Congresswoman Slams ESRB at NIMF Summit

Sounds like things got a little testy yesterday at the National Summit on Video Games, Youth & Public Policy.

The two-day conference is sponsored by the National Institute on Media & Family along with Iowa State University. Its first day was notable for harsh criticism of the ESRB offered by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN). As reported by the Star-Tribune, McCollum said:

“The rating system we have now is funded by the people who stand to make a profit off it. I’ve come to the strong conclusion that we need to have an independent rating system.”

ESRB president Patricia Vance, in attendance, objected:

“I think some of the statements you’ve made are erroneous. I’d like to educate you… Use is the true measure of any rating system. Where is the consumer demand for change? Where are the masses of dissatisfied parents? It’s like we’re here seeking a problem for the solution.”

Rep. McCollum told the newspaper she has no plans to introduce video game legislation or call for an independent rating board, but she hoped someone else would, perhaps a university.

Yale’s Dr. Dorothy Singer said more research is needed on the effects if violent and sexually explicit games. Dr. Michael Rich of Harvard Medical School added:

“The key thing is to reframe this as a health issue, not as a moral issue. We’ve got to get more serious academic research out there, just as we do for our nutrition and education information.”

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  1. 0
    vicecitystalker says:

    I agree with ME, but instead of the Congress and Justice system-I think it should be toward incompetent, lazy parents that cannot research what their kids play and blame society and companiues for their (parents) incompetence.

  2. 0
    Brer says:


    “it is incredibly easy to get hold of these and when you eat some it will make your bloodsugar spike and then crash very quickly.”

    Fat, Sugar, and Caffeine are not heroin, Laust. Controlling the “munchies” can be tough sometimes (which is why most children are taught it early: do the words “No you can’t have a snack now, you’ll spoil your dinner” ring a bell?) but it is in no way overwhelming, and low blood sugar is a very, very -minor- physiological abberation. You’re making it sound like the DTs. As for awareness of nutrition, that’s a bogus argument. Are you really going to suggest that there’s anyone out there over the age of ten or so that doesn’t know that junk food and candy to excess is -bad- for them? A lot of people don’t act accordingly, but they -know- what they’re doing is unhealthy (humans are notorious for doing things they know are stupid, unhealthy, or even deadly. That doesn’t excuse their behaviour or diffuse personal responsibility in the slightest). As for those under the age of ten or so, once again that’s one of the myriad responsibilities of parents.

    Back to the gaming issue there isn’t a single game out there in the world that -forces- you to sit down and play it for any given length of time. You’re not strapped to the chair/couch or handcuffed to the console, nor are there subliminal messages that brainwash you into sitting down longer (In fact, there ain’t no such thing as “subliminal messages”. They simply don’t work in real life). I gave the rough time frame of “an hour or two” (not a few minutesbecause I’ve never seen a game that takes longer than that to move from one checkpoint or save point to another in one playthrough (that is, without dying and being sent back). Even the longer RTS and TBS games allow you to save your game in progress, and nothing prevents you from playing WoW an hour or two a night three or four times a week (nothing in the way the game is structured -penalizes- you for not grinding or power-leveling). When you succumb to “Just One More Turn / Try to get to the next waypoint / Raid to get to level 45”, that is a choice on your part. You have chosen not to exert the necessary willpower and self-control to say “this is fun, but there’s stuff I have to get done”.

    Your position boils down to this “but some people just have low willpower or bad self-control”. Guess what? For children, it is the responsibility of parents to inculcate those qualities, and by the time those kids are eighteen it is entirely -their- responsibility to nurture those qualities in themself. Self-discipline and willpower can be cultivated just as surely as you can cultivate your muscles through a program of physical exercise. It’s not always fun, and some people will naturally have a harder or easier time of it and “plateau” at different levels, but in the end its entirely a matter of volition.

  3. 0
    Laust ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    Though it seems logical to say that people have to take responsibility for the concequences of their actions (and they should) have you considered that the companies (fastfood and game) might be developing their products in a way which aims (conciously or not) at fostering unhealthy use of their products? To take junkfood products (counting candy as such) it is incredibly easy to get hold of these and when you eat some it will make your bloodsugar spike and then crash very quickly. Low bloodsugar leads to hungerfeelings and the lower the bloodsugar the more you crave food (carbohydrates). The more you crave food the easier it is to make poor nutritional choices. The less aware you are of nutrition the harder it is to stand fast in the face of your hunger pangs when you are right next to candy section (often placed right next to the cashiers) and every fiber in your being cries out for theose chocolate candy bars.

    While you can choose to play a game for only ten minutes or an hour a lot of them have mechanisms inplace which force you to play for longer in order to achieve pay-off. Case in point: Diablo 2. While you could just play a few minutes and build up your character you would have to play until you found a waypoint in order to ease progressing through the story across play sessions. Finding a waypoint could easily take 30-60 minutes so if you played to experience the story you had to be ready to commit at least this amount of time before starting the game up. Other games like WoW (funnily by the same company) often require the same time investment. Yet other games like Civilization have that addictive “just one more turn” thing that comes from having so many simultaneous projects the results of which arrive staggeredly so that if you play JUST one more turn (and one more and one more and one more) you will see them (and incidentally start up some new ones).

    Now I’m not saying that all games should make you drop them after ten or sixty minutes just that perhaps game designers should think more about how their designs impact peoples lives.

