Former US senator and anti-videogame crusader Joe Lieberman has died at age 82

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 17: Former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman departs the White House after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump May 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump is interviewing candidates to replace former FBI Director James Comey who was fired last week. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Former US senator and vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, whose crusade against violent videogames in the early '90s sparked the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, has died at age 82.

A statement released by Lieberman's family (via Politico) said Lieberman's death was the result of "complications from a fall."

Lieberman's political career began in 1970 with his election to the Connecticut senate, a seat he held until 1980; he also served as the state's attorney general from 1983 to '89. He was elected to the US senate as a member of the Democratic Party in 1988.

In 1993, prompted by the rise of "realistic" violence and sexual content in games like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap, Lieberman joined with fellow senator Herb Kohl to hold hearings on violence in videogames and its impact on children. Those hearings, and a proposed Video Game Rating Act of 1994, ultimately pressured the industry into forming the ESRB, a voluntary rating board that launched in September 1994 and remains in use, in a greatly expanded format, to this day.

Even though Lieberman's crusade looks quaint now—the fatalities in contemporary Mortal Kombat games are certainly beyond anything Lieberman could have imagined in 1992, and yet barely merit a raised eyebrow today—his influence lingers. When the pushback against randomized loot boxes began in the late 2010s, for instance, and gamers began to call for regulation against them, there was justifiable concern that, as editor-in-chief Evan Lahti put it, "we should be careful what we wish for."

"Any American who played games in the '90s remembers the period of pearl-clutching and pseudoscientific fear-mongering from senators like Joe Lieberman, who led a call to ban violent videogames," he wrote in 2017. "Government regulation of loot boxes would likely take us a step in that direction, opening the door for more laws around gaming content."

A clip of Lieberman saying he'd like to ban the development of violent videogames during the 1993 Congressional hearings

Lieberman eventually moved on to other things, including cheerleading the US invasion of Iraq, undermining Barack Obama, and ensuring that a public health insurance option wasn't included in the Affordable Care Act. But he continued to speak out against violent videogames over the years, participating in the annual "videogame report card" presentations put together by advocacy group National Institute for Media and the Family. 

He was re-elected to the US senate in 1994, 2000, and 2006, and notably served as Al Gore's running mate in the 2000 US presidential election, ultimately losing to the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney ticket. He pursued his own presidential ambitions in 2004, but withdrew his candidacy for the Democratic nomination after finishing poorly in early primaries.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.