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California Seeks To Uphold Violent Game Law

California Seeks To Uphold Violent Game Law

May 21, 2009 | By Kris Graft

May 21, 2009 | By Kris Graft
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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors – legislation that courts have already found unconstitutional.

Under the law, customers wishing to purchase games listed as violent would have to show identification, and retailers who did not check for ID or show the age rating labels would be liable for a $1,000 fine per infraction.

But courts struck down the law, saying that video games are not exempt from First Amendment rights. Courts have ruled as such a dozen times in the last eight years.

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said in a statement released today, “California's children are exposed everyday to video games that glamorize killing sprees, torture and sexual assault.”

“In the face of this brutal and extreme violence, I am petitioning the Supreme Court to allow the state to enforce its reasonable ban on the sale or rental of violent video game sales to children."

Brown contended in his statement that the industry’s self-regulatory body, the Entertainment Software Rating Board is “ineffective,” citing a 2005 Federal Trade Commission undercover investigation that found 42 percent of 13-16 year old children were able to buy M-rated games – “mature” titles intended for people 17 and up.

However, the most recent FTC secret shopper investigation, released in 2008, found that only 20 percent of 13-16 year olds were able to buy M-rated games. The FTC found that major U.S. retailer GameStop in particular turned down 94 percent of the underage secret shoppers during the investigation.

In his statement today, Brown singled out specific M-rated games, including Sony’s PS3-exclusive Killzone 2, as follows: "In Killzone 2 the industry admits the extreme level of violence in the games they sell and market to children. Their rating description reads: "Red blood spray emits from enemy soldiers when shot, and weapons such as sniper rifles and shotguns can be used to decapitate them. Post-mortem damage can be inflicted on soldiers' bodies, resulting in pools of blood on the ground. During one cutscene, a gravely wounded character retrieves a pistol and shoots himself in the head."

The Entertainment Software Association, the trade group representing the games industry, responded strongly to California’s move. ESA chief Michael Gallagher said in a statement, “California’s citizens should see this for what it is—a complete waste of the state’s time and resources.”

“California is facing a $21 billion budget shortfall coupled with high unemployment and home foreclosure rates. Rather than focus on these very real problems, Governor Schwarzenegger has recklessly decided to pursue wasteful, misguided and pointless litigation.”

The Entertainment Merchants Association's Sean Bersell, VP of public affairs concurred, saying "There have been eight similar laws enacted around the nation this decade and every single one has been found unconstitutional on similar grounds. There is no reason to expect a different outcome in the Supreme Court."

Bersell said that California lost "approximately $400,000 just in legal fees and court costs that it has had to pay the plaintiffs" after courts deemed the law unconstitutional.

“The taxpayers of California should demand that their elected officials stop wasting precious tax dollars on this quixotic quest," he added.


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