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.


Brokenscope Says:

September 27th, 2006 at 12:27 pm
Head Shot modes?

In Grand Theft Auto III, there was a hidden code (much like the all weapons code or the pedestrians go psycho code) which allowed players to dismember their foes with the sniper rifle instead of just killing them. So if you shot them in their arm, their arm was gone, that sort of thing. I called it Head Shot mode because that's what I remember it being called in the magazine I read with it, because you could remove someone's head with a well placed sniper shot.

I'm stating the obvious, but I'm continually frustrated by the fact that none of these people seem to want to actually play a video game and learn what they're all about (finding out about things before attacking them isn't really our government's style afterall). It's impossible to blame anyone for it, but the fact is video games need a major image overhaul quickly...these stories prove time and again that the mainstream public is clueless. That really needs to change if the industry wants to continue to protect itself from ignorant lawmakers and, ultimately, ignorant voters.

This is some stupid crap there will be no way that these jerk offs will be able to a play a game to its entirity. It would take them months to finish some of the new games coming out. Not to mention the secret codes and such. Things like the Hot Coffee Mod in GTA San Andreas were brought out by hackers that spent lots of time writing the code to bring that into play. Does he really thing honestly that the ESRB will be able to check every line of code in these games. It would be like watching a movie frame by frame to see if you can see a nipple. Its just getting way too excessive. We dont live in the land of the free any more we live in the land of the government trying to "protect our children" because some lazy ass parents are too stupid to look into something before grabbing the first game thier kid says "mommy buy that for me." What it boils down to is instead of trying to make the ratings system better maybe they should try to educate the parents better. As a parent that plays alot of games I would never sit down in front of my Daughter and play GTA or Halo nor would I let her play them. I play what my wife and I call squishy games like Mario or Super Monkey Ball. If we keep trying to let the government "protect us" we're going to end up just like the world on V for Vendetta or freakin Demolition Man.

This whole idea would push submission for ratings of games longer than what they are now. Plus there are no "gamers" at the ESRB they have no idea how to play a game or what to look for. In addtition, this whole idea of playing a game in it's entirety is ridiculous because even if the ESRB were to play lets say all of GTA SA they still wouldn't know about the Hot Coffee thing because it was locked from the players.

Well, since the ESRB is obviously not doing their job, let's just abolish it. Abolish it and let congress rate the games. So out of the millions of things that congress has to do, such as propose taxes, vote on laws, worry about the war on terror,etc. etc., they should spend their time wasted on the trivial thing we call "running the country, making the democratic system work" and use it playing video games, deciding whether that one is safe for our kids. Is the problem about drug use in baseball solved yet?

Well, since the ESRB is obviously not doing their job, let's just abolish it. Abolish it and let congress rate the games. So out of the millions of things that congress has to do, such as propose taxes, vote on laws, worry about the war on terror,etc. etc., they should spend their time wasted on the trivial thing we call "running the country, making the democratic system work" playing video games, deciding whether that one is safe for our kids. Is the problem about drug use in baseball solved yet?


Yes, there are a few of us "small government, fiscally conservative" Republicans left, but unfortunately I'm not in office. Even before you get to the First Amendment issues of this bill, I'd oppose it just on my core conservative beliefs alone.

I've never thought too highly of Brownback. The Republican party would be much better off if we could get a few select people out of office (Brownback, Santorum, Ted Stevens from Alaska, and our current president come to mind.)

@ exaggeration17a
I disagree. Keep in mind that the raters are not gamers themselves. Non-gamers are specifically chosen in order to attempt to keep the proceedings unbiased. Furthermore, in order to determine if the game has too much blood, do you actually need to be at the controls? I think the rater can make just as good a decision by watching footage of Sub-Zero ripping Kano's head off than if they pressed Up, Up, Down, Forward, Circle, themselves.


While one of the consequences of this bill could indeed be the ESRB just folding up, I should point out how this would be a bad thing. Why? With the ESRB gone the government could step in and have the FTC start rating the games. Government bureaucracies being government bureaucracies, this new agency would be vastly underfunded, understaffed and uncoordinated. Getting any game rated and approved would probably take months (and that's before they even start to play the game "all the way through") and the video game industry would suffer heavily because of it.

OR, the video game industry would move to download-only distribution to circumvent the laws. The problems here are 1) not every video game fan has broadband and 2) consoles would be screwed. People would lose their jobs as smaller developers went under and brick & mortar stores couldn't support their businesses.

