A desire to shield students from video-game content that some believe could incite school violence is part of the motivation for controversial new legislation in Georgia. State lawmakers there have introduced a bill that would make it illegal to sell to children graphically violent video games meant for adults.

Even though video games are now rated to warn parents of violent conduct, in many states there is no legal penalty for people who sell or rent graphic games to children.

Some Georgia House Democrats want to change that. The bill, H.B. 1378, or the Violent Video Game Protection Act, also would require retailers to publicize the content ratings of the games they sell.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Hugley, said the bill was inspired by a report on WRBL-TV in her hometown of Columbus, Ga., where children as young as 13 were filmed buying violent games from retailers.

To comply with the bill, purveyors of video or computer games would be required to make available the most recent listings of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) for the inspection and review by any potential purchaser or user of the game.

Merchants who fail to comply with this requirement or who supply violent games to children would be charged with a misdemeanor.

The ESRB is an independent, voluntary board set up to classify and provide information for parents and consumers on the content of video and computer games. ESRB ratings range from those designed for very small children, Early Childhood (EC), to Adults Only (AO), representing “graphic depictions of sex and/or violence.”

The proposed bill defines “graphic violence” as any game showing decapitation, bloodshed, dismemberment, killing, and death by the use of lethal weapons or hand-to-hand combat.

Only about 7 percent of video games made last year fell into the ESRB’s Mature (M) category, which “may include more intense violence or language than products in the Teen [T] category [and] may also include mature sexual themes.” The majority of video games are rated E for Everybody.

Improvements in the quality of video game graphics and technology has made the games amazingly realistic, the drafters of H.B. 1378 say, and “some, but not all, video games contain graphic and repeated scenes of violence.”

Citing “current scientific data,” Georgia democrats say the “repeated exposure to graphic violence and participation in violent interactive games may contribute to violent behavior by our youth and desensitizes them to acts of violence.”

Education law expert Craig Wood, of Virginia-based McGuire Woods LLP, said there might not be a scientific basis for that allegation.

“I have not seen specific research that links video game violence to actual violent behavior, especially of the serious sort described in the [legislation],” he said. “But in light of the incidence of school violence, I hope that some legitimate scholarly work is being done in this area and shared with the public.”

The bill mentions similar restrictions of graphically violent media that have been imposed in recent years on movies, television, and music, with the goal of making parents more aware of what their kids are being exposed to.

“I hope this will bring attention to the fact that we need to take a look at these games children are playing, just as we would look at the movies our children are watching,” Hugley said.

Wood agreed there is “no question parents need to be more involved in the decisions their children are making and how they spend their out-of-school time.”

But, he said, while schools should be interested in supporting legislation that will make children safer, the legislation “needs to be reasonably related to the stated objectives and supported by actual research, not just rhetoric.”

Wood also said that while he’s never heard of a similar statute, if the final law is drafted well, it would be enforceable by Georgia authorities, because “courts have upheld similar statutes with other products.”

Related links:
House Bill 1378
http://www.state.ga.us/services/newleg/legsearch.cgi?year=2001&bill=HB1378&highlight=video%7Cviolence

Entertainment Software Rating Board
http://www.esrb.org