Brownback Proposes Game Ratings Bill in Senate

September 27, 2006 -

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) has sponsored legislation in the United States Senate which would require the ESRB to play games in their entirety before assigning an age rating.

Brownback's Truth in Video Game Rating Act (S.3935) would appear to be the Senate version of a House bill of the same name proposed by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL).

“The current video game ratings system needs improvement," Brownback said, "because reviewers do not see the full content of games and don’t even play the games they are supposed to rate. For video game ratings to be meaningful and worthy of a parent’s trust, the game ratings must be more objective and accurate.”

Brownback's measure would mandate the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to administer the requirement for a complete play-through before rating.

“Game reviewers must have access to the entire game for their ratings to accurately reflect a game’s content," Brownback added.

The bill would also direct the FTC to define parameters for describing video game content as well as defining what kind of behavior by the game industry would break those rules. 

Brownback also would have the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluate the efficiency of the ESRB system as well as the potential for establishing an independent rating body with no ties to the industry. Universal systems spanning movie, TV and games would also be looked into.

The conservative Brownback has been very active on video game issues in recent times. He worked with Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) on game-related bills such as the recently-passed CAMRA legislation and held committee hearings on video games in the Senate earlier this year.

Full text of Brownback's new bill is not yet available. We'll post it when it goes up on the Congressional system.


Re: Brownback Proposes Game Ratings Bill in Senate

In 50 hours of play, I travelled to less than 0.1% of the planets in Spore and documented less than 1% of the preexisting species, let alone the 80,000,000 user-created vehicles. Good luck, ESRB.

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Ah, election years, is it a wonder why less and less people go to the polls with every one?

Wow. You know what this seems like? A direct attempt at having the ESRB shut down. Why do I say that? Simple.

This would require them to play a game the whole way through, seeing everything in the game. Now, for some games, that may not be too bad. But what about others, like Oblivion, or the Grand Theft Autos, or any modern RPG? You know, the ones that take much larger amounts of time to beat in general, and that's not including all the extra stuff like side missions and such.

This, in turn, has the effect of making games take much longer (and thus be much more expensive) to rate, thus, quite possibly putting an end to either the ESRB, or any sort of long, dynamic, nonlinear games.

Of course, I'm guessing that's exactly what he's trying to do...

Auto FAIL!!!

1st amendment and 14, Brownback loses by default.

God I swear, these idiots get dummer by the minute.

Suuurrreeee...if a game was at most 3 hours long....they really don't have a clue.....and they wonder why people don't vote for them....

Why do people always only mention games like Oblivion when they talk about games that are very big? How about every single MMO out there? Those games have far more content than games like Oblivion do. And MMOs get patched about every single month or even more often than that in some cases. Does the ESRB have to test those patches as well? There is no way you can play MMOs in their entirety. And playing a game all the way wouldn't have stopped Hot Coffee from happening either.

America seems to be on the fasttrack to destroy the MMO industry when this ever allowed. And isn't this completely unconstitutional? Here he is suggesting that a governmental organization is telling a private organization what to do. The government can't dictate what kind of methods the ESRB should or shouldn't use.

Game bill shall be destroyed because of 3 letters.


you can't exactly rate MMORPG or any MMO unless you include player-orignating activities.

Obviously Brownback has no idea what he's proposing.

Yet another attempt at legislation that will go nowhere.

The bill would also direct the FTC to define parameters for describing video game content

Violates the First Amendment right there.

Also the fact that it focuses on the video game industry means the bill violates the industry's Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of due process.

No surprise that Brownnoser is doing this, as he's got Presidential aspirations as well.

And what about Easter eggs? They're hidden and not part of the story. The ESRB would have to look at EVERYTHING from EVERY ANGLE! I was watching an episode of Cheat where they showed a picture hidden on the inside of a cliff. You know those glitches when you're able to see through solid things if you look at it the right way? It was that kind of thing that allowed the pic to be seen... if you knew where to look OR you did the right thing in the right place and accidentally uncovered it!

That's just an example of one Easter egg. Another egg in another game included going to the top of a bridge... for no reason pertaining to the story.

The point is, as if beating the entire game, side missions and all wasn't enough, they'd have to look for hidden things... without knowing WHERE to look! It's hard enough doing it right if all you've got is a guide on, but doing it without knowing what you're looking for? Come on!

Aside from MMOs and RPGs like Oblivion already mentioned, how would this even apply at all to sandbox games like The Sims, or any of the GTA series?

