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California, Michigan Legislatures Pass Video Game Bills

13 Sep, 2005 By: Kurt Indvik

A California Assembly bill banning the sale or rental to minors of video games depicting certain levels of violence has passed the California state legislature and will soon reach Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for his signature. The Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) is urging the governor to veto the bill.

According to a letter sent today to Schwarzenegger by the VSDA, the bill lacks “meaningful standards” in attempting to define what sort of violent video game would fall into the bill's targeted offensive product, and would fail a First Amendment test.

Assembly Bill 1179 defines a “violent video game” in part, using a three-part test for “offensiveness” derived from the legal test for obscenity, as well as incorporating elements used in jury instructions for deciding a federal death penalty case. The bill, says the VSDA, “repeatedly refers to the intent of the player and in one instance to the reaction of the player. No manufacturer, distributor or retailer can know in advance whether an individual purchasing or renting a video game will intend to ‘inflict a high degree of pain' on a virtual victim or will ‘relish' the virtual killing,” the VSDA letter stated, quoting from the legislation.

“These are just very subjective standards. They are not objective standards you can apply across the board to video games,” said Sean Bersell, VP of public affairs for the VSDA.

Bersell said that while the bill requires manufacturers and distributors to label violent video games before distributing to retailers (who are then not allowed to rent or sell such labeled product to persons under the age of 18), still the outcome would not protect retailers from possible lawsuit.

Meanwhile, in what Bersell called a “perfect storm” of video game legislation, a bill has passed the Michigan state legislature that bans the sale or rental to anyone under the age of 17 video games that contain graphic depictions of violence that also meet a three-part test for “offensiveness” to the local community. The bill would also impose restrictions on how the games were displayed. According to the VSDA, similar restrictions on violent movies were excised from the bill. The VSDA had written a letter to state legislators giving reasons for opposing the bill.

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is expected to sign the bill in the next two weeks.

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