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Video Game News

Law Shoots Down Violent Videogames
By Carl Monaco

"We've got a lot of parents who don't realize the power of the media to shape their children's lives," said Washington State Representative Mary Lou Dickerson in a recent interview with the Parents Television Council.
 
After five unsuccessful years of urging the video gaming industry to voluntarily comply with its own ratings code, Representative Dickerson took the battle to the state legislature and she got results.

Recently, Washington Governor Gary Locke signed Dickerson's Videogame Violence Bill into law, setting a precedent that could change the way these games are marketed and sold to children.

The new law fines any retailer $500 for knowingly renting or selling computer or videogames to children under the age of 17, in which there are graphic depictions of violence against law enforcement officials (police officers and firefighters).

"It is important to foster an environment where young people respect those who would uphold the law," Governor Locke said in a statement after signing the bill. "Allowing children to play videogames where the object is to kill or injure enforcement officers is not the way to reinforce this message."

Mary Lou Dickerson has spent years working to reduce youth violence in the Seattle area and through that work became interested in the effects violent video games have upon children and society.

Like laws that prohibit the sale of tobacco and pornography to minors, The Videogame Violence Law hits the industry where it hurts the bottom line by targeting retailers.
"I'm hoping that retailers will decide that the easiest way to comply with the legislation is to simply ID kids that want to buy or rent any M-rated game so that they actually will comply with the industry's own rating system. That's my greatest hope."

In developing the bill, Representative Dickerson researched unsuccessful legislation from other states attempting to ban violent video games. She discovered that previous efforts had failed in part, because the concept was too broad or it did not address a specific state interest. By crafting the bill to include games involving violence against law enforcement officials, Dickerson not only narrowed the bill's scope, but also hit upon a very specific state interest: Protecting Washington state's police and fire officials. Additionally, according to Rep. Dickerson, video games depicting violence toward law enforcement is likely to depict other abhorrent behaviors, such as drug use, prostitution, theft, and murder.

"Its not that I believe public safety officers are any more worthy of protection than any other class of people. I believe that the way the bill is designed, it will be upheld in the courts, because it is narrow and it does show a compelling interest of the state. That's why I did it," said the representative. "Some of the very worst games, that are horrible in terms of their racism and violence towards women and violence towards gays, also include the killing of police officers. So, my legislation would mean that minors would not get access to those games without permission from their parents."

Unfortunately, the law is already being challenged by the videogame industry, specifically the International Digital Software Association. They claim that laws like this are in direct violation of the First Amendment, and they are taking their claims to court.

"The industry likes to clothe itself in the First Amendment. But that's just a convenient defense. Their real concern is profit," she said.

Exasperated by this opposition, the representative is demanding answers from the gaming industry. "My question to [the industry], is there any game you would restrict to minors? Is there any age limit, how about six or how about eight, that you'd consider?"
Considering that today's market is saturated with violent games (the top selling games of the year have been some of the most violent in the past decade -- including Postal 2 and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City), Dickerson realizes that there is much work to be done.

"The problem is that the profit motive is too high, so that the stores, regardless of the ratings system, are ignoring the rating system," Dickerson pointed out.

While Representative Dickerson understands that parents are ultimately responsible for the kinds of videogames their children play, she also knows parents cannot be watching their children 24-hours a day. Through her efforts, she hopes to lessen the burden on parents, and rightfully place some of the responsibility back onto the stores choosing to sell this material.

Her efforts should be replicated across this country.  She is a fantastic example of what one determined person is doing to change the face of the entertainment industry.  The Parents Television Council commends her on her courage, and wishes her well with her continued efforts to improve the lives of America's families.

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