  4. 0
    Gameboy says:

    I have more and more respect for Patrica Vance with each passing day. “Use is the true measure of any rating system.” How right can you be? At least someone up there has some clue as to how rating systems actually work and are inforced. As Starsmore pointed out, the MPAA ratings system is so much more flawed. If anything the Censorcrats should start looking into that system.

    Also haven’t there already been massive amounts of research performed which all showed that there was little or no link between virtual and actual violence? The most negative result I’ve ever heard basically said the subjects had increased heart-rates, maybe their bodies responded by producing adrenaline, and they were a little more violent IMMEDIATELY AFTER PLAYING but usually calmed after a few minutes. To me, this sounds like the same exact “symptoms” of a Super Bowl game. Maybe the Super Bowl should be banned as well?

  5. 0
    PlayfulPuppy ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    A health issue? I guess it doesn’t matter what you think, video games rot your brain wether you know it or not. It’s fear-mongering, and video games are the newest thing to be afraid of.

    Actually, I agree with her here. Games are long-term non-physical activities that demand long stretches of the players attention. Hardcore gamers often get very little physical excercise and rely on junk food because it’s the fastest way to get (Dubious amounts of) nutrition without having to stop playing and cook something.

    I know this because that’s me to a T.

    About 8 years ago games had similar problems with being antisocial activities, but the modern online aspects of many games has helped to quell this problem. The Wii may do good things for this (And DDR has been encouraging physical activity for some time now), but it don’t seem like long-term solutions to the problem.

  6. 0
    Starsmore says:

    Exactly. Every time someone brings up that the games are rated by a company funded by video game companies, Vance needs to point back at the MPAA.

    Maybe include the stats from the last secret shopper sting operation, too. Wasn’t it like 70% blocked for games, and 10% blocked on movies?

  7. 0
    Brer says:

    “We’ve got to get more serious academic research out there”

    Ok, let’s run the numbers. There have been hundreds of different studies on the social, psychological, and physiological effects of videogames. The -only- area that hasn’t been thoroughly covered is longitudinal studies, and only because they take much longer to finish and video games have only been -around- in as a large part of the culture for a few decades.

    After at least twenty years of concerted research by the medical, psychiatric, and general academic community, the fact that there is still no evidence linking video games to violent behaviour that doesn’t come off as forced, arbitrarily measured, and of dubious objective value and that there’s no real-world evidence for any link (in fact youth violence has been decreasing steadily even as the # of children and teenagers playing video games regularly has climbed) should lead any rational and objective observer to the conclusion that perhaps there IS NO LINK AT ALL between video games and real-life violent behaviour.

    But no, they just say there hasn’t been enough research. You all know the saying about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

  8. 0
    Verbinator ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Treat it like nutrition and education information? Both are as agenda-driven as anything you will find. And as far as education goes, academics have been using children as guinea pigs for questionable practices like “whole language education” (or “why johnny can’t spell”) and bilingual education (or “why “juanita, ivan, and tran can’t speak english”) for years.

    Ms. Vance’s retort sounds exactly like some of the things WE have been saying in these forum discussions for some time now.

    An interesting thing about an “independent” rating board would be that someone would have to pay for its support. Most likely, that someone would be the game manufacturers … whichs brings us full circle back to what the ESRB does.

    Someone send Betty a copy of the Bill of Rights with the first amendment highlighted on it.

  9. 0
    Mal says:

    “We’ve got to get more serious academic research out there…”

    Oh sure, if by academic you mean a couple of in-the-pocket quacks who cite a plethora of statistics that ultimately have no bearing whatsoever, and by research you mean a couple of crappy, ill-developed, two-week studies, then by all means. Show us how our brains are rotting in our heads, Mr. Doctor Man.

    Come on. Any research done or funded by individuals with an obvious bias against the industry is going to “uncover” only what’s in their own assumptions.

  10. 0
    Yuki says:

    TO be honest, I’m glad vance put that idiot in her place.

    But, what suprised me was how honest and fair the newpaper article seems to be. You know if this was Tv, they’d be all “THE ESRB IS BROKEN” without saying word one about the counter point by vance. I’m glad some news people still have some form of ethics.

  11. 0
    Dustin1986 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    A health issue? I guess it doesn’t matter what you think, video games rot your brain wether you know it or not. It’s fear-mongering, and video games are the newest thing to be afraid of.

  12. 0
    Brer says:


    They don’t demand “long stretches” of your attention. They’re more -satisfying- to play for long periods but nothing prevents you from playing for an hour or so at a time, in roughly the same increments that someone watches TV.

    As I’ve said before, Jack Daniels doesn’t make people alcoholics, and McDonalds doesn’t make people fat (the companies, that is). It’s the -abuse- of their products that leads to negative effects. With video games, you’re not even talking about over-use -directly- leading to health problems (that is unless you want to make arguments about eyestrain and carpal tunnel, both of which can be dealt with by proper wrist posture and similar precautions), but -indirectly-.

    Ladies and gentlemen, no one puts a gun to your head and tells you not to exercise, to play the latest game for six hours straight, or to stock up on triple quarter pounders to stack by the couch while playing. Unhealthy lifestyle choices, and their consequences, lie 100% with the people who make them. And that’s coming to someone who’s been at every point on the physical spectrum from a 140lb beanpole (HS, pre-Army), to a 180lb relatively trim and fit soldier, to a 270lb overweight slob after I got out of the Army and let myself go (and am now slowly returning from that rather uncomfortable state of affairs, headed back towards my old level of fitness. I’ll say this about military life: It -does- make keeping yourself fit a lot easier when it’s regimented into your daily routine -for- you 😉 )

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