The ESRB ratings are there for everyone to see. But if a new bill is passed, parents and retailers will be bound by law to respect those ratings.
This bill – dubbed H.R. 287 , or the Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act – has been introduced to the United States House of Representatives and would make the ESRB ratings legally binding. As of now, there are no legal penalties for a retailer that sells age-inappropriate video games to kids. You can be fined, however.
The bill was introduced by representative Jim Matheson (R-Utah) on January 15 and will be discussed as part of the Committee on Energy and Commerce; the committee tackles subjects in the telecommunications, consumer protection, food and drug safety, public health research, environmental quality, energy policy, and interstate and foreign commerce areas. If the bill is passed, it would be officially unlawful for anyone to sell or rent games with AO ratings to any person under the age of 18. It would also be illegal to sell or rent games with an M-Mature rating to consumers under the age of 17, as per the ESRB's analysis.
It would further be against the law to sell a game that doesn't feature the ESRB rating "in a clear and conspicuous location." For the record- I've never seen a game that didn't boast an ESRB rating, and I also can't remember the last time a game was rated AO (Adults Only). That rating is typically financial suicide as most retailers won't even stock it and if they do, it's not often on public display. However, there are lots of M-rated games, so there's cause for action.
The ESRB has responded by saying they understand and support the sentiment behind the bill, but they still believe it's unconstitutional and we need to empower parents to fix the problem. …the problem I have with that is we've tried to empower them. We've been trying for almost 20 years since the ESRB went into effect in 1994. All the education has been readily available. In the end, parents buy their kids violent games regardless of that education and hence, I would have to support this law.
I'll stop supporting it when the majority of parents prove that they can be parents. That hasn't happened yet in my eyes.