NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – The state of Washington has become the first in the nation to regulate the sale of video games. Gov. Gary Locke on Monday signed into law a bill banning the sale of certain 'violent' games to anyone under 17.
Specifically, the law forbids selling minors any video or computer game depicting violence against law enforcement officials. Among the titles affected are industry best sellers "Grand Theft Auto 3" and "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City", both published by Take Two Interactive (TTWO: Research, Estimates). Presumably, Atari's (ATAR: Research, Estimates) $30 million "Enter the Matrix", which hit store shelves last Thursday, would also be off limits to its core audience. That title earned only a "Teen" rating, since it is not graphically violent, though police officers are in-game enemies.
Retail employees who sell these games to minors are subject to fines of up to $500.
The Interactive Digital Software Association (the gaming industry trade group) denounced the bill, calling it unconstitutional and announced plans to file a lawsuit, which it hopes will prevent the law from being enforced.
"We're confident that our position will be affirmed in court," said Doug Lowenstein, president of the IDSA. "At a time when the state faces a massive budget deficit, it is unfortunate that taxpayers and parents will see critical funds diverted to defend a bill which is patently unconstitutional. In January 2002 in a similar case, the City of Indianapolis spent $700,000 covering its own and the arcade industry's attorneys' fees on a bill which was unanimously ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit."
The IDSA said it expected others to join the lawsuit shortly.
Others in the gaming industry voiced opposition to the bill.
"Games are art," said Jason Della Rocca, Program Director of The International Game Developer Association. "Games should be afforded the same sort of protection and respect as other forms of speech."
While cities and counties have signed laws regulating the $10.3 billion video game before, Washington is the first to do so on a statewide level. (Similar bills in other states have always died in committee.) Though the IDSA was successful in defeating the Indianapolis law regulating arcades, it has thus far failed in its attempt to overthrow a ruling in St. Louis (county), Mo which said violent or sexually explicit video games are not constitutionally protected forms of speech. That case is currently under appeal.
Meanwhile, other regulation bills are in the works. The largest of these is in Washington, D.C., where Sen. Joe Baca, D.-Calif., has reintroduced his "Protect Children from Video Game Sex and Violence Act". The bill would make it a federal crime to sell or rent "adult video games" to minors – with proposed fines of $5,000 or more. Re-introduced to the House on Feb. 11, the bill is currently in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. The 2002 bill of the same name died in that committee.