House Bill Looks to Impose Cigarette-Style Warnings on Video Game Packaging

U.S. Representatives Joe Baca (D-CA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) have introduced H.R. 4204 into the U.S. House of Representatives, which would impose a warning label on the sale of every video game rated “E” and above by the Entertainment Software Review Board (ESRB).

The warning would state “WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior.” This is similar to the Surgeon General’s warning labels that are put on all packs of cigarettes.

Rep. Baca spoke with The Hill on his recent measure.

“The video game industry has a responsibility to parents, families and to consumers — 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.”

Rep. Wolf made an outright comparison between video games and tobacco:

“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.”

Mr. Baca introduced a similar bill in 2009. It did not make it out of subcommittee.

The Entertainment Software Association has come out against the bill. ESA Senior Vice President for Comminications and Industry Affairs Rich Taylor lambasted the “junk science” the bill is based on in an interview with Gamasutra.

“Numerous medical experts, research authorities, and courts across the country, including the United States Supreme Court, exhaustively reviewed the research Representative Baca uses to base his bill and found it lacking and unpersuasive. Independent scientific researchers found no causal connection between video games and real life violence.”

H.R. 4204 is the latest in a string of legislation aimed at adding barriers to the sale of video games to minors. The State of California recently had to recoup the Entertainment Merchants Association’s legal fees as a result of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. EMA ruling. An Oklahoma law that would have imposed an additional 1% tax on the sale of all video games rated “T” and above by the ESRB recently failed in committee. Finally, in Connecticut, state Senate Bill 400 was raised, which would tax all digital purchases, including video games. A public hearing was held on the bill on Friday, March 16th, with speakers from the public being unanimously opposed to the bill.

The entirety of the House resolution is below. Crystal Steltenpohl did her own study on the addictive properties of video games here.

Analysis: Another day, another idiotic piece of legislation that tries to put the ills of society on the video games industry. I especially love that they’re going to put this on “E” rated games, which can have “mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language” (source). This is simply an assault on the video game industry from a poltiician with heavy backing by people opposed to the industry.

The same tenets apply as before. It would put legal, binding authority on the ESRB, which is a voluntary board. It wouldn’t affect the mobile and digital industries, which aren’t rated by the ESRB. It’s needlessly costly, especially as it’s championed by a Representative in a virtually bankrupt state. In short, this hits all the checkmarks so well that I’m just going to have a “stupid video game-related legislation” template going forward because, frankly, I’m bored of writing about this crap.

I don’t expect this to get out of subcommittee, just like the last time Rep. Baca tried this in 2009. Calling it “bipartisan” is a misnomer: just because two guys are working together doesn’t mean it will get out of subcommittee, let the House and the Senate. And then Rep. Baca will go back, lick his wounds, and try again in another couple years. Lather, rinse, waste our time, repeat.


Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.