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Bills Target Brutal Video Games

Maryland lawmakers' bills come in response to the growth in popularity of especially violent video games, such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Maryland lawmakers' bills come in response to the growth in popularity of especially violent video games, such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. (By Paul Sakuma -- Associated Press)
By Ray Rivera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 19, 2006

Two Maryland lawmakers are pushing proposals to regulate the sale to minors of what they say are gratuitously violent video games, even though courts have struck down similar laws in other states.

Elected officials have been struggling to find a way to address what many Republicans and Democrats consider a disturbing problem -- the growth in popularity of especially violent video games, such as the Grand Theft Auto series, which feature decapitations, dismemberments and other brutal killings.

In last year's legislative session, an attempt to regulate the industry and impose fines or jail time on violators was quashed in the House Judiciary Committee after lawmakers questioned its constitutionality and necessity, given that the gaming industry has been establishing policies to stop youngsters from buying games rated "mature."

This year, another effort is underway, with supporters likening the proposed restrictions to laws regulating the sale of cigarettes and pornography. But despite much sympathy from Democrats and Republicans, the bills face an uphill battle.

Del. Justin D. Ross (D-Prince George's), sponsor of last year's bill, has introduced a modified version and says he has more hope for it this session.

His optimism is based in part on the successful passage of similar measures by other state legislatures. California, Michigan, Illinois and Washington state all passed laws last year regulating what types of games may be sold or rented to minors.

However, courts later overturned or blocked those measures in response to industry lawsuits.

"People are starting to recognize that these games, because of the unique medium, have a much more profound effect on children than movies or television," Ross said.

His bill would require manufacturers of such games to label them with white stickers with the number 18 outlined in black. The legislation is modeled after the California measure and, unlike his bill last year, would go beyond industry ratings already established by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

The proposal would establish standards for determining whether a game is too violent for minors, such as if it includes torture, rape or "needless mutilation" of human or humanlike characters. Selling such games to a minor would be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 for the store owner or manager.

Ross said that he is willing to take his chance on a court challenge in Maryland, even though the California law was blocked by a federal judge.

Another bill, introduced by Del. A. Wade Kach (R-Baltimore County), would ban the sale to minors of games rated "For Adults Only." It would impose penalties of up to a year in jail or $5,000 in fines for any violator, including retail clerks. Kach's legislation is considered less sweeping because only a handful of games would be affected.


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