Cali. Judge Blocks Video Game Violence Bill

by Paul William Tenny

Battles have been raging all across the country between video game publishers and the various state legislature's attempts to regulate games that contain forms of sex and violence. While virtually every law passed has been struck down for being unconstitutionally broad, that hasn't stopped both Republicans and Democrats from trying to take games such as Take Two Interactive's wildly popular Grand Theft Auto series off of store shelves, despite the existence of a ratings board made up of industry players.
However, Whyte ultimately found that the law's wording was vague, noting that its definition would ban some "classic literature" in videogame form and that it doesn't differentiate between the impact of vidgame violence on older teenagers and on young children.

Whyte also found that California has not demonstrated that industry self-regulation is insufficient, nor that there is a direct causal connection between videogames and violence among minors.

This is actually a very serious fight going on, because a loss of self-regulation by the video game industry will make it much easier for the government to do the same to the film and television industries. Virtually every theater in the country refuses to play films that haven't been rated by the Motion Picture Associate of America, an unfortunate relationship that has cast the most conservative voices as the ones deciding what - by definition - creative elements of a film constitute what kind or rating.

In order to stave off further regulation by the FCC which does not have the authority to regular theatrical films gave rise to a similar association of public broadcasters to give each prime time program a distinctive rating, although the big networks aren't quite so draconian as to refuse to air content that hasn't been rated as far as I know. Cable channels which air over both cable and satellite are unregulated by the FCC and there are no limits to what they can show and when, although they apply standards to themselves similar to what the over-the-air broadcasters do in order to attract larger audiences.

As the judge in this case said, California did not prove that the self-regulation system isn't working, and given that there have only been something like two mistakes on ratings in the past few years, I'd say it seems to be working just fine. The issue over kids getting mature-rated games, however, is another issue, and has more to do with store vendors who just don't care what they sell and who they sell it to just so long as they get paid for it. If any state wants to look at placing larger penalties for stores that aren't keeping up their part of the bargain, I'm sure the whole of the game industry would get behind that, because it keeps regulation out of the hands of those least qualified for it.


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