Washington State has become the first state to prohibit renting or selling some violent computer games to children under 17. A trade association will challenge it as an unconstitutional infringement on minors’ rights. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes that about a dozen other states, cities or counties have tried regulating violent computer games, only to have courts say the laws violate the Constitution’s First Amendment.
Washington law is more narrowly drawn than many and so is more likely to survive judicial scrutiny, said one sponsor. The Videogame Violence Bill goes into effect July 27 unless a federal lawsuit by the Washington, D.C.-based Interactive Digital Software Association, set to be filed in the next few weeks, halts its implementation.
The new law authorizes a fine of up to $500 on any person who rents or sells to someone 17 or under computer games in which the player kills or injures “a human form who is depicted, by dress or other recognizable symbols, as a public law enforcement officer.” The law’s sponsors cite an increasing number of studies linking exposure to violent computer games with hostile and antisocial behavior. They cite a need to foster respect for public law enforcement officers.
“Does it apply to Army officers? What about a plainclothes policeman chasing other policemen who went bad?” asked Douglas Lowenstein, president of the game makers’ trade association. With the games up to 80 hours long, it’s “utterly impossible” for retailers to know whether a game might run afoul of the law, he said. Lowenstein said the best approach to the problem is to educate parents about ratings that computer games voluntarily carry and to urge retailers to stringently enforce those ratings. “Violent content is protected speech under the First Amendment,” he said.