Publishers would never pay the ESRB what it costs to rate games in this manner. If gaming magazines don't review games this way with advertiser support, how can the ESRB ever do it?

The entire system of ESRB ratings is supposed to be voluntary. Publishers voluntarily submit for ratings, and retailers voluntarily choose what they will or will not stock on their shelves in part based on those ratings.

This shouldn't be a political issue at all. If consumers find the ESRB ratings unreliable, they should communicate this directly to the retailer. If the retailer cannot use the rating system for the purpose for which it was designed, they will communicate this to the ESRB and to the publishers.

As much as people like to pile on it, the ESRB system is not broken. One instance of one publisher submitting a sandbox game that had hidden content unlocked by consumers is not an indictment of the ESRB's entire system.

What the ESRB ought to be doing right now is getting the retailers and publishers to rally behind it; because if the ESRB is seen as a total failure and it is replaced with a mandatory, legislated ratings system, that certainly won't be better either for retailers or publishers.

The only reason I can think for them not to do so is that 1) they resent the necessity of any ratings system whatsoever, and 2) they hope that while the scandals may eliminate the ESRB, that legal challenges can successfully be brought against any mandatory, legislated ratings system that replaces it, which will create a vacuum.

Actually, that might be what the publishers want. I doubt all retailers want to have to decide what games are appropriate by reading reviews.

Well, I personally have gotten sick of this BS. So lemme break it down for Brain dead Senator Brownback.

1. Ist amendment= Doa for your bill, as has been seen by 8 other courts.
2. 14 amenmdent on top of that= Government interferance in private rating system equal Constitutional suicide.
3. Equal protection and Due process, this bill violates both.

Anything else I missed or should have included?

Who’s the GAO?

“The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an agency that works for Congress and the American people. Congress asks GAO to study the programs and expenditures of the federal government… It studies how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. GAO advises Congress and the heads of executive agencies (such as Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, Department of Defense, DOD, and Health and Human Services, HHS) about ways to make government more effective and responsive. GAO evaluates federal programs, audits federal expenditures, and issues legal opinions... Its work leads to laws and acts that improve government operations, and save billions of dollars.”

The ESRB is not the federal government.

Andrew Eisen

Who’s the GAO?

“The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an agency that works for Congress and the American people. Congress asks GAO to study the programs and expenditures of the federal government… It studies how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. GAO advises Congress and the heads of executive agencies (such as Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, Department of Defense, DOD, and Health and Human Services, HHS) about ways to make government more effective and responsive. GAO evaluates federal programs, audits federal expenditures, and issues legal opinions... Its work leads to laws and acts that improve government operations, and save billions of dollars.”

The ESRB is not the federal government.

Andrew Eisen

Brownback's a douche, plain and simple. He's always been against stuff like this, as he's a foot-washing baptist of the worst stripe (no really, he is. I once heard a news story about a former digruntled staffer of his who claimed that he made his subordinates wash his feet in his office). After Lieberman goes, Brownback ought to be next.

Anyway, this legislation won't pass for the two simple reasons that have been cited before in the similar bill: GAO and FTC, as it is NOT their job to monitor and dictate content and would be considered clearly unconstitutional for them to do so.

I'm sure others will cover the impossibility of rating an entire game. Even simple games the Madden are impossible to rate on the entirety of the game (thanks Blitzfitness for this idea on a previous article).

However, is it too much to ask for the ESRB to at least play a beta version with the same relevant content that they currently view a video of? That might just be a token concession, but it would silence the ignorant critics.

Asshat Senator: "ESRB, you don't even play the games you rate! Won't somebody think of the children!"

ESRB: "We do play them. And we are helping parents (who are members of the ratings review team by the way) to protect their kids already. You lose sir."

See, wouldn't that be nice?

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

Utterly physically impossible. I think the ESRB is doing a fine job as it is. You haven't heard of the MPAA re-rating anything because of an oversight, have you?

Two reasons why this bill will fail: FTC and GAO. It is NOT and NEVER will be in their purview to dictate and regulate content. The FTC because it only montiros business practices and the GAO, as its name indicates, and only regulate and montior what the GOVERNMENT does, NOT the private sector! This bill is patently unconstitutional on those grounds alone.

