Washington this week became the first state in the nation prohibiting the sale or rental to children of video games that depict violence against police.
Video game publishers promised an immediate legal challenge on free-speech grounds.
Gov. Gary Locke signed the bill into law Tuesday. Retailers face a fine of up to $500 for violations involving children under 17.
Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Assn., a trade group based in Washington, D.C., said parents, not the state, should police their children’s games, which are rated for content by the industry.
Violent games are among the biggest sellers. Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.'s “Grand Theft Auto” games, in which players steal cars and run missions for a criminal syndicate while seeking to outrun the police, were the top two games last year. Sony Corp.'s gangster-themed “The Getaway” was the No. 2 game in the first three months of this year, according to NPD Group Inc.
“It’s important to foster an environment where young people respect those who uphold the law,” Locke said. “Allowing children to play video games where the object is to kill or injure law enforcement officers is not the way to reinforce this message.”
Violent video games came under scrutiny from lawmakers after two Colorado high school students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed 12 students, a teacher and wounded more than 20 others in 1999. Both had been known to play “Doom,” a game viewed through the eyes of a character that shoots enemies.
Video games carry rating labels indicating whether they are for young children or adults, and companies make sure consumers know some games are for adults, Take-Two said.
Take-Two “makes every effort to market its games responsibly, targeting advertising and marketing only to adult consumers 17 and older,” spokeswoman Gabrielle Zucker said.
Washington state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle), the bill’s sponsor, said she tailored the bill to withstand a constitutional challenge by focusing on the state’s interest in protecting the lives of law enforcement officers.
A St. Louis ordinance 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 district court judge. Video game publishers have appealed that decision, and the case is pending.