'Violent Video Games' bill approved in California

By Humphrey Cheung
September 13, 2005 - 11:17 EST

Westlake Village (CA) - California lawmakers approved Assembly Bill 1179, which prohibits 'extremely violent' video games from being sold to minors and requires large labels to be affixed to retail boxes. Violators can be hit with up to $1000 in fines, per infraction. The bill now heads to Governor Schwarzenegger's desk and he has 30 days to either sign or veto the bill.
AB1179, formerly known as AB450, was sponsored by Speaker pro Tem Dr. Leland Yee (Democrat -San Francisco/Daly City) and passed by a 65 to 7 vote. The bill will hit retailers with up to a $1000 fine if they willingly sell violent games to minors. In addition, AB1179 requires a two inch by two inch label with a white 18 (outlined in black) to be affixed to the retail boxes of those games. Interestingly, only the retailer will be fined, and not the sales clerk. Also, if the manufacturer forgets to label the box, the store will not be fined.
In AB1179, violent games are games where the player has an option of killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being in a 'shockingly atrocious manner', but it is unclear who will determine what content will fit that definition. Yee, who is also a Child Psychologist, believes that violent games can have a dramatic and detrimental effect on children and his bill has the backing of child advocacy groups, like Common Sense Media. Peter Katz, Director of Marketing for Common Sense Media, says that their organization has been supporters of the bill from the start. He believes that there is a fundamental difference between violent video games and more passive media such as movies. "In video games, you are an active participant, pulling the trigger is different than watching it," says Katz. While the bill smacks of censorship, Katz sees things differently. He doesn't have a problem with companies creating whatever kind of games they want. "We are not for censorship, but for a more informed public," says Katz. Adam J. Keigwin, spokesperson for Leland Yee, also does not think the bill encourages censorship. "We are not asking them to be less violent. They have a first amendment right to make or produce what they want, but we just want them to sell to adults," says Keigwin. Keigwin also thinks that the current ESRB rating system 'doesn't have any teeth' and that Mature-rated games are routinely sold to children. While there have been studies showing a link between violence and video games, there are just as many studies showing no such link exists. In fact, in the American Psychological Association's monthly magazine, one month you will see an article with a psychologist saying that violent video games increase aggression, while the next month another psychologist will say exactly the opposite. Recently the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found the behavior of players subjected to 56 hours of Asheron's Call 'were not statistically different from the non-playing control group.' With the popularity of video games booming, Yee faced heavy opposition to the bill and had to scrap a previous version. When asked what one word could describe the video game lobby's opposition, "One word couldn't do it justice [to the opposition we faced]," said Keigwin. We could not reach the Entertainment Software Rating Board or the Entertainment Software Association for their opposing viewpoints.

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