SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson has once again introduced legislation requiring ratings on video games and vendors to check the identification of those purchasing video games with adult or mature content.
Matheson’s proposal has gotten more attention after President Barack Obama, the National Rifle Association and others expressed concern about the effects of violent video games following the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in December.
Critics say Matheson’s proposal violates the First Amendment. They include the Entertainment Software Association, which represents video game publishers, who called Matheson’s proposal unconstitutional.
Matheson, a Utah Democrat, unsuccessfully introduced the proposal in 2006 and 2008. The bill would require a visible content rating on the package of every video game. The legislation would also bar video game retailers from selling games rated “mature” to those under the age of 17 and games rated “adults only” to anyone under 18. Matheson’s bill would impose a fine of $5,000 violators of those provisions.
The ratings would be based on the standards used by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which is the video game industry’s self-regulating body that assigns game ratings. The system is voluntary, but almost all games sold in the U.S. are rated by the ERSB, according to the board’s website.
According to ESRB standards, a game with a “mature” rating may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content or strong language. An “adults only” game may include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content or gambling with real currency.
The Entertainment Software Association, which established the ESRB, said they alone should responsible for ratings of game content, not the government.
“Empowering parents, not enacting unconstitutional legislation, is the best way to control the games children play,” the video game trade group said in a statement.
Matheson told The Deseret News that he expected constitutional questions to be raised about his bill.
“There are some constitutional issues that call into question if you can do what my bill says or not, and I freely acknowledge that,” he said. “I’m not trying to get in the way of constitutional rights of adults at all, but I’m suggesting it’s at least important that we have this conversation.”
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court revoked a California law criminalizing the sale of violent video games to minors. The court ruled that video games were entitled to free speech protections under the First Amendment.
After the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in December, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association blamed violent video games and movies — not guns — for contributing to mass shootings. Wayne LaPierre cited the games “Mortal Kombat” and “Grant Theft Auto.”
The White House also called for research on the effect of media and video games on gun violence as part of a package of gun control proposals.
Matheson said he doesn’t think children should be buying games with “extreme violent or sexual content,” especially if the industry itself is recommending they’re not appropriate for those under 17 or 18.
“I don’t understand the logic of having these ratings but doing nothing to enforce them,” said Paul Bury, the editor-in-chief of Family Friendly Gaming, a Christian-oriented video game publication. Bury said he supports Matheson’s proposal but thinks it wouldn’t hold up in court.
Matheson’s bill has been assigned to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where it is awaiting a hearing.
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