New York Gov. David Paterson signed a bill into law on Tuesday that will require the prominent display of ratings and require game consoles sold in New York to have technology that allows parents to block certain games. The law also requires the state to create an advisory council to review video games' voluntary ratings system for accuracy and effectiveness.
The law aims to give the state and parents greater control over violent and inappropriate content, but critics say it goes too far and will curb free speech.
"Read together, these provisions would create a state system regulating how video games are sold and played based on content that the First Amendment protects from regulation," the New York State Civil Liberties Union explained in a statement.
New York Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Republican from Staten Island, introduced the bill. He chairs the Senate Task Force on youth Violence and the Entertainment Industry. Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat, drafted the matching bill in the New York State Assembly.
"Many studies have indicated that violent behavior is learned," Lanza said in a statement. "Technology advances have allowed video games to become increasingly more realistic and interactive, and unfortunately more violent. Some games simply aren't appropriate for nine- and ten-year-old children, for example. Children's behavior is far too often shaped by these violent virtual reality video games. It is important that we arm parents with the information needed to shield their children from these corrupting influences."
The NYCLU and the National Coalition Against Censorship fought to kill the legislation.
"New Yorkers do not need the state judging which video games are appropriate and which aren't," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman, said. "Parents, not government committees, should be responsible for making those judgments. If the legislature wants to reduce youth violence, it should fund educational programs to teach students conflict resolution skills."
In a letter to Gov. Paterson, the two groups said the legislation unconstitutionally restricts video game sales based on a belief that viewing violent images leads to violence. They cited a recent study from the Harvard Medical School Center for Public Health and Media which found little evidence of a causal link between playing violent video games and violent behavior. The groups pointed out that the authors of the study refute research that points to a link, saying it's based on "scanty evidence, inaccurate assumptions and pseudoscience."
"The entertainment industry's current rating system for video games already helps parents make informed decisions," Joan Bertin, NCAC executive director, said. "The system cannot become subject to the government's editorial oversight without violating the First Amendment."
The conservative group, Americans For Tax Reform, also opposed the bill.