In the wake of the December shooting in Sandy Hook, video games have become a popular subject in United States Congress and Senate. A number of bills have been proposed, some of which want to make the Electronic Software Ratings Board’s system for rating video games by age-appropriateness legally binding, much like the United Kingdom did with its PEGI ratings system. The idea is to make retailers even more vigilant about keeping kids away from violent games. Retailers like GameStop, Best Buy, and Walmart are already vigilant about not selling Mature-rated games to minors, meaning that the onus is on parents to prevent kids from accessing those games. Walmart has been so insistent on the ratings system that its stance on carrying any “Adult-only” rated games is one of the main reasons so few AO-rated titles exist today. Since the ESRB was founded in 1994, only 21 games have earned that rating. Parents understand the ESRB’s ratings well. In fact, it’s almost impossible for them to better understand the ratings system according to the ESRB.
“We have seen a fairly stable percentage of parents in terms of awareness and use in the last several years,” ESRB president Patricia Vance told Games Industry International, “I don’t know how much higher we’re going to be able to push that. We’re now at about 85 percent awareness among parents with kids who play video games, and 70 percent say they use them all the time or most of the time.”
The ESRB’s ratings system isn’t confined to retail games, either. The group expanded its ratings system for digitally distributed titles in 2012, so the ratings are in place even for games downloaded to PCs, mobile phones, and tablets.
The Federal Trade Commission has praised the ESRB’s system in the past, highlighting how effective the tool is.
Some think that the ESRB system on its own doesn’t do enough to protect children from violent video games. In January, Utah Congressman Jim Matheson proposed House Reform bill 287, otherwise known as the Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act. The purpose of the bill is to make the ESRB’s rating legally binding. Like Senator Leland Yee of California’s law prohibiting the sale of violent video games to children, Mattheson’s bill proposed that game retailers be charged fines of as much as $5,000 each time they sell a Mature or Adults-Only rated game to children under the age of 18. Yee’s bill, and others like it, have been deemed unconstitutional in the past.