New York Governor David Paterson has signed into law a new piece of legislation that will "ensure the State will explore the negative effects of violent videogames."
Unlike past attempts at legislating videogames in the U.S., which have been overturned by the courts as a result of various First Amendment issues, this law will not attempt to control videogame content but will instead mandate various measures that will help ensure mature-rated videogames don't end up in the hands of children. The new law will require that videogames display an age rating, that game consoles have built-in parental controls and also establishes a 16-member "advisory council" on the effects of violence in the media. The bill was passed by the State Senate in June with an overwhelming 61-1 vote, after which the Governor had a 30-day window to sign it into law.
Sharp-eyed readers may note that videogames sold in North America already carry a voluntary ESRB rating on their packaging, and that all three major consoles already offer parental controls, and in fact the law will not require any material changes to the production or sale of videogames in New York; it will simply mandate existing voluntary systems. Because of this, many observers question the point of the law, calling it "feel-good legislation," and even some traditional opponents of gaming laws have indicated they don't feel the matter is worth fighting. A statement by the Entertainment Merchants Association, for instance, said, "This bill is unnecessary and seeks to solve a problem that does not exist. But we do not anticipate that videogame software retailers will have a problem complying with its requirements. (It is important to note that NY law already requires DVD packages to display the rating of the movie.)"
Nonetheless, the Video Game Voters Network issued an alert earlier in July encouraging its members to contact the Governor to express their opposition to the bill, and the VGVN parent Entertainment Software Association issued a statement following the Governor's decision to sign the bill into law suggesting it may challenge the law in court. "The state has ignored legal precedent, common sense and the wishes of many New Yorkers in enacting this unnecessary bill," the statement said. "This government intrusion will cost taxpayers money and impose unconstitutional mandates for activities and technologies that are already voluntarily in place. It also unfairly singles out the videogame industry over all other forms of media. One wonders where this overreach by government in New York will end. If New York lawmakers feel it is the role of government to convene a government commission on game content, they could next turn to other content such as books, theater and film."
While other organizations, including the New York Civil Liberties Union and the International Game Developers Association, are opposed to the law, any constitutional challenges are expected to come from the ESA. Whether the group will bother to fight a law that is almost entirely symbolic remains to be seen. The bill can be read in its entirety here.