ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. David Paterson signed a law yesterday that he said would lead to restrictions on video game violence and help families better monitor grisly games.
The law will create an advisory council to study the effects of violent games on children. It also will require parental controls on game consoles by 2010 and prominent displays of age ratings on game packages.
But critics say the measure is too vague and watered down to accomplish its goal. And critics including the group Americans for Tax Reform contend that curbing video violence isn't really the point in New York or nearly a dozen other states that have enacted similar laws, only to see them struck down by courts as unconstitutional.
"It's moral preening," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "The bill is unconstitutional and has been found that way in other states. And when the inevitable lawsuit comes, the state pays for everybody's legal expenses.
"The reason it is politically popular is (because) the average citizen will read a headline that says, 'State Legislature is against violence in children's video games,'” he said. “They are unlikely to read a headline that says, 'Legislature will waste $70,000 of your tax dollars.'”
Richard Taylor of the Entertainment Software Association also objects to the new law. "It also unfairly singles out the video game industry over all other forms of media,” he said.
“If New York lawmakers feel it is the role of government to convene a government commission on game content, they could next turn to other content such as books, theater and film."
Violations of new labeling and parental-control provisions in New York could result in $100 civil penalties. However, the parental controls and the voluntary ratings are already common in the industry.
Language making it a felony to sell video games that are sexually explicit or contain depraved violence was lost during furious lobbying that derailed the bill in May 2007. That provision would have made the law among the strictest in the nation.
Then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer made a high priority of the issue in 2007 and the measure was the subject of several press conferences. The effort continued in the Legislature after Spitzer resigned last March after being disgraced in a prostitution investigation.
The new law was strongly supported in the Senate and Assembly this legislative election year.
The question was never whether to do something about video games that feature automatic weapons and gore — that's been politically attractive for years, resulting in legislation in several other states besides New York. The question has been how to do it without losing a constitutional challenge in the courts.
A prime sponsor of the New York law, Republican state Sen. Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, said the felony provision wouldn't have held up in court, but the remaining elements should stand and help limit access to the games. When the bill was passed this spring, Lanza said the criminal sanction sought by some is already addressed at least in part under pornography and other laws.
Most of the cities and states that have seen their regulations invalidated by courts tried to equate video violence with pornography and restricted the sale of the games to children. The courts have ruled the restrictions violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.
"New Yorkers do not need the state judging which video games are appropriate and which aren't," said Donna Lieberman, New York Civil Liberties Union executive director. "Parents, not government committees, should be responsible for making those judgments."