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Game Industry Vows Fight Over Age Limit

Trade groups plan to challenge a new state law that bans the sale of violent titles to minors.

October 08, 2005|Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writer

Rhetorical guns blazing like a corporate Duke Nukem, a defiant video game industry offered no apologies for its wares and promised a court fight to kill a law signed Friday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that bans the sale of violent video games to children.

The Entertainment Software Assn. said it planned to file a lawsuit by the end of the month to prevent legislation by Assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) from taking effect. Yee's measure makes it a crime to rent or sell games that "depict serious injury to human beings in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious or cruel" to children under 18.

"We are disappointed that politicians of both parties chose to toss overboard the 1st Amendment and free artistic and creative expression in favor of political expediency," Entertainment Software Assn. President Douglas Lowenstein said.

The trade group for games retailers, the Video Software Dealers Assn., said it would join the legal challenge.

Although the law potentially imposes a burden on game makers and retailers, analysts predicted minimal effect on sales -- particularly as the industry gears up to launch three new game consoles in coming months.

"How many kids under 18 have $50 cash?" asked Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities. "Kids don't buy games. Parents buy the games. It really is silly."

The $25-billion global game industry has come under increasing criticism for the sex and violence in its titles. Although most games are family fare, a few high-profile titles -- notably "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" -- have been singled out for attack.

Under California's law, to take effect Jan. 1, video game publishers must label violent games with the number 18 outlined in black, Yee said. Publishers that do not label their games could be fined $1,000 for each violation, as could retailers that rent or sell such games, if properly labeled, to children.

Michigan and Illinois have passed similar laws and several other states are considering them. The game industry has resisted such measures, saying its voluntary rating system gives parents the information they need to make informed choices. It has suits pending in Michigan and Illinois.

Jeff Brown, a spokesman for Electronic Arts Inc., the world's largest independent game publisher, predicted that the video game industry would win its challenge against California.

"The new law does very little except invite a constitutional challenge to affirm that video games deserve the same 1st Amendment protections as books, movies and television," Brown said.

Last year in Washington state, for example, a federal judge struck down a ban on the sale of violent games to minors that depicted crimes against law enforcement officers, said Kevin Saunders, a professor of law at Michigan State University, who testified on behalf of Yee's measure in Sacramento.

Saunders said that despite the precedent, Yee's measure could withstand a challenge by citing a growing body of evidence that suggests violent video games lead to aggressive or violent behavior in children.

"The fact that previous courts have struck [laws banning the sale of violent video games to children] down doesn't mean a court with more evidence won't uphold it," said Saunders, author of "Saving Our Children from the First Amendment."

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokesman Nate Hurst described the legislation as burdensome for large retailers that do business in California. "It's going to create difficult shipping, distribution and inventory problems."

Hurst noted that Wal-Mart does not carry adult-rated video or computer games. The company, he added, has programmed its cash registers to prompt associates to ensure that only customers 17 years of age or older purchase games that are rated "Mature" by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

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