California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has officially signed into law Leland Yee's AB1179 measure, aimed at preventing the sale of violent video games to children. The bill will now take effect on January 1, 2006, despite significant attempts to stop its passage by game retailer organization the IEMA, which urged a veto on the grounds of "the lack of decipherable standards" for the bill, as well as a number of other issues.
Governor Schwarzenegger has released an official statement on his action, commenting: "Today I signed legislation to ensure parent involvement in determining which video games are appropriate for their children. The bill I signed will require that violent video games be clearly labeled and not be sold to children under 18 years old. Many of these games are made for adults and choosing games that are appropriate for kids should be a decision made by their parents."
The bill requires warning labels to be placed on violent games. Customers purchasing games with the label would be required to show ID; retailers who either did not check for ID or did not show the labels will be liable for a $1,000 fine per infraction. The stronger punishment written into the bill is a result of a previous effort by Assemblyman Yee to limit sales of violent games, the failure of which Yee believed to be due to a lack of consequences.
Both the IEMA game retail trade association and the ESA game publisher trade organization have expressed views against this kind of state-by-state legislation - in fact, the ESA recent filed suit in Illinois to attempt to block a similar bill, with the ESA's Doug Lowenstein commenting of that bill: "This law will have a chilling effect on free speech. It will limit First Amendment rights not only for Illinois’ residents, but for game developers and publishers, and for retailers who won’t know what games can and cannot be sold or rented under this vague new statute."
The ESA's view on California's AB1179, as illuminated after its passage through the legislature, is that "it is impractical - in essence creating a California-only class of products requiring retailers to buy, warehouse and distribute California video games separately from other inventory - it is unnecessary, in that our member companies have already voluntarily committed to carding policies to inhibit the sale of Mature-rated games to minors, and it is clearly unconstitutional." The AIAS game trade body also recently asked its members to write to Schwarzenegger and urge a veto, apparently in vain.
In further news on Friday, the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) announced that they would join with the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) in challenging the law in court, presumably in a similar manner to the previously mentioned Illinois suit. "Not only is A.B. 1179 a clear violation of the First Amendment, but it provides no meaningful standards to know which materials are covered," declared VSDA President Bo Andersen. He continued: "Instead of passing laws that are destined to be overturned by the courts, the state of California should be encouraging parents to use the existing video game ratings and content descriptors to make informed choices about whether to bring a particular video game into their home."
[UPDATE - 4.43pm PST - Added the VSDA's comments.]