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US legislation puts ESRB under pressure

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board is facing renewed political scrutiny, Florida Republican Cliff Stearns proposing a new bill dubbed the "Truth in Video Game Rating Act."

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board is facing renewed political scrutiny after Cliff Stearns, a Republican congressman for the state of Florida, proposed a new bill dubbed the "Truth in Video Game Rating Act."

The new bill, co-sponsored by Democratic representatives Jim Matheson and Mike McIntyre, specifically targets the practices of the ESRB, calling for the organisation to play games in their entirety before issuing an age rating.

ESRB president Patricia Vance was recently forced to defend the working practices of the ratings board before a subcommittee at Capitol Hill, arguing that the length of modern games made it impractical to play every game from beginning to end.

Instead, the ESRB relies heavily on publisher's disclosure of game content prior to the issuing of a rating - another practice which is being targeted by the new legislation in light of several re-ratings for games such as GTA: San Andreas and Bethesda's Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

If the new bill is passed, publishers will be held accountable for non-disclosure of pertinent game content and the act further seeks to prevent any person or entity from "grossly mischaracterising" game content as defined by the Federal Trade Commission.

Finally, the bill calls for a review of the overall effectiveness of the ESRB ratings system, an investigation into whether or not an independent ratings system would be more suitable, whether ratings should be peer-reviewed and a review of marketing targeted at young audiences.

The review would be undertaken by the Government Accountability Office, who would also seek to investigate the overall effectiveness of using a universal ratings system across all forms of "Visual Content."

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