This is all a warm up I think, for Brownback's proposed presidential campaign, as according to Wikipedia, he's hinted he might run as a Republican candidate in 2008. I doubt it, though. He's far too conservative for mainstream America (he championed Intelligent Design), and there's the little matter of his taking money from Jack Abramoff. Those are already two big strikes against him.

Testing, Testing. This is a test of the comments system, if you can see this, please disregard.

Thank you for your Cooperation, good night.

Of course I can actually see this going through, simply because it sounds like common sense...well it would for the early days of games when it was really just a few levels that could be finished in an afternoon. This is a physically impossible bill which could easily be eliminated if the ESRB puts the right amount of effort in to stop it.

It's time to change the way the ESRB works.

From here on out, every game will be sold WITH a strategy guide, thereby forcing the the authors of such books to give their own review of the game and allowing parents to see absolutely everything their child can see or do on said videogame.

Vote for me and I'll pass legislation that forces videogame developers and producers to change the pornographic packages from an unintelligable 7 1/2 x 5 1/2 x 1/2 to a much improved 18 x by 12 x 5 inch package. This will allow more pictures, larger icons, and lengthier unnecessary descriptors in the esrb box so that parents can begin parenting with quick glances that take less time out of their busy lives rather than sit down with their children day in and day out. After all, time is money.

So vote for me, Blitz Fitness, and I'll show the constitution who's boss.

*This message approved by Blitz Fitness himself, as no one would honestly want this joker in office*

Dagrak, it's likely to go through then die in court, just like the 8 other attempts before it.

Personally, i think Senator Brain dead up there needs to shut his mouth, but thats just me.

On a side note, awesome game related article, sarcasticly tearing up Jacks Arguments about games.

Take a look and enjoy.

"I AM THE HYPE" commercial was too much like a commercial and I got spam-tackled.

I wonder what would happen to a bill requiring the ESRB to rate games in full if the ESRB just folded and stopped rating games at all?

I'm really hoping this bill doesn't make it out of's nothing but bad news for this industry.

I've got a better idea. How about HE has to play every game in its entirety and then rate it. If he thinks its so simple, then why doesn't he try and it and see for himself that it's damn near impossible to play certain games "in their entirety".

Why am I spam blocked?

This sounds like another attempt to cause a chilling effect on the industry. It should have been "Police yourselves or we will" the ESRB is forme,d let's leaveit at that, but no, give the poiticians and inch, they take ten miles.



And hasn't it been brought up here before that the GAO is responsible for only government oversight, and therefore can't monitor the ESRB? Also, would it be possible to get a "Preview comment" button here? That would be super.


Fire in the hole.

I swear to god, that is all i ever hear during the election years.


This seems to me to be just naother attempt to incite a chilling effect on the industry.


Essentially forcing games to delay their release until they've gone through what could be a hundred or even hundreds of man-hours of play constitutes a chilling effect on freedom of speech.

haha. good luck on trying to accomplish this.

Sigh, I know he means well, but someone should explain to him that the Hot Coffee and Topless Orcs incidents would have happened EVEN IF the ESRB had played 100% of both games. Because both required a hack of the game files in order to occur. Playing 100% of the game as it sits on the shelf, without any modifications, would NOT have uncovered these things.

Unless Sen. Brownback is REALLY proposing that the ESRB ALSO go through ALL the files used to create the game, which would take even longer. I hope Sen Brownback is prepared to go through 27,000 texture files per level, just to make sure one doesn't look like a nipple. Oh, and better do combinations of all, just in case two textures lined up form a naughty picture.

Testing a post

I'm not automated spam. It won't let me post!!

- Warren Lewis

HELP!! I'm not automated spam. It won't let me post!!

- Warren Lewis

Here's another no one's mentioned... Disgaea

3 words... Random level generator...
Kinda hard to play a game in it's "entirity" when the game has an infinite number of levels.

Disgaea's definately not the first, nor will it be the last...
I'd definatly love to see the ESRB use this when they go to defend themselves against the bill. Grant it though, unlike judges, the legislators will ignore it and probably just try to dodge the question.

One good thing about legislation in congress though... better chance of anti-game politicans looking like complete idiots on national TV; all thanks to the daily show. Daily show may not focus much state side, but they just eat up the idiocy that goes down in congress. I'd just love to see another Jon Stewart styled bashing. Ah, the power of common sence...

This is a violation of Due Process clause of the 14th amendment and therefore like with all the other bullshit anti-gaming legislation, Unconstitutional.

