Schwarzenegger signs game-restriction bill

Measure won't become California law until January, but the ESA is already planning a suit.

One was a Democratic Chinese-American child psychologist and anti-media-violence advocate representing San Francisco's sleepy Sunset district. The other was a Republican Austrian bodybuilder who became governor after making millions starring in violent Hollywood blockbusters. But today, Assemblyman Leland Yee and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger found common ground over one subject: video games.

This afternoon, Schwarzenegger signed California bill AB1179, which Yee penned, into law. The bill, which will come into effect January 1, 2006, bans the sale or rental of "violent video games" to children. What exactly is a "violent video game"? According to the state's legal summary of the bill, a "violent" game is defined as a "game in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." That definition would seem to cover virtually every M-for-Mature-rated game and many T-for-Teen rated games as well.

Under the new law, retailers that sell such games would be subject to a $1,000 fine. It will also require "violent" video games to bear a two-inch-by-two-inch sticker with a "solid white '18' outlined in black" on their front covers. That's over twice the size of the labels that currently adorn game-box covers and display the familiar Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating.

Given Schwarzenegger's close ties to the entertainment industry, it must have been a difficult choice to sign the bill. However, the governor played up the decision as a proactive move to shield youngsters from harmful material. "This gets the parents involved in the decision-making process," he said in a statement. "I believe as an actor in the ratings system. It is very important to protect children."

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the top US game industry lobby and parent of the ESRB, was quick to respond. "We are disappointed that politicians of both parties chose to toss overboard the First Amendment and free artistic and creative expression in favor of political expediency," said ESA president Doug Lowenstein in an statement. "AB 1179 is punitive against retailers, will waste limited taxpayer dollars, and when it is struck down by the courts, as has been the fate of similar statutes, parents will be no better off for this effort to damage one of the state's fastest growing and most exciting industries that is providing some of the most compelling entertainment in the world today." Lowenstein said the ESA is already planning a lawsuit to have the bill deemed unconstitutional.

California is the latest state to restrict the sales of video games. It follows Michigan and Illinois, both of which passed measures restricting the sale of violent or sexually explicit games. Oklahoma and Mississippi are considering similar measures.

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