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US Congressman Wants To Slap Cigarette-Style Warning Labels On Video Games

It may have been in early 2009 when US Congressman Joe Baca first got the idea that video games should be slapped with health warnings. He wrote a bill that would mandate it. It went nowhere.

He did the same thing in 2011. That bridge went to nowhere, too.

If he was a predictable legislator, he would be doing this again in 2013, but California Democrat Joe Baca has thrown us a curveball. Yesterday, he introduced the newest version of his “Violence in Video Games Labeling Act”.

He wants this label on every video game: “WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behaviour.”

Let’s look at how the Congressman has evolved his position through the years.

Here’s 2009 Joe Baca, while announcing his plan to put health warnings on video games:

“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,” said Rep. Baca. “They have repeatedly failed to live up to this responsibility. Meanwhile research continues to show a proven link between playing violent games and increased aggression in young people. American families deserve to know the truth about these potentially dangerous products.”

Here’s 2012 Joe Baca, while announcing his plan to put health warnings on video games: :

“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,” said Rep. Baca. “They have repeatedly failed to live up to this responsibility. Meanwhile research continues to show that playing violent video games is a casual risk factor for a host of detrimental effects in both the short- and long-term, including increasing the likelihood of physically aggressive behaviour. American families deserve to know the truth about these potentially dangerous products.”

What a difference three years makes!

The Congressman has been concerned that playing video games affects kids’ brains. He has referred to studios by the Pediatrics Journal, the American Psychological Association that “all point to a link between playing violent video games and aggressive behaviour in children and teenagers”. We may not be axe-murderers here at Kotaku, but that doesn’t completely disprove these studies. At least one of them shows that images of gamers’ brains are different from those of non-gamers’ in a way that suggests that games may make kids prone to being more aggressive.

But video games are protected speech, you might say. And cigarettes are not. Shouldn’t games be treated more like that speech stuff? Music and TV shows are rated voluntarily by the industries that produce them, as are games, but the game ratings system isn’t sufficient, the Congressman says.

And so we have Congressman Baca’s evolving bills.

2009 version:

111th CONGRESS
1st Session

H. R. 231
To require certain warning labels to be placed on video games that are given certain ratings due to violent content.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
January 7, 2009

Mr. BACA (for himself and Mr. WOLF) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce

A BILL
To require certain warning labels to be placed on video games that are given certain ratings due to violent content.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION REGULATION.

(a) Regulation- Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission shall promulgate regulations to require the warning label described in subsection (b) to be placed on the packaging of any video game that is rated T (Teen) or higher by the Electronics Software Ratings Board.

(b) Warning Label Content- The warning label required under a regulation issued under subsection (a) shall be placed in a clear and conspicuous location on the packaging of the applicable video game and shall state: `WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behavior.’.

(c) Video Game Defined- As used in this Act the term `video game’ means any product, whether distributed electronically or through a tangible device, consisting of data, programs routines, instructions, applications, symbolic languages, or similar electronic information (collectively referred to as `software’) that controls the operation of a computer or telecommunication device and that enables a user to interact with a computer controlled virtual environment for entertainment purposes.

2011 version:

112th CONGRESS
1st Session

H. R. 400
To require certain warning labels to be placed on video games that are given certain ratings due to violent content.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
January 24, 2011

Mr. BACA (for himself and Mr. WOLF) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce

A BILL
To require certain warning labels to be placed on video games that are given certain ratings due to violent content.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION REGULATION.

(a) Regulation- Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission shall promulgate regulations to require the warning label described in subsection (b) to be placed on the packaging of any video game that is rated T (Teen) or higher by the Electronics Software Ratings Board.

(b) Warning Label Content- The warning label required under a regulation issued under subsection (a) shall be placed in a clear and conspicuous location on the packaging of the applicable video game and shall state: `WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behavior.’.

(c) Video Game Defined- As used in this Act, the term `video game’ means any product, whether distributed electronically or through a tangible device, consisting of data, programs, routines, instructions, applications, symbolic languages, or similar electronic information (collectively referred to as `software’) that controls the operation of a computer or telecommunication device and that enables a user to interact with a computer controlled virtual environment for entertainment purposes.

2012 version:

112th CONGRESS
2d Session

H. R. 4204
To require certain warning labels to be placed on video games that are given certain ratings due to violent content.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
March 19, 2012

Mr. BACA (for himself and Mr. WOLF) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce

A BILL
To require certain warning labels to be placed on video games that are given certain ratings due to violent content.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION REGULATION.

(a) Regulation- Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission shall promulgate regulations to require the warning label described in subsection (b) to be placed on the packaging of any video game that is rated `E’ (Everyone), `Everyone 10+’ (Everyone 10 and older), `T’ (Teen), `M’ (Mature), or `A’ (Adult) by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

(b) Warning Label Content- The warning label required under a regulation issued under subsection (a) shall be placed in a clear and conspicuous location on the packaging of the applicable video game and shall state: `WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior.’.

(c) Video Game Defined- As used in this Act, the term `video game’ means any product, whether distributed electronically or through a tangible device, consisting of data, programs, routines, instructions, applications, symbolic languages, or similar electronic information (collectively referred to as `software’) that controls the operation of a computer or telecommunication device and that enables a user to interact with a computer controlled virtual environment for entertainment purposes.

Notice that the 2012 bill expands the target. Baca wouldn’t just label games rated T and up anymore. No, he’s digging in. The warning’s gotten sharper, too.

Congressman Baca’s earlier game-labelling bills died in committee in 2009 and 2011. We’ll let you know what happens to the 2012 edition.

Baca’s press department, whose staff has been recycling the Congressman’s quotes about video game labelling since 2009, did not return a request for comment about the new bill and why the Congressman feels so passionately about this issue.


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