NY Game Ratings Law Protested by Rights Groups, Labeled Unconstitutional

A day after New York governor David Peterson signed a law that will require all video games sold at New York retailers to display an ESRB content rating, two civil rights groups have spoken out and labeled the legislation as unconstitutional.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship both argue that the law violates the First Amendment by letting the government regulate how video games are sold and played based on the content contained within.

Taking effect in 2010, the law further mandates that "new video game consoles" include "parental lockout features"--something already offered by the current crop of consoles--and that New York establish a council to study the effects of virtual violence.

"Parents, not government committees, should be responsible for making those judgments," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman told eFluxMedia. "If the legislature wants to reduce youth violence, it should fund educational programs to teach students conflict resolution skills."

Most US retailers already refuse to carry a game if it does not have an ESRB content rating, though this represents an optional, not government-mandated, policy.

Past game-related legislation has used intentionally vague language and attempted to establish new guidelines on content classification, typically resulting in laws that were later found to be unconstitutional.

Earlier this year, a Massachusetts bill that equated video games to pornography drew vocal opposition from famed horror author Stephen King, who called on parents to have "the guts to forbid material they find objectionable."

"There's a lot more to America's culture of violence than Resident Evil 4," King noted. "If there's violence to be had, the kids are gonna find a way to get it."

The new law marks the more conservative of the two pitched to the New York Senate last year. The other would have classified sales of games containing "depraved violence and indecent images" to minors as a class E felony.