NY gov signs game bill into law

All games at retail will need to carry ratings; new consoles required to include parental lockout features by 2010.

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Last year, New York lawmakers pondered a bill that would have made it illegal to sell or rent some violent games to minors. The regular legislative session ended before it could be passed, but the bill returned this year and was signed into law today by Governor David Paterson, albeit in a significantly watered-down form.

Governor Paterson's office said the bill was aimed directly at protecting children.
Governor Paterson's office said the bill was aimed directly at protecting children.

The passed version of Senate Bill 6401 abandons the restriction on minors' access to violent games, but retains some of the original legislation's satellite measures. Chief among those is a requirement that after September 1, 2010, all new gaming consoles sold in the state will need to have parental lockout features. PCs are exempt from the law, as are handheld systems. (The Nintendo DS is the only current-generation system on the market without a parental lockout feature.)

In addition, all games sold or rented at retail will need to carry ratings by the end of the year. There are exceptions made for games that are sold through mail order, as well as those which are "unrated" editions of previously rated games. The law does not specify that the ratings need to come from the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

Finally, the law sets up an advisory council to examine "the connection between interactive media and real-life violence in minors exposed to such media." The 16-member board will include a representative of the gaming industry and another from a retailer trade group. Members of the panel will not receive compensation for their work, but will be eligible to have expenses reimbursed by the state.

An Entertainment Software Association representative told GameSpot that the group is currently reviewing its options on whether or not to challenge the law in court (as it has done successfully with game-related laws in California, Illinois, Louisiana, and other states). However, ESA senior VP of communications and research Richard Taylor issued a statement summarizing the trade organization's generally negative attitude toward the news.

"The state has ignored legal precedent, common sense, and the wishes of many New Yorkers in enacting this unnecessary bill," Taylor said. "This government intrusion will cost taxpayers money and impose unconstitutional mandates for activities and technologies that are already voluntarily in place. It also unfairly singles out the video game industry over all other forms of media. One wonders where this overreach by government in New York will end. If New York lawmakers feel it is the role of government to convene a government commission on game content, they could next turn to other content such as books, theater, and film."

The Entertainment Merchants Association also weighed in on the bill, telling GameSpot that the law is "totally unnecessary."

"All computer and console video games sold at retail are rated by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and already display their ratings prominently on the front cover," a representative of the trade group said. "The latest generation of video game consoles--Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360--each include controls to allow parents to regulate the game content played on those systems. Finally, the work of the advisory commission appears duplicative of reports issued in recent years by the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Surgeon General, and others."

Despite that, the representative did note that the bill signed into law was significantly improved over the version considered last year. He went on to call the omission of the restriction on selling or renting violent games to minors "a victory for video game retailers and consumers."

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