February 3, 1998

US Senate Attempting to Ban Violent Games

Government meddling in computer and video games isn't a new thing; Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) has been advocating some sort of restriction over interactive entertainment since he first caught a glimpse of Mortal Kombat. While Lieberman's crusading didn't result in any firm legislation, it did result in a heightened sensitivity to the issue of violence and sex in computer games (witness the creation of the ESRB). Apparently, the ESRB (and other groups like it e.g. RSAC) aren't doing a good enough job because laws banning certain types of computer, video, and arcade game-related-content are currently being considered in Florida and Ohio.

When the Florida legislature meets this March, they'll be considering a bill proposed by Rep. Barry Silver (D) and Sen. John Grant (R) that would prohibit "the display, or other exhibition of video games containing graphic violence." The proposed law would be all-encompassing; while the "display or exhibition" mentioned above might make you think the bill only applies to arcades, the two lawmakers are quick to point out that they "intend to weed violent games out of retail, as well." Meanwhile, Ohio's Attorney General Betty Montgomery is hawking a law that would make online content considered "harmful to minors" illegal. If this law is passed, expect it to have far-reaching effects on video and computer games websites that cover violent games.

Before you start preparing a heart-felt eulogy for interactive entertainment, though, take solace in the following facts. A law strikingly similar to the one being proposed in Florida has already been struck down in Missouri because it was unconstitutional. Still, though, Rep. Silver insists that his law "has passed constitutional muster under other contexts." With respect to Attorney General Betty Montgomery's proposed law, it should be noted that a similar law was killed in New York because that state found it to be unconstitutional. In the unlikely event that either of these laws ever comes close to seeing the light of day, you can be sure that a $5 billion/year industry (which video and computer games is) isn't going to sit idly by; The IDSA (The Interactive Digital Software Association), with the help of Gail Markels - their General Counsel - is already contesting the constitutionality of the proposed laws. If the laws come any closer to reality, The IDSA will be the focal point of a very large and very vocal constituency that views censorship of interactive entertainment with similar distaste.

Clearly, these proposed laws have the chance - however small that chance might be - to have a profound impact on the games we play. We'll track the development of each law and let you know if/when a cause for real concern arises. In the meantime, if you feel strongly about the topic, use the info below to express yourself.

Florida Rep. Barry Silver, 954.917.1300

Attorney General�s Office, Betty Montgomery, 614.466.4320

[ This article reprinted with permission. It originally appeared on OGR's News Net and was written by Glenn Broderick. ]

Posted by Joe Siegler on February 3, 1998 at 1:00 PM | Permalink
News Categories: Misc