New York Becomes Battleground for Video Game Legislation

            It’s not often that Democrats and Republicans can agree on much of anything, but it seems they’ve found common ground on one issue – video games. Currently, two separate bills are being pushed through New York’s State Assembly and Senate that aim to limit the sale of video games.

            Senator Andrew Lanza (R-I, Staten Island) introduced S05888, the first of the two bills, which passed in only four days. According to an official press release, the bill aims to crack down on video game violence and reduce children’s exposure to violent and inappropriate material within these games by establishing the Advisory Council on Interactive Media and Youth Violence. The Council would examine the ESRB’s current rating system to see if any steps can be made to improve it. The bill would also require retailers in the New York area to put labels on all games (it is unclear whether these labels would be from the ESRB or additional warnings)

            As if that wasn’t enough, bill A08696 co-sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D), Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D) and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer is being heavily pushed through the New York State Assembly. The two bills are similar, but A08696, calls for harsher penalties for those who expose minors to violent video game content, stating that “selling or renting to a minor a game which includes ‘depraved violence and indecent images’ would be a class E felony under the state penal code.”

Furthermore, A08696 goes one-step further and calls for developers to put parental controls on all new games, calling for “a mechanism, device or control system that through the use of a personal identification number, password or similar technology to prevent the display of video games or portions thereof displaying certain content.”

As expected, video game retailers and developers have gone on record opposing the bill.  Bo Anderson, President of The Entertainment Merchant’s Association, which represents a large amount of game retailers issued a statement calling the bill unconstitutional.

“This bill is ill-conceived and unconstitutional. The proposal to jail retailers and clerks for up to four years for selling certain video games to persons under age 17 is apparently based on misunderstandings about what retailers are doing currently.

The requirement that video game consoles include parental controls ignores the fact that the new generation of consoles includes them already…

This bill is impermissibly vague. A8696 seeks to apply real-world standards of violence to the fictional and fanciful world of video games, an environment in which they have no meaning. As a result, retailers and clerks will not and cannot know with certainty which video games could send them to jail under A8696. It was depressing to hear members of the Assembly note the constitutional problems with the bill and then state that they were voting for it.”

            Both bills are expected to be signed by June 21st, when the NY State Assembly goes into Recess. Stay tuned to as more info becomes available.

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