to the store that sold the game, the potential risk may make them take M rated games off the shelves. That's why they follow ESRB and MPAA guidelines in the first place, in order to ensure that media continues to be self-regulated so fines can't be enacted in the event of a mistake.
  • LordzOfChaos - January 20, 2013 7:23 p.m.

    " It might not be a law, but it's practiced all over the country." That is what I said. You verified that by saying that Target (among other stores) will check for ID before selling rated R or M merchandise. Granted adding a fine is a little harsh, especially one that is $5000, but other than jail time it's the only way to enforce a law. Most good games these days are rated M anyway, unless they are Nintendo, so no CEO will stop his company from stocking their best source of income. This would be like not stocking PG-13 movies because they offend people. Cigarettes and alcohol are already carded so why shouldn't games and movies? This wouldn't ad to the employees workload much and would hardly be an inconvenience.
  • D0CCON - January 21, 2013 9:44 p.m.

    Your original comment said you were for this and that it exists for movies. It does NOT exist for movies, thus singling games out. And if the ratings board is already being enforced without a law, why create a law that adds harsh fines and costs taxpayer dollars to maintain. This law says that the ESRB is ineffective by itself, which is why the government needs to help. Since we've both said that the ratings are already enforced and effective, this law becomes not only superfluous, but also harmful because of the costs involved. And when this mentioned as a possible solution back when it was considered during, companies such as Activision said they would stop publishing M rated games if fines were placed on their sale to minors. Would they actually do it if this happened? I can't say, but they've still come out and said they would. Oh, and the exact quote that Activision Blizzard Executive VP George Rose said was "What would happen is that Call of Duty would then carry on it a 'restricted' category, no store in this country would carry that game, and the game would never be made. Period. End of question." That sounds pretty definitive to me.
  • LordzOfChaos - January 21, 2013 11:59 p.m.

    My original comment said that, but I rescinded that in the next one and went on to say that this does not exist and I was mistaken. A lot of flagship titles are rated M, Microsoft is not going to stop making Halo games. Video games are already singled out. If someone shoots a defenseless child who gets blamed? Video games. I don't think this law is fair, but if it will get the media off our asses and keep them from blaming every murder in America on games, I will support it with all my being.
  • JAZ9030 - January 18, 2013 1:57 p.m.

    My mom already dislikes getting out of the car when I go buy a game at gamestop. If this happens she will have to buy them for me. I haven't read any of the comments yet, but what about games I buy on psn or xbox live. Will sony or microsoft be fined also?
  • bebl09 - January 18, 2013 5:40 p.m.

    I'd imagine you simply wouldn't be allowed to buy them from PSN/XBL. Presuming you used your real date of birth on your account, they know that you're underage and you wouldn't be able to buy them. I live in the UK where ratings are actually legally enforceable, and that's what happened to my sister (who's 17). She set up an XBL account with her real details, went to buy The Walking Dead Episode 1, which is an 18-rated game, and it wouldn't let her.
  • ThundaGawd - January 18, 2013 11:25 a.m.

    I understand the reasoning behind this, as it's essentially what the ratings are for. But you look at all the modern games, and 90% of them are rated M for Mature. Very little AAA titles are rated below M nowadays. They'd essentially be prohibiting access to some of the best games on the market until you're 17 (unless your parents buy your games for you). Although it would be fun to weed out even a bit of the fucking 12-year olds in online shooters, personally I don't think enforcing this rule will do a whole lot. To be honest, if they wish to enforce the Ratings on Video games, they should do the same for movies. These asshats are still just hung up about violence in video games affecting the younger generations.
  • TanookiMan - January 18, 2013 9:42 a.m.

    I'm surprised they're trying this, what with the similar California bill being declared unconstitutional a little while back. It really does seem to come down to whether video games are protected free speech, like movies, or not. http://kotaku.com/5795472/video-games-defeat-california-in-supreme-court-battle-over-violent-video-games
  • bobob101 - January 18, 2013 9:34 a.m.

    I have to wonder if this would anyway affect digital distribution, since you can't see the actual person buying the game to know their age.
  • TanookiMan - January 18, 2013 9:48 a.m.

    I would think Parental Controls should be sufficient, just as parental controls on TV's can be used to prevent underaged kids from watching mature HBO shows and the such.
  • gingermidget - January 18, 2013 6:09 a.m.

    On the back of 18 rated games it says 'Users must be 7 years or older and users under 18 require parental consent' so it's not even illegal to play 18 rated games if you are under 18 so it's perfectly fine if a parent doesn't mind buying a game for their child
  • JarkayColt - January 18, 2013 4:21 a.m.

    Being in the UK, I already have to put up with this, but I agree it's a silly idea. I don't really have a much of a problem with a law which states that every game needs to have a rating (as people need to be aware of the sort of content in a game) but they shouldn't have their power of discretion infringed upon. By which I mean, if a 16 or 17 year old feels like they're at a mature enough level of understanding to play an 18/M game, then that should be their choice. As people have said, this won't stop these games being 'bought' by children, as children never buy these games anyway. If a parent & child go into a store to buy a mature game, their intentions should be questioned regardless of whether the staff are legally obliged to do so or not. Just make sure the parents are aware so they can use their common sense. Also, in my case, I can longer buy 18 games from a store, because I always get blockaded just because I don't look 18 and don't have a legitimate piece of this vague concept known as "ID" (for most people who don't have a driving license, you're a bit scuppered; I have a bunch of student identity cards WITH MY AGE ON THEM which apparently doesn't cut it!) However, there's nothing then stopping me from buying the games I'm entitled to buy online from the SAME RETAILER, where they suddenly have little to no checks in place. Pretty barmy if you ask me. And people shouldn't really have to prove their identity every time I just want to buy a piece of harmless entertainment. Like many problems, it's just about EDUCATION.
  • KA87 - January 18, 2013 6:12 a.m.

    Since when did 16 and 17 year olds start making rational choices? Were I live we have a high teen prenacy rate, poor teen driving, and a lot of drug and alchol use by teens. I agree with the rest of your arguement. Oh and quit complaining that people think you look young, I am 23 and people think I am 30. My youngest sister was born when I was 13 and the nurse asked me if I was the proud father. Really?
  • bebl09 - January 18, 2013 5:37 p.m.

    Agreed on the ID thing, so fucking annoying! It's worse though that there are 'valid' forms of ID you can get, but then clubs and bars don't accept them and only take driving licences and passports. I don't want to take my fucking passport out with me!
  • CrashmanX - January 17, 2013 11:44 p.m.

    On one hand I can see this being a good idea, in theory. On the other hand I can see this only hurting indie game developers and such while not effecting the sales of major titles in the least. Let's face it, when Jimmy or Susie wants to buy CoD or whatever M rated game, they tell Mommy or Daddy that they want it and if they don't get it they'll die. Then Mom/Dad buy it because they don't want to deal with the kid crying and TA DA. A squeeker on XBLA, Steam, PSN, or wherever, is born!

Showing 1-20 of 51 comments

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