LOS ANGELES (The Hollywood Reporter) — California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a bill that will prohibit the sale or rental of violent videogames to minors.
With retailers facing a $1,000 fine for each violation, the gaming industry already has vowed to challenge the new law on First Amendment grounds and for being vague as to what constitutes a “violent” game.
The legislation, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, requires that violent games be prominently labeled with an “18.” It would not prohibit parents, certain relatives or legal guardians from providing these game to minors.
“Today I signed legislation to ensure parent involvement in determining which videogames are appropriate for their children,” Schwarzenegger said Oct. 7. “Many of these games are made for adults, and choosing games that are appropriate for kids should be a decision made by their parents.”
Yee, a child psychologist, said these games present a danger to children.
“Unlike movies, where you passively watch violence, in a videogame, you are the active participant and making decisions on who to stab, maim, burn or kill,” Yee said. “As a result, these games serve as learning tools that have a dramatic impact on our children.”
Similar bills have been attempted or are pending in several other states — all of which have been challenged by the Video Software Dealers Assn. and related interests.
The VSDA, which represents video retailers, and the Entertainment Software Assn., vowed Oct. 7 to file a lawsuit challenging the law, which goes into effect Jan. 1.
“Not only is (the law) a clear violation of the First Amendment, but it provides no meaningful standards to know which materials are covered,” VSDA president Bo Andersen said.
While the law was criticized for being vague, it defined “cruel,” “depraved” and “torture” in what Yee said was a deliberate attempt to narrowly tailor the language to withstand a First Amendment challenge.
“Exposing minors to depictions of violence in videogames, including sexual and heinous violence, makes those minors more likely to experience feelings of aggression, to experience a reduction of activity in the frontal lobes of the brain and to exhibit violent anti-social or aggressive behavior,” according to the bill’s language. “Even minors who do not commit acts of violence suffer psychological harm from prolonged exposure to violent videogames.”
California’s new law defines “violent videogame” as one that allows a player an option to kill, maim, dismember or sexually assault an image of a human being in a way that is “especially heinous, cruel or depraved,” like torture, or in a way that appeals to the “deviant or morbid interests” of a minor, is patently offensive to prevailing community standards regarding what is suitable for a minor and is devoid of serious artistic or other value.
Several national lawmakers got behind Yee’s bill, including Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. A nearly identical bill has been introduced on the federal level by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.
The VSDA believes that the California law is unnecessary because the industry already has a voluntary ratings system.
In one successful challenge, a federal judge in Washington State declared a similar law unconstitutional in July 2004.
That law attempted to bar minors from buying or renting games that depicted harmful treatment of law enforcement officers. The judge found that video games are a form of protected speech, that obscenity law could not be extended to cover nonsexual depictions of violence and that there was no “compelling state interest” to justify the law because there was no evidence that such depictions of violence were likely to lead to real-world violence against police.
The VSDA also is targeting two laws that are set to take effect this year.
A Michigan law that goes into effect Dec. 1 would fine retailers for selling or renting “ultraviolent explicit videogames” to anyone younger than 17. This law also relies on a contemporary community standards test.
An Illinois law set to take effect Jan. 1 will impose criminal penalties on retailers who rent or sell “violent” videogames to minors.