California game-restriction bill floundering

Assemblyman Leland Yee all but concedes defeat in his fight to make M-rated games less accessible.


California Assemblyman Leland Yee, who has been pushing a bill that would limit some video game sales to minors, said today he thinks his bill is doomed.

The bill is scheduled to come up for a vote Tuesday in the Assembly’s 13-member Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Tourism and Internet Media, and Yee doesn’t think he’ll have enough support to get it through. The video game industry and retailers have been lobbying hard to kill the bill, Yee said. “I think there is tremendous political pressure being exerted,” Yee said. “I don’t think [the bill] is going to survive at all.”

Yee’s bill, known as AB 1792, proposes to expand the legal definition of “harmful matter,” currently used to classify pornography, to include video games. By doing so, the law would prohibit the sales of these games to minors.

Specifically, Yee is targeting first- and third-person shooter games such as Postal 2 and Grand Theft Auto III, where players perform acts of violence that would be considered a crime in real life. Additionally, the circumstances surrounding the violent act would have to show that it was committed without pity or empathy, and the victim’s injuries would have to be graphically depicted.

If all of this sounds rather vague, Yee doesn’t think so.

He said he’s not targeting all M-rated games, and he made his bill as specific as possible so as to not run afoul of the First Amendment. “I did not simply jump into this issue without a lot of care and consideration,” Yee said.

In response to Yee’s bill, Entertainment Software Association president Douglas Lowenstein yesterday released a statement that his group supports voluntary retail polices to restrict the sale of M-rated games. “This progress toward effective voluntary enforcement--combined with the fact that the federal government itself reports that parents are involved in the sale and rental of video games acquired by kids more than eight out of 10 times--makes the proposed ordinance unnecessary,” Lowenstein said.

Yee, a UC Berkeley-trained psychologist, doesn’t play video games himself but became interested in the issue after a staffer mentioned hearing her children discussing violent games. Yee points to an American Psychological Association study that draws a link between aggressive thoughts and behavior and violent games. The 2000 study included golden oldies such as Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, and Mortal Kombat. A Swedish study released last month reached a similar conclusion but went on to blame video games for obesity, as well.

Yee feels the current video game rating system isn’t working and that children will be able to get their hands on violent games as long as retailers are allowed to sell them to minors. Yee has also introduced another bill, AB 1793, also due for a vote Tuesday, that would limit the display of violent video games in stores and force retailers to post an explanation of the rating system.

If the bills do survive the committee, it will be at least a few weeks before it comes before the entire Assembly for a vote. After that, it would head to the state Senate and then to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk. Yee, however, doesn’t sound hopeful; he said he is surprised by the resistance his bills have faced. “I thought this was a slam dunk,” Yee said.

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