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California lawmaker revives antigame bill

Assemblyman Leland Yee plans to bring back a failed proposal that would punish vendors who put violent games in kids' hands.


California Assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) is resurrecting a proposed bill that would make it possible to punish retailers who sell or rent violent video games to minors. Yee first introduced the legislation, known as AB 1792, in January of 2004. By April it had been declared dead after receiving only five of the seven votes it needed from the assembly's arts committee. Yee vowed then to bring it back.

On Monday, one of Yee's representatives told Reuters that the assemblyman will reintroduce the bill this week. The original AB 1792 sought to add violent games to the state's definition of material that is harmful to minors, making it possible to penalize vendors who sell or rent them to kids--as with alcohol or cigarettes.

It also described a "violent" game as one that "appeals to minors' morbid interest in violence, that enables the player to virtually inflict serious injury upon human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel." Such games must also be determined to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value to minors.

In a statement released in December of 2004, Yee cited MediaWise's Ninth Annual Video Game Report Card for examples of games parents should keep kids away from. The roster included Doom 3, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Resident Evil: Outbreak, Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, The Guy Game, Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, Mortal Kombat: Deception, and Rumble Roses.

Yee's spokesperson told Reuters that the newly amended bill includes some changes that could improve its chances for approval but didn't specify what those were. It's already been backed by the Girl Scouts and the California Parent-Teachers Association.

Although AB 1792 hasn't yet resurfaced, the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association is already fighting back. "The newly proposed violent video game legislation in California smacks of me-too politics in a vain effort for local politicians to garner some perceived moral high ground," said IEMA president Hal Halprin in a statement released yesterday. He added that IEMA is looking to work with "parties interested in making a tangible difference on the issue."

In December of 2003, IEMA crafted a voluntary agreement with its member merchants to check the ID cards of younger buyers attempting to purchase games rated M by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Vendors also agreed to post signs explaining the ESRB's rating system. Best Buy, Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, CompUSA, Electronics Boutique, Target, and Wal-Mart are among IEMA's members.

Assemblyman Yee went a step further last year, introducing another bill that legally requires all game retailers to display cards describing the game ratings. Although that proposal initially failed--receiving just three of the necessary seven votes from the assembly's arts committee--it ultimately passed California's assembly and senate and was approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last fall. The law took effect statewide on January 1, 2005.

Lawmakers in Indiana, Missouri, the state of Washington, and Washington D.C. have proposed laws similar to the one Yee plans to bring back, but judges have blocked the bills, saying they violate the free-speech rights of game publishers.

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