That's a worst-case scenario, mind you.

I know the governments in other countries have ratings boards (England and Australia come to mind), but I think they also function closely to the way the ESRB operates. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong on that.

I think whats really important here is that the ESRB was created by the industry as a chioce by the goverment. I think that the ESRB should remain to self regualte otherwise it's possible for a level of creativity to be shunned in the name of conflicts of interests.

@ marshie.

That was actually the nasty limb cheat. And the losing a head from a sniper shot thing was part of the default play. The cheat simply, as said, enabled limbs to be removed by sniper fire or explosions.

If that happens, then the ESRB will have to hire on extra people to play these video games for them... jeez, where do I drop off my application. Minimum wage to sit around and play video games all day, sounds like my thing...
---You are likely to be eaten by a Grue.

Sam Brownback probably doesn't understand why this is freaking retarded because he had an easy time with games in his day. I'm betting if you go back to his old neighborhood and take a peek at the Frogger, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Joust machines, all of them have his initials at the very top of the high scores list.

Sorry to say, but not many people randomly chosen off the streets will be able to play through God Of War 2. I had a VERY tough time with that. Hell, I have a tough time with Ultimate Spiderman. So yeah...either pro gamers play the whole thing and give a biased rating, or non gamers see a montage. You can't have it both ways.

If anyone is gonna play the games for the ESRB it would probably have to be the QA staff of the Title. Because I guarantee you no one knows more about a game then the Testing team.

@ kurisu7885: My apologies, I only remembered that the cheat enabled you to do nastier and more graphic things than normal. It's been a few years since I last played GTA III.

Ah well...

@ Marshie.

Can't say I blame you, things happen, time goes on, people tend to forget.

And to be honest, I and several gamers have wanted that cheat back i nthe GTA series.

I see no evidence that this addresses any of the objections to the previous bill.

1. How can the government force the ESRB to do anything? They're a private body. The government can't make legislation that applies specifically to them. This would be a violation of equal protection.

2. This would severely change the mandate of the GAO for no apparent reason. Doesn't this sort of thing fall to the FTC?

3. Playing games all the way through would make it take much longer and be far more expensive to rate games. This would do considerabel econimc damage to the industry.

4. The raters would have to be sufficiently skilled in video games to play through in a reasonable amount of time. This would rule out most people who would be thought of as representative of America's parents. Some games would be okay, but imagine some soccer mom trying to get through Ninja Gaiden on the top skill level to make sure it doesn't unlock boobies or something.

5. You can never really be certain whether you've seen all content in a video game. There are too mahy variables. Hot Coffee should have been an object lesson int his, but the people who matter don't seem to have caught on.

6. Requiring games to have an ESRB rating for distribution would mean that you had to pay a great deal of money (see point 3) in order to practice your right to free speech. This is a clear violation of the first ammendment.

The only part of this that may be legally valid is forcing accurate description on games with content descriptors, though I believe this already falls under the FTC's current powers to enforce truth in advertising.

Pretty much all game legislation is moving for the SAME general outcome: government regulation and censorship of game content. We have a long way to go before games are safe from these Left/Right wing extremists. And in light of the Columbine RPG, expect to see indie and independent developers go bye-bye.

What the ESRB should start doing, perhaps as a compromise (or even because it makes sense), is to review all graphic files for a game. It shouldn't take nearly as long as playing the entire game, and I'm sure a boobie texture skin would be easy to spot. Hell, perhaps even a review of audio files would be in order.

I've been trying to post the following comment for six hours. Not sure what the problem is.

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


In case you're wondering what my last post was about, I wasn't able to post here when I got up at 6:30 A.M. Every time I tried, it said that it was caught by the spam filter. Not only that, but every comment I made up to that point has disappeared.


Yeah. I first tried to make my comment at 6PST. I hit submit and nothing happened. I tried again and it told me I made a duplicate comment. So, I tried again when I got into work today and still had the duplicate comment message. Which is funny because the original comment still hadn't posted. Adding the line at the beginning changed the comment and forced it through. Not sure what the deal with that was.

Andrew Eisen

I would suggest that before being allowed to table this bill, Sen. Brownback should have to do some due diligence... like play even one game in it entirety. How about Civ IV... every culture, every scenario.

