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California Assembly Bills 1792 & 1793: Wikis

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California Assembly Bills 1792 & 1793 were two bills introduced by Speaker pro Tempore of the Assembly Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/Daly City). Commonly called the "ultraviolent video games bills" or simply "video game ban" bills, these two bills restricted sales of "ultraviolent" video games from minors under the age of eighteen in California. Bill 1792 banned the sales of such video games while Bill 1793 required signs explaining the regulations on said games to be placed where such were sold. Both bills were passed by the Assembly and signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger into law on October 7, 2005.

Explicitly, these two bills provided that:

  • AB 1792 will place ultra-violent video games into the "harmful matter" portion of the penal code, which criminalizes the sale of said material to a minor.
  • AB 1793 will require retailers to place M-rated games separate from other games intended for children, and will also require retailers to display signage explaining the ESRB rating system.

Yee, a child psychologist, believed that psychological research demonstrated that violent video games—especially first-person shooter games—encouraged real-life acts of violence in teenagers who played these games and therefore believed that such games should not be available to persons under eighteen. Lee's bills met little opposition other than that of the pro-gaming industry lobby. The California Psychiatric Association[1] and other non-profit groups supported the bills. However, the legal precedents for these bills and the ban on sales or rental of violent games are very weak—allowing the California law to set a new precedent that could inspire like-minded legislation in other states.

The history these bills and the fact that Yee is a psychologist make their origins interesting when compared to most bills that have been signed into law in California. Views both for and against these bills centered resoundingly on the burden of proof of the psychological literature that Yee claimed demonstrated the need for banning the sale of violent games to minors.

At the heart of much of the discussion about the need to regulate these “ultraviolent” games is what has been termed the "hot coffee mod" incident regarding the PlayStation 2/Xbox game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In this situation, when a certain character successfully courted a girlfriend, she asked him into her house for "coffee." The game displayed an external shot of the house with sounds of a couple having sex. With code modifications, the PC version of the game which was released in Autumn of 2005 (while the original PS2 version was released in October 2004) will display in graphic detail the sexual adventure inside her house, instead of just hinting at such. This disabled sexual content caused Leland Yee and other critics of violent games to call for an immediate re-labeling of the game by its producer, Rockstar Games, and to use it as an example for the need of the type of legislation they promoted. The problem here is that Rockstar has claimed in no uncertain terms that this added portion of the game is not something they devised at all but the result of external modifications by hackers, and indeed, a Dutch hacker has claimed responsibility for it.

One key point of the law that appears unresolved is exactly what criteria will be used to determine a game to be "ultraviolent"—simply containing some violent content will not merit a game to be placed within the over-eighteen category alone. Without exacting standards in this regard, the mission of the law seems unclear to an extent.

On December 21, 2005, Judge Ronald Whyte deemed the bill unconstitutional, preventing it from going into effect on January 1, 2006.

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