Readers of GamePolitics will not soon forget the contentious June 14th video game hearing of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. The ESRB and its president, Patricia Vance, came under heavy fire during the proceedings. Ultimately, several members of Congress would be lampooned by Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, for clueless comments made during the videotaped session.
Now, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL, seen at left) has formalized his issues with the ESRB by introducing HR 5912, the so-called "Truth in Video Game Rating Act."
Among its provisions, Stearns' legislation directs the Federal Trade Commission "to prescribe rules to prohibit deceptive conduct in the rating of video and computer games." Under terms of the proposed bill, the following would be defined as unlawful:
- Rating games on only partial content: Unlike the present system, the ESRB would be forced to play games in their entirety
- Withholding content: Publishers would be on the hook for failing to completely reveal content to the ESRB.
- Gross mischaracterization of content: Although not specifically named, the ESRB would be barred from "grossly mischaracterizing" (as defined by the FTC) game content
Perhaps more significantly, Rep. Stearns' legislation would also compel the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study in order to determine the effectiveness of the ESRB system; whether content ratings systems should be peered-reviewed; whether an independent ratings system would be better; how commonly underaged buyers can purchase M-rated games; as well as the possibilities for a universal ratings system.
Co-sponsoring Stearns' bill are Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) and Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC). Matheson is also the sponsor of HR 5345, retail-oriented video game legislation introduced during the week of E3 2006.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Stearns, Matheson, and McIntyre are all running for re-election in November.