March 21, 2012 at 4:17 PM ET
H.R. 4204, or the "Violence in Video Games Labeling Act," is a recently proposed bill by Reps. Joe Baca, D-California, and Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, to force game makers to label their offerings, in a manner similar to what's found on cigarettes.
The bill supports the notion by some that playing violent video games can have a negative, long-lasting impact on children, hence the need for a health warning. However, despite several studies done to validate such a theory, no such cause-and-effect has been conclusively proven.
According to Baca:
"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."
"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."
Some studies have demonstrated a link between violent games and aggression, but the results are inconclusive at best, and hardly unique to similar studies that have also (unsuccessfully) attempted to tie such behavior with movies, music and comics books.
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, or ESRB, rates every commercially released title, and categorizes them. Classifications are determined by weighting a variety of factors; a game that is rated mature may have no violent content, but instead contain strong language.
But according to Game Politics, the bill would force a label on every single game that is not rated "EC," or "early childhood" (which is the "safest" rating possible, mostly reserved for purely educational offerings). If a game has any actual violent content, it would still be considered as such.
Similar bills have been proposed over the years, and each has been shot down. And as Kotaku points out, this isn’t the first time Baca has proposed such legislature: it’s his third. In each instance, the target has become more encompassing and the warning ever sharper.
Matthew Hawkins is an NYC-based game journalist who has also written for EGM, GameSetWatch, Gamasutra, Giant Robot and numerous others. He also self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of Attract Mode, and co-hosts The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on him via Twitter, or his personal home-base, FORT90.com.