Grand Theft Auto and similar games are in the spotlight once again.
Late last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against two California laws that banned the sale of violent video games to minors. A federal judge found the laws to be unconstitutional, violating minors‘ freedom of speech.
The bills, AB 1792 and 1793, were signed into law in October 2005. Sponsored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) the laws restricted minors from buying or renting certain games. They also made rating labels mandatory for video games sold in the state.
Before the laws took effect, they were challenged in court by the Video Software Dealers Association and the Entertainment Software Association. Last month’s ruling was a result of those lawsuits.
Yee, a child psychologist by background, was concerned with the impact on kids from the maiming, shooting or torturing in many video games, said Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff. The laws were an effort to give parents a tool, adding more enforcement to the now voluntary rating system found on video games.
“We are trying to not be a burden on the industry,” Keigwin said. “They’d have to label games differently. It seems like a small task for them to complete.“
The industry didn’t agree.
Entertainment Merchants Association vice president for public affairs Sean Bersell said the laws were written poorly and were too vague. He said there was no way to decide what “ultra-violent” really means.
“It’s clearly a violation of the first amendment,” Bersell said. “They cannot restrict to minors based on the content of games.“
The video game, software and rental industry brings in over $9 billion annually, according to 2007 figures. The proposed changes wouldn’t bring many costs, but cost is not the main issue. This law is more about a freedom of speech issue, Bersell said.
Additionally, the voluntary rating system may already work. Violent or sexual games have an “M for mature” rating, which is advised for users 17 years and older. On the back cover, most games also have a content description, Bersell said.
“There is a video game rating system and it works well,” he said. “The government undermines the system.“
The issue of minors buying games may not be as big an issue as it seems. According to Bersell, most games are bought through parents.
“Frankly,” Bersell added, “I wouldn‘t buy Grand Theft Auto for a 12-year-old, but if some parent does in this country, we say, ‘Okay, you make the decision.‘”
UC Davis senior Tom Sullivan, a mechanical and aeronautical engineering double major, plays the computer video game Counter-Strike on a daily basis.
“I don’t think parents would appreciate the games I like to play,” he said.
Sullivan said he has yet to see a game without a rating label and when he was a younger, he would see retailers asking for identification to buy games such as Grand Theft Auto.
With or without labeling, video games seem to be a growing part of violence in the media.
“Technology has improved, so what you can render is more realistic,” Sullivan said. “Video games have definitely expanded and grown and with that comes graphical detail and detailed violence.“
The ruling on the video game restriction laws may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, pending California attorney general Jerry Brown’s decision as he consults with the governor’s office.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at email@example.com.