Oklahoma game bill signed into law

Governor signs HB3004, making games with "inappropriate violence" harmful to minors; such titles will be subject to same restrictions as sexually explicit magazines, videos.

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Democratic Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry yesterday signed into law HB3004, which revises the state's definition of what is harmful to minors to include games with "inappropriate violence." Previously, the only content that would qualify something as harmful to minors involved sex or sadomasochistic abuse.

In a statement, Henry criticized violence in games that he said had grown "to epic proportions." He added, "While parents have the ultimate responsibility for what their children do and see, this legislation is another tool to ensure that our young people are not saturated in violence. This gives parents the power to more closely regulate which games their children play."

Under the law, no person, not even minors' parents or guardians, would be allowed to give or show them an inappropriately violent game. Retailers would also not be able to have such games on display where minors could see them, unless the lower two-thirds of the boxes were hidden behind "blinder racks," of the sort commonly used for sexually explicit magazines.

The law defines "inappropriate violence" as any depiction in a game that, when taken as a whole, has the following characteristics:
"a. the average person eighteen (18) years of age or older applying contemporary community standards would find that the interactive video game or computer software is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable for minors, and
b. the interactive video game or computer software lacks serious literary, scientific, medical, artistic, or political value for minors based on, but not limited to, the following criteria:
(1) is glamorized or gratuitous,
(2) is graphic violence used to shock or stimulate,
(3) is graphic violence that is not contextually relevant to the material,
(4) is so pervasive that it serves as the thread holding the plot of the material together,
(5) trivializes the serious nature of realistic violence,
(6) does not demonstrate the consequences or effects of realistic violence,
(7) uses brutal weapons designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain and damage,
(8) endorses or glorifies torture or excessive weaponry, or
(9) depicts lead characters who resort to violence freely"

While the definition of inappropriate violence specifies that it must take place in a game, the new definition of "harmful to minors" specifies "any description, exhibition, presentation or representation, in whatever form [emphasis added], of inappropriate violence." This means that video footage showing the violent gameplay, a review of the game in question, or even a newspaper editorial decrying the violence in the game would be classified as harmful to minors, according to a lawyer GameSpot consulted on the matter.

Several weeks ago, GameSpot interviewed the bill's co-author, Republican Representative Fred Morgan, and asked if that was the bill's original intent. At the time he said he needed to examine the language of the bill before answering, but later on he commented that he did not agree with that interpretation.

Neither the state nor national branches of the American Civil Liberties Union returned GameSpot's phone calls regarding the law. The Entertainment Software Association was not available for comment but is almost certain to file suit in this case, as it has in California, Illinois, Minnesota, Washington, and other states where restrictive gaming legislation has been passed.

The law is slated to go into effect November 1.

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