A new bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make ESRB ratings legally binding.
Utah's Democratic representative Jim Matheson has introduced the bill known as H.R. 287, which seeks to "require ratings label on video games and to prohibit the sales and rentals of adult-rated video games to minors."
According to the bill, any person who distributes an unlabeled game or sales an adult-rated game to a minor is subject to a fine "of not more than $5,000 per violation."
As of now, ESRB ratings are the standard and somewhat enforced at most chain shops, but there's no legal precedent to do so, just as it is with adult-rated movies and music in the US.
A similar bill was introduced back in 2011 when California attempted to regulate the sale and rental of violent video games to children, but it was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in a seven to two vote.
"No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm," said Justice Antonin Scalia in the ruling, "but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed."
"Video games qualify for First Amendment protection," the ruling dictated. "Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium. And 'the basic principles of freedom of speech . . . do not vary' with a new and different communication medium."
"The State wishes to create a wholly new category of content-based regulation that is permissible only for speech directed at children. That is unprecedented and mistaken. This country has no tradition of specially restricting children's access to depictions of violence. And California's claim that 'interactive' video games present special problems, in that the player participates in the violent action on screen and determines its outcome, is unpersuasive."
Of course, this bill is being introduced hot off the heels of the Sandy Hook school massacre which has lead to mass hysteria, lots of finger-pointing, and president Obama spending millions to research the link between video games, the media and gun violence. Still, given how much the Supreme Court objected to a similar law two years ago, it seems unlikely that H.R. 287 will go into effect.
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