New York Assembly, Senate Pass Video Game Bill

Though efforts to put the force of law behind voluntary content regulation in video games have been ruled unconstitutional over and over again, state-level lawmakers continue to endeavor to pass such laws. The state of New York is the latest to level its administrative eye on video games, passing almost unanimously a bill in the State Assembly at the beginning of this week that proposes an "advisory council" for video games.

From the bill's description, it:

Creates an advisory council on interactive media and youth violence and requires video game consoles to be equipped with a device or control to permit owners to prevent the display of violent or indecent video games; defines "video game"; addresses sale and rental of video games.

Now that the bill, spearheaded by Staten Island Republican Senator Andrew Lanza (R), has been passed 61-1 by the State Senate, the proposed 16-member advisory council still needs to meet with the approval of New York Governor David Paterson (D). If he signs off, the bill could become law in 2010 - which could open the door for the New York State Senate to use its judgment to control video game content.

GamePolitics, who yesterday broke the news of the bill's passage in the Senate, also obtained an mp3 of Senator Lanza's argument to the Senate in favor of the bill:

If you look closely at this bill, [concerns expressed by Sen. Duane] are not valid. Let's start with speech. There's all kinds of speech. If we take an old-fashioned pinball machine and plunked it down here in the middle of the chamber, no one would call it speech. But when we put that up on a video screen, it does become speech and I acknowledge that. And it deserves protection under the Constitution... There is some confusion with respect to what this bill actually accomplishes... The word prohibition was talked about. I want to be clear. This bill does not prohibit the sale of any video to anyone...

This simply says that every video game sold in the state of New York simply should have a rating consistent with what the ESRB does presently in a voluntary way... it does work. But the problem with "voluntary" is that tomorrow someone can change their mind. Someone could decide tomorrow to no longer place ratings on these games. So this is not about prohibiting the sale, this is simply about providing information to parents...

Last year's version... that included a provision that would have made it an E-felony to sell these games, we all thought it was wrong. And we took that out. We worked with the [video game] industry. We worked with the Assembly and we do have an agreement here on a piece of legislation that I think will go a long way in allowing parents to make good decisions in regard to what is and what isn't appropriate for their chidlren...

As with similar laws struck down in the past, we can likely expect a lawsuit - in the meantime, though, there is something you can do. If we can defend our favorite games in flamewars in comments on message boards, it's not too much to ask for us to write a letter.

The ESA had established a page within its Video Game Voters network that offers an easy letter form for New Yorkers to write their representatives in opposition to this measure, and even though the bill has already been passed, it might be a wise move to petition the Governor's office now as Paterson considers signing the bill into law.

You can even recruit your non-gaming, tax-paying friends to petition this cause, because history's shown us that efforts to regulate games through law - especially through legislation that precedent has established as unconstitutional in California, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Illinois and Minnesota - end up a futile expense of taxpayer dollars, when the same end can be accomplished through industry self-regulation.

We've contacted the ESA for comment and will update with any response we receive.