@ dog_welder,

You did understand that my post was sarcasm, right?

I was being sarcastic because I believe Congress and the Senate have bigger problems to deal with than violent video games, and to an even more trivial matter for them, drug use in baseball.

Silly Dan... He doesn't have time to actually play the games, just make frivilous laws ABOUT the games! I mean why bother paying attention to the amendments and jurisdictions and laws he's breaking when he's trying to convince little Timmy's parents that he's doing a good job?

All I know is that I want at least an interview for the position of getting paid to play a game all the way through.

Gee. Trying to mandate that a private organization which has no real, official capacity to enforce anything at all, follow external guidelines in order to perform its task?

Simple! The ESRB can liquidate and create a new organization, that takes up all the duties and has a slightly different name, in order to get around all these BS rules that are trying to be pushed on them. New company, new name, fresh start against all the bogus rules. Simple, no?

Regardless, of what Congress does, parents need to wake up and be parents!


- Warren Lewis

Consumer responsibility is just as important as Corporate responsibility. So, be responsible consumers.

The spam filter caught my comments. And when I could not find any of my previous posts I panicked thinking that I was banned or something. I tried to contact several people on this site about it. It really freaked me out.

For those I contacted, Sorry for flipping out.

- Warren Lewis

Consumer responsibility is just as important as Corporate responsibility. So, be responsible consumers.

//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?//

That's because Oblivion usually sucks up weeks-worth of hours VERY easily thanks to the massive amount of things shoved into it. Wheater or not it's any good is up to the individual that plays it, but it's agreeable that the company that made Oblivion usually crams in anything and everything possible in their games.

Along with a couple other people, I do think that this is an attempt to shut down the ESRB and to pass a scapegoat for people who play violent video games. The ESRB can only go with what they're told, and so it's up to the developers to make a demo or video showing off anything that is appart of the ratings system. If a violent video game had only pictures and demos of happy little birdys and flowers, and it's only released does everyone find out that it's bloody and gorey, then it isn't the ESRB's fault since they were only showed the "nicer" parts of it. One of the reasons why the Hot Coffee thing made such a boom, it was the first example in history to have an easter egg like that built into the game where the ESRB wasn't notified of it.

Ahh right this was brought up earlier this year.

Same arguement on their side... and the whole GAO issue only being able to deal with Goverment.

@Cecil-Yes! he lives!

All my comments were eaten by that spam filter as well.

Anyway, everyone else has stated what I wanted to say, that this is unconstitutional on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. Come to think of it, we said the same thing about the House version months ago.

"because reviewers do not see the full content of games and don’t even play the games they are supposed to rate."

Change reviewers with politicians and that'll be right

Well, now that i'm finally able to post, a quick run down of why this fails.

1. 1st amendment. Obvious, but important as it's been the key to killing every single bill so far.
2. 14th amendment. singling out games vs movies or Tv has also been a major amount of troubel for Game legislating polis.
3. due process and Equal protection.

These three things will derail the bill long before it ever gets enforced. A shame Sen. Braindead doesn't keep up with current events. Like the last 8 bills that failed. Or 30 years standing precident thanks to the MPAA.


I'm not sure if anyone's brought up this angle (there are a lot of comments on this page, you know...), but what about the reviewers themselves? Brownback did mention that the FTC would have to mandate "a complete run-through" for the game to be rated accurately by reviewers and the ESRB. Considering that most games are sent demo-style often for reviewers to preview and make judgements (basing this on articles read in several gaming mags, so bear with me), this would inconvienience not only the ESRB, but the reviewers as well, citing the amount of time it takes to complete a game. Reviewers would have to wait until the finished copy gets sent to them, play through it, and then write the review. I'm not entirely sure of the process of "get game, play game, review game," but I think it would honestly eat up too much time.

I'm sorry, this has nothing to do with the article, but I was put on the spam list for some reason.

These politicians are really stupid. I can't wait until this one fails. I'll be laughing until I cough up that T-bone steak I just ate.

*Munch Munch!!!!*

No avatars=the suxxor.

Regarding the FTC overstepping itsself and wrecking itsself, seems like this is a common theme these days. What with the other proposed law which would protect Bush from prosecution and allow future presidents to spy on whoever they damn well please for whatever reason they damn well please! (Nixon is rolling in his grave right now, imagine if they had just said "it's ok dude we'll just make what happened at watergate legal so your veep doesn't have to pardon you!")

