OLYMPIA, Wash. The first state law barring the sale of certain violent video games to children has been signed by Gov. Gary Locke. Video game publishers promised an immediate legal challenge on free-speech grounds.
Under the new law, retailers would face a $500 fine for selling or renting video games depicting violence against police to children under 17.
"We need to get on with ensuring that these kinds of games are not sold or rented out to children," Locke said yesterday.
Video game publishers contended the law is unconstitutionally vague and violates the First Amendment.
State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, the bill's sponsor, said she specifically tailored the bill to withstand a constitutional challenge.
"I'm proud Washington is the first state to say we have a compelling interest in keeping these ultra-violent games out of the hands of children without their parents' consent," said Dickerson, D-Seattle.
"We intentionally made the law narrow to overcome court challenges by focusing on the compelling state interest of protecting the lives of law enforcement officers, but parents need to know that some of these cop-killer games also feature the murder and torture of women and minorities."
Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, in Washington, D.C., declared the law is "not only unnecessary and unconstitutional, but it clearly won't solve the issue at which it's apparently aimed."
Lowenstein said parents, not the state, should police their children's games, which are rated for content by the industry.
"If a child has a Mature-rated game, odds are he got it from Mom and Dad," Lowenstein said. "If the goal is to keep games out of the hands of kids for whom they are not appropriate ... then the answer is to focus on parental education and awareness of the ratings, not to try to turn retailers into parents."
A county ordinance in Missouri that requires children under 17 to have parental consent before they can buy violent or sexually explicit video games or play similar arcade games has been upheld by a federal judge. Video game publishers have appealed that decision, and the case is pending. The St. Louis County ordinance was modeled on a similar Indianapolis law dealing with arcades that was struck down by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.