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OPPOSING UTAH HB 50

13 Jan 2007

UPDATE: The bill's sponsor, Rep. Scott Wyatt, has pulled HB50 from committee consideration. The story on GamePolitics.com: http://gamepolitics.com/2007/01/17/in-utah-sponsor-pulls-jack-thompson-video-game-bill-from-committee-agenda/

For the sake of history, my original post on the subject remains intact below.

Utah is trying once again to pass legislation against video game violence.

The story on GamePolitics.com: http://gamepolitics.com/2007/01/10/utah-legislature-will-consider-video-game-bill/

This is Utah's second attempt at a bill defining video game violence as "harmful to minors" (the first was HB257, in early 2006). It's also particularly offensive in light of the recent fiasco with a similar Illinois bill - which also failed - that cost that state over $500,000 in legal fees: http://gamepolitics.com/2006/12/19/illinois-guv-will-pay-debt-to-game-biz-next-month/

When HB257 was proposed, I wrote and published a letter opposing it. That letter's points are equally valid against the new bill (HB50), and can be viewed here on this very blog.

I think part of the reason we keep seeing anti-game bills popping up has to do with the fact that the opposition to those bills - game players and developers - tends to stick to their own communities when complaining about said bills.

The politicians sponsoring and supporting this legislation aren't reading the developers' comments on GamePolitics or the IGDA forums, nor are they reading the gamers' comments on Gamespot and GAF and so forth. So we make a lot of noise against these bills, but the politicians never hear it.

For this reason, I have written again in opposition of this bill. The letter is quoted below.

January 11, 2007

Dear Representative Harper,

In February 2006, a bill (HB 257) was proposed which would have made it a felony for anyone to give, sell, or rent any video game containing certain broadly defined “inappropriate violence” to minors. I wrote in opposition of this bill, explaining that it could pose significant social and economic problems by effectively treating video games like pornography, and that it would likely be ruled unconstitutional due to its different treatment of video games versus other media formats. My letter regarding HB 257 can be found online at http://tinyurl.com/yg23bj.

My understanding is that HB 257 was tabled, but it appears that a new, similar bill has arisen in its place: HB 50, which seeks to define “inappropriate violence” specifically and exclusively in the context of video games and would classify such violence as “harmful to minors.” Like HB 257, this bill effectively makes it a third-degree felony for any adult to provide a minor with access to violent video game content.

I’m certainly not an advocate of dealing violent or otherwise explicit content to minors; however, legislation is not the answer to this problem. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board has been providing accurate and easy-to-use game content ratings for years, enabling parents and retailers to control the availability of game content to minors. Additionally, all of the latest home video game consoles contain electronic parental controls based on these ratings, further enabling parents to monitor their children’s access to objectionable content.

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly: in December 2005, Judge Matthew Kennelly, ruling on “ESA, et al., v. Blagojevich, et al.”, commented that “if controlling access to allegedly ‘dangerous’ speech is important in promoting the positive psychological development of children, in our society that role is properly accorded to parents and families, not the State.” This precedent has been echoed and upheld throughout numerous similar cases, a comprehensive list of which can be found online at http://tinyurl.com/y526t9.

In that same case, the State of Illinois was ordered to repay $510,528.64 in legal fees to the video game industry. The same fate has befallen numerous other such bills: $344,000 from Washington, $180,659 from St. Louis County, $318,000 from Indianapolis, and the list goes on. The same fate will likely befall HB 50. To this day, not one single piece of legislation seeking to control minors’ access to violent video games has ever been successful.

As a Utah taxpayer, I would much rather see my tax dollars allocated toward something worthwhile (like public education) than funneled into the pockets of the ESA’s legal team. To that end, more than any other, I strongly urge you to oppose HB 50.

Posted In:

politics utah video-games