ESA Challenges Michigan Game Law

The computer and video game industry will file suit in Michigan asking that the state's new video game law be overturned, the Entertainment Software Associated announced today. Similar laws were previously found unconstitutional and thrown out in St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Washington State, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

"If this law is implemented, it will not only limit First Amendment rights for Michigan's residents, but, by virtue of its vagueness, it will also create a huge amount of confusion for Michigan's retailers, parents, and video game developers," said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the ESA, the trade group representing U.S. computer and video game publishers. "I'm confident the court will affirm our position given the rulings on similar statutes in other jurisdictions; indeed, the facts, the science, the law, and the U.S. Constitution have not changed since those decisions were handed down."

The new law, SB 416, would restrict the dissemination of video games containing certain violent content. Given the bill's hopelessly vague language defining the game content subject to the Act. Retailers will have no objective way to determine whether they are in compliance and game developers will not know if their products would be covered. Civil and criminal penalties for violating this Act are fines of up to $5000 to $40,000 or imprisonment for up to 93 days.

The ESA argues that this bill is an effort to substitute the government’s judgment for parental supervision and turn retailers into surrogate parents. Lowenstein said that the industry's products were being unreasonably and unfairly singled out. He contends that while there is no question that a few games have content that some audiences will find offensive, the same can be said for some content in TV, films, music, and books. Since the government does not regulate the sales of those entertainment industries, it should follow suit for the sale of video games. Ultimately, he concluded, parents, not government or industry, must be the gatekeepers of what comes in the home.

"In 2004, the average game buyer was 37 years old and the average game player was 30," Lowenstein said. "Knowing this, our industry creates a wide range of content for a diverse consumer audience, just as other entertainment industries do. And, it's illogical that video games would be treated more harshly than R-rated movies or music CDs with parental warning labels, both of which can be legally viewed and sold to minors. How can you treat a video game based on James Bond any different than a book or movie based on the same subject matter?"

The ESA noted that both parents and retailers are already doing a good job in monitoring what games kids purchase. According to the Federal Trade Commission, parents are involved in the purchase or rental of games 83% of the time, and industry data shows that nine out of ten parents monitor the games their kids play. Moreover, with the strong support of the ESA, leading retailers have already implemented systems to prevent the sale of Mature-rated games to persons under 17. In fact, the National Institute on Media and the Family found last fall, prior to full implementation of these new enforcement systems, that retailers prevented the sale of Mature-rated video games to minors 66% of the time. All games are clearly rated with both age and content information through the Entertainment Software Rating Board rating system (www.esrb.org).

The Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA) has expressed its strong support for the ESA's action.

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