Raft of Game Bills Hit State Legislatures1 Mar, 2005 By: Kurt Indvik
Lawmakers across the country are jumping on the legislative bandwagon to regulate the rental or sale of so-called violent video games.
Just six weeks into the new year, at least 23 bills have been introduced on the matter in 15 states and the District of Columbia. New Jersey alone has five pieces of legislation targeting violent or ‘Mature'-rated video games.
“I think it is fair to say that we have seen more [video game] bills introduced in the first two months of this year than we saw in the first two months of any year since I joined the VSDA in 1999,” said Sean Bersell, VP of public affairs for the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA).
In 2004, 41 bills were introduced in state legislatures seeking to regulate merchandising and retailing of certain types of video games, according to the VSDA. In 2003, there were 33.
State and federal legislators have been actively targeting the regulation of violent or ‘Mature'-rated video games for several years, and numerous efforts to make it a crime to rent or sell video games to minors have been turned down in court challenges that have been brought by the VSDA, the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association and other groups fighting these laws on a First Amendment basis.
“Legislators ignore these precedents when they introduce these bills,” Bersell said. “Sometimes the quest for publicity overrides the people's respect for the constitution.”
State officials have been gaining plenty of media attention over the past several years in their efforts to regulate violent or ‘Mature'-rated video games, most recently with the significant coverage in December of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., announcing his intentions to introduce bills this that would ban the availability of violent and sexually explicit video games to children under the age of 18. Those bills have not yet been introduced.
Last September, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., signed into law a bill requiring retailers to display information about video game ratings and to provide that information upon request from customers. That bill, introduced by Assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), had been much more aggressive in earlier versions, seeking to segregate merchandising of ‘Mature'-rated games. Yee is back again this year with another more aggressive bill.
Several of this year's bills already introduced are similar to the one signed into law by Schwarzenegger. Bersell said that the VSDA would not oppose that type of legislation as long as the state did not impose any criminal penalties in the regulation, and did not dictate specific size, language or placement of the posters making consumers aware of video game ratings. But Bersell said the VSDA will continue to actively oppose legislation that would make it a crime to rent or sell violent or ‘Mature'-rated video games to minors as being unconstitutional.