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U.S. bill proposes tobacco-style warning labels for games

U.S. bill proposes tobacco-style warning labels for games

March 20, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

Two congressmen have introduced a bill that would require almost all video games to feature a warning label concerning exposure to violent games, similar to the health warnings on tobacco products.

Called the Violence in Video Games Labeling Act (H.R. 4204, PDF link), the bipartisan bill seeks to label games in the U.S. with a message that reads "WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior" on their packaging (or in another clear and conspicuous location, if distributed digitally).

"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," said Virginia Representative and the bill's co-sponsor Frank Wolf, according to The Hill.

California Representative Joe Baca, who also co-sponsored the bill, added, "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."

In a statement provided to Gamasutra, the Entertainment Software Association's Rich Taylor denied that any links exist between violent games and violent behavior: "Representative Baca's facially unconstitutional bill — which has been introduced to no avail in each of six successive Congressional sessions, beginning in 2002 — needlessly concerns parents with flawed research and junk science.

"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."

Taylor also pointed out that many video games are already labeled with ratings and content descriptors from the Entertainment Software Rating Board. If passed, the Video Games Labeling Act would empower the Consumer Product Safety Commission to label all games rated by the ESRB, with the exception of those with "Early Childhood" ratings, with the warning.

Several recent attempts to penalize violent video games have failed, such as the 2005 California law that sought to ban the sale of such games to minors without their parents' approval. The Supreme Court eventually overturned the law, and ruled that video games quality for First Amendment protections, just like books and other media.

And earlier this year, a proposed Oklahoma bill looked to impose an extra 1 percent tax on all games rated T (for Teens) or higher, which would fund anti-bullying and outdoor education programs for children -- it was eventually struck down in a 5-6 vote. New Mexico had a similar bill in 2008, which failed to clear the state legislature.

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