The Entertainment Software Ratings board exists in part to "protect creative freedom," Patricia Vance, ESRB president, told Gamesindustry International.
Although some see the ESRB rating system, which assigns ratings to video games from Early Childhood to Adults Only, as a means of censoring developers, Vance characterizes it as a way of protecting them.
"From an industry perspective, the ESRB has helped protect creative freedom through effective self-regulation," Vance said. "By successfully fulfilling its mission to ensure consumers have the information necessary to determine which games are appropriate for their family and that game publishers responsibly market their product, the industry has been able to fend off the prospect of onerous legislation or other threats of regulation."
As proof of the ESRB's effectiveness, she cited the Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association Supreme Court case (PDF link), a 7-2 decision handed down on June 27, 2011, in which the majority ruled that video games "qualify for First Amendment protection." The decision overturned a 2005 law that prohibited selling video games to minors because it imposed "a restriction on the content of protected speech."
According to Vance, the ESRB's rating system "made the prospect of a legislative remedy unnecessary because the ESRB represented an existing, less restrictive means than governmental regulation."
In the wake of the December 2012 shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, several lawmakers have proposed laws based on the ESRB ratings. In January, Connecticut state representative Debralee Hovey proposed a tax on "mature" video games. Parents of young children in the area of the shooting recently opened the Sandy Hook Arcade Center, to bring children and families together in the wake of the tragedy.