We're heading towards being like mexico where the govt was severly fucked up in part because the constitution gave entirely too much power to the federal government and not enough to the states/provinces.

I am APPALLED over this proposed legislation, principally for the sheer amount of time that will be wasted on the Senate floor. It takes days for a bill to be debated. Each Senator speaks for an average of fifteen minutes. It can take hours for a vote to be called, cast, and determined.

Hours and days that could be spent debating the Iraq war, immigration, health care, education, poverty, anything.

I swear, Congress has more money to waste on bullsh-t pet projects than small countries make in a year.

I can't believe you people can't think outside the square...

Other countries have a team of people who play through the ENTIRE game just fine...

Although GTA or Oblivion or The Sims are effectively 'endless', everything you see and will ever see in those games you see within the first 4 hours.

You're not reviewing them - your RATING them for CONTENT. You don't need to play the game in every little detail, just play the game to see if there's any content which will raise the Developer/Publishers desired rating.

The games companies DO give the ESRB a list of things they think will put the game into the given rating. The ESRB then watches videos and gives a rating.

This way, it's juts more thourough and isn't merely relying on what the games developers give them.

Here's one example - a team of ten people playing a game 8 hours a day will knock even the biggest game off in under a few days, especially if they're given unlock or special 'reviewer' codes to allow them to skip ahead.

The ESRB would have millions of dollars, so would easily be able to hire hundreds of people to rate the games. Or, to save money, they could outsource it to India or Chinese persons.

It would require a BIG change in the way games are rated and published, but is that change any WORSE than having dickhead after dickhead attacking the industry everytime some screwed up kid kills someone?

Funky, There is a reason why Games take 6 to 12 Months longer to come out in those other countries, Cause of the fact that they have a GOVERNMENT MANDATED RATINGS SYSTEM.

Oh sure, people talk it up big, but it's had little if any impact on crime in the countries it's used in. Hell, London thought gun control was a great idea, look what happened, crime went up over 300 percent in less then 3 years, and they had to re issue guns to police.

Ditto australia, and others.

Fact is, Those systems may seem effect, but they only succed in slow a coutnries economy by letting government have control of a free market enterprize.

Fuck that, and fuck other ratings systems. I'll take the ESRB as it is.

Oh and one last thing. Whose gonna pay to train those 8 man teams to rate 300 games or more a month? Huh? last I checked, the ESRB was self contained and self supported and didn't need any government money to run ,just like the MPAA.

Secondly, The industry has already changed it's policy in ragards to hidden content. Right now it's a million dollar fine per incident if theres anything hidden that is outside a games rating.

So, you can take your PEGI and all that crap and shove it. I'll take free market over government censorship and control any day.


Funky J: Except that the ESRB doesn't have millions of dollars to blow on salaries. Most of their reviewers are volunteers or are paid so little that it's not exactly a full time job. As for games like GTA or Oblivion or The Sims.... see everything in four hours? Are you KIDDING me? I'd barely gotten past the first BIT of Oblivion within four hours. The second and third islands in GTA III don't open up within four hours unless you've got a perfect walkthrough handy.

And that bit about 10 people playing a game 8 hours a day assumes that their time is somehow cumulative, as if I'm somehow exactly 8 hours into play when my coworker begins the game, and the next person is 16 hours in... and we advance at EXACTLY the pace necessary to close all the gaps. Special unlock or reviewer codes to skip ahead don't really exist, either. In a game like Oblivion or GTA, time means nothing.

Also, outsourcing to China or India isn't an option. The ESRB is supposed to rate things based on a North American perspective. I very much doubt that some Chinese dude is going to be able to think like a smalltown American couple.

And yes, it's worth the dickheads attacking the industry. The industry has the first amendment on their side, so they generally win by default. There's no point in bowing to the wishes of every "do-gooder" politician (and by this I mean whatever their sheep-like constituents say is "good" at election time) simply because it means less conflict. That's what allows things like a chilling effect to begin.

@Funky j-I Remember you. you were on the forums a long time ago,and you started a pages long debate having to do with a goverment ratings system. But,i don't speak of you in vain. we need debates here to lighten things up.

Yes,i do belive that most of the content could be viewed in 4 hours,but i played Wow and...

theres actully a quest chain in duskwood(the whole stalvan mistmantle arc) that involves an undead who was attracted to an underage woman in his past life. serious. and he apparently(in game text) ends up killing both her and her lover.

