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U.S. House calls for warning labels on video games

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U.S. Capitol

Just days after the Smithsonian opened an exhibit celebrating the art and cultural achievements of video games, a pair of U.S. representatives is renewing the effort to restrict them.

On Monday, Reps. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) introduced The Violence in Video Games Labeling Act (H.R. 4204), a bill that would force games ranging from "Grand Theft Auto" to "Tetris" to carry a warning label for parents.

The bill would require entertainment software to have a warning on external packaging reading "WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior." The label would be mandatory on virtually all games — including non-violent titles like the "Mario" games and the recently released Zen-like "Journey". The only titles that would be exempt would be those with an EC rating — which are meant for children ages three and under.

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"Just as we warn smokers of the health consequences of tobacco, we should warn parents — and children — about the growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior," Wolf said. "As a parent and grandparent, I think it is important people know everything they can about the extremely violent nature of some of these games."

This isn't the first time Baca has taken on the video game industry. In 2002, he introduced the "Protect Children from Video Game Sex and Violence Act" — which never made it out of the subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security. He introduced a modified version of the bill the following year (which also died in committee) and has continued his efforts since then.

Even if the bill makes it through committee and passes a House vote, it's still likely to face an extremely tough court battle. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that video games are protected by the same Constitutional protections as any other medium.

"Video games qualify for First Amendment protection," the Court said in its ruling, written by Justice Antonin Scalia. "Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium. And 'the basic principles of freedom of speech ... do not vary' with a new and different communication medium."

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