Law Shoots Down
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
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
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.