That,in my opinion,merits an M rating,but unless you receive that quest,and reas through all the in game text,you probably wouldn't have known that.

Funky J, just a quick question, but what does "in its entirety" mean to you? To me, it means that every aspect of the game must be displayed and shown before it can pass the ESRB. That includes every Easter egg, every unlockable weapon, every little detail that is in the game.

I work in game testing, and let me tell you something. The average game, with us knowing everything about the game and having enough skill in the game to utilize every shortcut, takes us about 3-12 hours. If it's an especially long game, such as roleplaying games, it might take us 30-40 hours.

The fact is that the people who rate the games are not gamers themselves, but average joes and parents off of the streets. These are the people, and the politicians, who are most going to care about the ESRB rating. This is part of the reason why the ESRB works so well because it uses people who would care most about the ESRB.

This law would be a complete drag on the industry, and a nightmare for games with evolving contents, such as massively multiplayer online roleplaying games. Can you imagine having Blizzard or Square-Enix having to have their patches reviewed every few months to ensure that they are in compliance with this law?

To reiterate, the killer phrase in this law is that the game has to be reviewed, "in its entirety".

@Funky J: Unfortunately, government controlled ratings DO have an effect on the gaming industry. I live an Australia and I can't tell you how many times I've seen something listed as 'Released' on the web, sprinted down to the local EB and told it won't be out for another couple months because the almighty OFLC (Office of Film and Literature Classification, apparently games are film and literature o.O) are still deciding on the rating. Thanks to the Commenwealth Classification Act (1995) for that one. Also, like Will D above, I too used to work in QA, I'm now in development making actual games and I can tell you that no matter how long you play, how well you know the game you can't suddenly see all the content by playing at at a hax rate.

@Yukimura. Gun crimes in Australia are WAAAAAAY down FYI. I could cite a number of examples of crime statistics over the years, but I don't want this to look like one of my emails to Jack-T ^^. Here's how the OFLC rating works: you must pay them a goddamn fee to rate a commercial product. Yep, government gets more money. Grats. Luckily, the opposition has managed to stop numerous Bills from passing which would raise the fees from being dramatically increased. Anyway, the government takes that money and shoves it somewhere then they decide whether or not the game is suitable.

Here's a major biting point for Australian gamers: if a game is considered "unsuitable" for minors, it is Refused Classification completely. Australian has no R18+ equivalent for video games like they do for films. If it isn't MA15+, it ain't allowed in. Nudity in games, for example as such in BMX XXX, is considered unsuitable unless 'educational, medical or good for community health'. San Andreas was pulled off the shelves in the wake of the Hot Coffee scandal (I got mine early :D)

Now, here's an interesting side note: Bully has been rated M15+ in Australia, contrary to everyone's belief that it would be MA. The Classification Board states "[...] found that the themes, violence and sexual references are moderate in playing and viewing impact in the context of a comedic game about the trials of life in a troubled educational institution. According to the player’s behaviour during gameplay, Jimmy either accumulates punishment points until he is apprehended by authority figures, or increases in the school’s social standing. Punishments include lawn mowing, snow shovelling, receiving demerit points and attending extra classes.

During the game the player is not encouraged to attack innocent bystanders or undertake acts of “bullying”, and is not rewarded for doing so. The “missions” the player undertakes are generally about thwarting acts of bullying, exploitation or discrimination.

Violence towards innocent bystanders such as school girls and smaller school children causes authority figures such as prefects, teachers and police officers to chase and apprehend the player-controlled character, Jimmy."

There ya go JT, suck it. I'm pissed off about these issues being raised in America, because I have no doubt the our fine country will no doubt follow suit.

sorry Jugs, got Australia wrong. Uk was the country whose crime rate when sky high after guns were banned. Probably cause theres a larger and more active undeground in the UK that supply crooks with guns.

Regardless, I found yet MORE thompson BS that needs to be counters, look at this crap, found today in a New Mexico news report. Note it omits Thompsons removal from the case and that the court is still debating weather the Courts in AL can hear the case.

Need to correct these people, and for the love of god someone get on the PHONE with the ESA at once and find out why they haven't alredy buried thompson and this case under a mountiain of count suits.


Pointing this out:
Someone prolly will use it.
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