Rated P for Politics: Proposed bill would make ESRB ratings legally binding

ESRB ratings logos

It seems that on a daily basis some politician somewhere, decides that he or she has the solution to whatever deleterious effects violence in video games might have on the human psyche. Yesterday it was President Barack Obama calling for expanded research into those effects, while today a Congressman believes the answer lies with the Electronic Software Ratings Board.

Colloquially known as the ESRB, the Board mainly serves as the arbiter of which games should be rated M and which games have little enough blood and gore to qualify for a T rating. At the moment there’s little difference between these two ratings, at least as far as sales are concerned, so publishers are just as keen to debut a new title that’s been rated M for Mature as they are a game with a T for Teen rating. This stands in stark contrast to Hollywood studios which avoid the R rating whenever possible. Traditional wisdom dictates that since more people are able to walk into a PG-13 movie than an R movie, the former rating is the one to aim for if you hope to maximize your profits. The gaming industry has never had such problems – M rated games perennially top sales charts – but if Representative Jim Matheson has his way, that all might change very soon.

Matheson proposed a bill on January 15 that, if ratified into law, would make the ESRB’s ratings system legally binding. The stated goal of the bill seems innocuous: “To require ratings label [sic] on video games and to prohibit the sales and rentals of adult-rated video games to minors.” If that sounds familiar, it should. Matheson’s concept seems to be a simple extension on current video game sales rules, with one important exception: Under Matheson’s potential law, those caught selling or distributing “adult-rated” video games to those under the age of 18 could face civil penalties of up to $5,000 in fines per violation. As it stands now, most games retailers refuse to sell M-rated games to kids, though if they do there’s no real official recourse for such things. Matheson hopes to change that.

It should be noted that Matheson’s proposed bill isn’t as outlandish as it may seem to American gamers. Both Europe and Australia provide legal penalties for selling mature games to minors. It may, however, find itself rubbing up against the recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned California’s efforts to classify violent video games in the same light as pornography. 

We’re opposed to censorship at any level, but Matheson’s bill is far less insidious than it seems on first inspection. We’re impressed to see a politician demonstrate knowledge of the difference between M and AO-rated games, and as a whole the changes Matheson has proposed would necessitate very little effort from existing games retailers. In the end, it seems the only people truly inconvenienced by this potential law would be children who will no longer be able to walk into the nearest Gamestop, slyly wink at the cashier (who happens to attend the same high school), and walk out with the latest Call of Duty title.

Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (March 2019)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this winter with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Legion'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (March 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

Here's what we know about the Dark Souls developer's next game

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the latest game from Dark Souls and Bloodborne developer From Software. Here is everything we know about the new game, including its setting and combat changes.

Upcoming zombiefest Days Gone boasts 30-plus hours of story-driven content

Days Gone, the first PlayStation 4 title from Sony's Bend Studio, looks to offer a different type of zombie game. Here's everything we know about the forthcoming title, from the setting to its gameplay.

Is Google launching a game-streaming service? Watch our GDC livestream to see

Google is presenting its 2019 GDC keynote on March 19. Here is how you can tune in to watch the event, as well as what could be shown during the presentation. Google's Project Stream service could be on the agenda.

Need to perform a factory reset on your Xbox One console? Here's how to do it

Whether you're upgrading to a One X and giving your old console to a friend, or troubleshooting a technical issue, sometimes your Xbox One needs a clean slate. Here's our quick guide on how to factory reset an Xbox One.

New character Octane makes an entrance with the first Apex Legends Battle Pass

Apex Legends' first season kicks off March 19 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. The Battle Pass comes in two versions, with the base version costing around 10 bucks. Seasonal rewards include a bevy of new loot such as legendary skins.

The Unevn One is a portable desk that brings PC gaming on the road

Bringing a gaming PC outside your usual setup can be a challenge, but the Unevn One is the first all-in-one, portable gaming desk complete with a computer chassis and integrated monitor mount.

How to get the most out of agent builds and specializations in The Division 2

The Division 2 has an intricate loot system to let you fine tune your agent to fit your play style. In our builds and specializations guide, we'll walk you through all of the stats you should pay attention to when tinkering with gear.

Transport your Nintendo Switch in style with these nifty cases

The Nintendo Switch, which boasts both wired and handheld modes, needs a good case to ensure it doesn't get beat up while you're on the go. We scoured through dozens of Switch cases to bring you the best ones.

Here's how you can control your PS4 right from your phone

Sony built the PlayStation 4 with smartphone and mobile integration in mind. Take a look at our guide for connecting your smartphone or tablet to a PS4, so you can get the most out of the system while on the go.

Here's our guide on how to progress through The Division 2 endgame

Your mission as an agent doesn't end after taking out the three main factions in The Division 2. The endgame brings the Black Tusks, a dangerous new faction, to D.C. Our endgame guide will help you on your quest for the best loot.