But, for now, the ratings system has been voluntary. In other words, retailers aren’t financially liable if a minor gets his or her hands on an M-rated game.
“These efforts tell people that you can legislate along moral lines,” says Joseph Olin, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, a Los Angeles-based group that awards excellence in the video game industry. “Thats fundamentally against the Constitution.
Such political criticism may not harm the games popularity or sales, though, according to one industry watcher.
“Im not sure Schumers comments will compel a retailer not to carry a game,” says Schelley Olhava, an analyst with IDC. “Video game sales bring a lot of money to retailers. Theyre a high margin product. Theres a reason Grand Theft Auto and these games have sold as well as they have: people want them.”
Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 3 was an instant hit when it was released in 2001, amid a flurry of controversy.
Still, retailers don’t want to be forced to police their customers. As a result, this latest salvo has upset some retailers and video game creators, who vow to fight the Illinois bill and suppress any other bills currently winding their way through legislatures. “Its an unfortunate example of politicized legislation,” says Hal Halpin, president of the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association. The issue has become a political football, and those involved appear to me more concerned with garnering fast votes and support than affecting change.
In Illinois, video game retailers may not have to do anything more than sue the state to erase the law from the books: in every instance so far, when a state has attempted to pass such a law, it has been defeated in the courts. The Entertainment Software Association, a Washington, DC-based lobbying organization, has gone to court three times against similar state laws – and won each time.
So why are Senator Schumer and some states attempting another round of lawsuits? John Millner, a Republican state representative in Illinois – and one of the six legislators to vote against the bill (106 representatives voted in favor) – thinks he knows why.
“Politically, it would have been a great vote for me,” he says. “But in my conscience, I couldnt vote for it. I asked my peers ‘How can you [vote for] this?’ They looked at me and said, ‘If I vote against it, there’s going to be a piece of mail going out against me, saying I’m in favor of these games.’”
Millner says he opposed the legislation because of concerns about its constitutionality, as well as the negative impact it could have on retailers across the state, many of whom, he argues, are small shops that cant afford a $1,000 fine if a clerk makes a mistake.
“I dont condemn the governor for doing this,” says Millner, who disagrees with the research cited by the governor’s office, saying violence-oriented games cause real-world crime. “But its our job as legislators to…tell him that we cant do this.”