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US politician pitches a fresh new idea: Ban Grand Theft Auto

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The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that, following a rise in carjackings in and near the city of Chicago, Illinois State Representative Marcus C Evans Jr is proposing a ban on the sale of violent vidogames. Bill HB3531, introduced by Evans last week, seeks to amend Illinois' Violent Video Games Law in the Criminal Code of 2012, which currently restricts the sale or rental of violent videogames to minors, "to prohibit the sale of all violent video games."

The bill also seeks to broaden the definition of "violent videogames" in the context of the law to mean any game that encourages players "to perpetuate human-on-human violence in which the player kills or otherwise causes serious physical or psychological harm to another human or an animal." Similarly, it would expand what qualifies as "serious physical harm" to include "psychological harm and child abuse, sexual abuse, animal abuse, domestic violence, violence against women, or motor vehicle theft with a driver or passenger present inside the vehicle when the theft begins."

The bill doesn't name any games specifically, but it appears to be aimed primarily at the Grand Theft Auto games, which enable players to (among other things) carjack NPCs whenever they want a new ride. "I feel like this game has become a huge issue in this spectrum," Walker said. "When you compare the two, you see harsh similarities as it relates to these carjackings."

There's a sense of deja vu to the whole thing: Those of us who have been around for a little while will recall that disgraced former attorney Jack Thompson waged a long-running war against GTA and Take-Two Interactive chairman Strauss Zelnick, and supported state-level legislation that banned the sale of mature videogames to minors. 

Those laws were repeatedly struck down as unconstitutional, however, and when the state of California—governed at the time, ironically, by Arnold Schwarzenegger—took the matter to the Supreme Court of the United States, it lost again: In a 7-2 ruling, the court declared in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association that videogames, like other media, are protected by the First Amendment.

"Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, videogames communicate ideas—and even social messages—through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player's interaction with the virtual world)," the ruling states. "That suffices to confer First Amendment protection. Under our Constitution, 'esthetic and moral judgments about art and literature ... are for the individual to make, not for the Government to decree, even with the mandate or approval of a majority.'"

By all appearances, that would make this proposed ban a non-starter: State-level efforts to legislate bans on videogames effectively came to a halt following that ruling, because there was no room left to maneuver. I don't see how Evans' bill avoids a conflict with that ruling, because it simply aims to impose a blanket ban on violent videogames because they're violent.

"While our industry understands and shares the concerns about what has been happening in Chicago, there simply is no evidence of a link between interactive entertainment and real-world violence," the Entertainment Software Association said in a statement issued in response to the bill. "We believe the solution to this complex problem resides in examining thoroughly the actual factors that drive such behaviors rather than erroneously ascribing blame to video games based solely upon speculation."

In light of the challenges it faces, it will be very interesting to see what sort of traction this bill gets in the Illinois legislature. I've reached out to Rep Evans for more information on his proposed bill, and will update if I receive a reply.

Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.