I can't see this working for any number of reasons.

In an ideal world, yes this would be the case. Speaking as someone who has an eleven year old brother and will someday take up the mantle of parenthood myself, I would honestly prefer that every bit of content in a game be unlocked and reviewed before a rating was assigned to a game. I would prefer that our Hot Coffees and Headshot Modes be taken into account when the game is rated.

Then again, in the same ideal world there is no war; no famine, hunger or poverty; no violence and no crime. As a citizen who must exist in not just the vaccuum of my country but the greater community of the world, I would rather see these more important things disappear first before video games get proper rating... if we're going to be taking steps towards that perfect world.

Then again, what do I know? I'm just some punk kid who plays videogames.

Right now, to be rated by the the ESRB, it costs, what did someone say? Around $5000?
If such a bill passed what would it effect?
Right now, the independants who sell or distribute only online aren't always rated by ESRB. Would this bill only apply to publishers of software ONLY sold in brick and mortar retailers? Or would it require all others to have their material rated by the ESRB?

Whether it requires everyone or only sales in brick and mortar retailers, wouldn't the cost of having to rate games go up since more personnel would be required to play so many games all the way through?

And if this requirement is made by the government, wouldn't that mean that the government's Small Business Administration would have to, if not at least be heavily pressured to, require grants to be offered to individuals who wish to sell their small company or individually made games just to get rated by government requirement?

If not, I foresee possible arguments of discrimination in certain quarters since requiring, by government order, to have games rated and making the cost impossible for small business or individuals to make.

And not to mention higher taxes if grants are made.

And discrimination accusations if grants are limited and made only to some and not to other individuals/small businesses.

Maybe it does sound extreme, but there was already talk about how expensive it is now. I could easily foresee the cost tripiling from government requirments.

NW2K Software

Head Shot modes?

There's a solution here. Answer me this: Does a reviewer actually have to play the game to see it all? No.
Let's take a look at Grand Theft Auto. A big game, takes over ten hours to beat, probably closer to thirty if you want to get 100%. Hidden packages, jumps, Kill Frenzies, etc. make seeing 'the whole game' a very worthy endevor.
So, we create a film. What does this film contain? A flyby of the city, showing any points of interest, some footage of how combat works with each different weapon, and the cut-scenes for each mission. There, you've seen everything in the game. You haven't played a single bit, but you know what combat looks like, and you've seen every bit of scripted action in the game, so what's left?
Oblivion and MMO's are a bit more difficult, simply due to being on an even bigger scale. So what does the ESRB do? They ask the video game companies to send the footage that best represents the game. They *gasp* trust them (although I'm sure there'd be some hefty reprecussions for, say, not showing the presence of Fatalities in a Mortal Kombat Game). This is self-regulation, after all.
On that note, can the government force the ESRB to do anything? This is completely self-imposed by the industry. The government has no right to tell them how to do their jobs. To put it on my level, it would be like the government telling me that I had to make a version of my program for Macs (Maybe not a good example, as I work for a state university and my program does run on a Mac, but you get my point. ^_^)

I always thought that most Republicans were all for Small, Less involved in our lives government. I guess Sam must be one of those Big Government Republicans which is contrary to their own offical party stance, which is to leave government OUT of business. Are there any true (a.k.a - small government) Republicans left.

As much as I hate federal legislators wasting time trying to regulate video games because they don't know what else to do... I think some change is needed in the way games are rated. Sure, it'd be impossible to see everything if you only played the game for a day or two, but the ESRB's current system doesn't involve playing the game AT ALL. If game developers could provide the ESRB with a game demo, and they could base their rating on that, even that would be much better.
What Brownback is proposing is out of the question though, unless the game is rated by the developers themselves.

I'm a moderate republican. I consider myself a moderate but when push comes to shove my attitudes put me a tad conservative. I believe in small goverment. So yes, there are a few of us left.

Oh god....yet more proof that Politos know nothign about what their trying to legislate..or they want ESRB dead.

"I think some change is needed in the way games are rated."

Voluntary change by the developers as you say is a good thing and i agree, but when government gets involved and forces it by law, it's wrong. As the government is now taking it over. It reeks of communism.


It's too bad there are very few of you left out there. The Republican Party has for the most part been taken over by the Religious Right and the Big Government moralists. This is not what the Republican party was founded on. It was founded on the individual's right to make or break it on their own and less government intrusion in our personal lives.
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