Obama’s Commerce Nominee Signed 2003 Video Game Bill Into Law

Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke (D), President Barack Obama’s latest choice for Commerce Secretary, carries a bit of video game baggage into his new position.

In 2003, while serving as Governor, Locke signed into law the nation’s first statewide violent video game legislation. The measure, which was proposed by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D), barred minors from purchasing games in which the player kills or injures "a human form who is depicted, by dress or other recognizable symbols, as a public law enforcement officer."

The video game industry filed suit, of course (VDSA vs. Maleng). In July, 2004, a federal court struck down the Washington law. In ruling the statute unconstitutional, U.S. District Court Judge Lasnik wrote:

The games at issue…[have] story lines, detailed artwork, original scores, and a complex narrative which evolves as the player makes choices and gains experiences. All of the games provided to the Court for review are expressive and qualify as speech for purposes of the First Amendment…


[The law] failed to give a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly… Would a game built around The Simpsons or Looney Tunes characters be ‘realistic’ enough to trigger the Act?… Do the Roman centurions of Age of Empires, the enemy officers depicted in Splinter Cell, or the conquering forces of Freedom Fighters qualify as ‘public law enforcement officers’?

GP: Although it’s unlikely that Locke, if confirmed, will have much to do with video game issues as Secretary of Commerce, it is an interesting historical footnote, nonetheless.

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  1. 0
    Wardog13 says:

    Im glad the judge knew what he was talking about.


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  2. 0
    Chamale says:

    I like how the judge pointed out the vagueness of the law. Obviously it would restrict minors from buying games such as GTA, but there are many other situations where this would come into effect. In World In Conflict (a T-rated RTS), the player can kill a cop by looking around on the map for one, and then ordering an artillery strike in the area. It’s not productive for your side, there are no "kill the cop" objectives, it’s just a thing you could do in the game. But under this law, selling World In Conflict to a minor would be illegal. Technically, under this bill, minors couldn’t even buy games where the player shoots police officers enforcing a police state, whether they’re Nazis or fiftitious oppressors.


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  3. 0
    nighstalker160 says:

    I love that excerpt from the opinion. The Judge was very smart not to wade into the whole Grand Theft Auto scene and instead created this ridiculous image of some kid on trial for playing a game where he beats up Chief Wiggum.

    That judge needs to be on the Supreme Court.

  4. 0
    E. Zachary Knight says:

    Well, he may have little if anything to do with legislating games, but it seems the DoC could have an impact on the games industry from an economic or laborforce issue:

    From Wikipedia:

    The mission of the department is to "promote job creation and improved living standards for all Americans by creating an infrastructure that promotes economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development." Among its tasks are gathering economic and demographic data for business and government decision-making, issuing patents and trademarks, and helping to set industrial standards.

    So I guess if the issue of developers’ union were to come up, the DoC could be in on all the hubub.

    E. Zachary Knight
    Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA

    E. Zachary Knight
    Divine Knight Gaming
    Oklahoma Game Development
    Rusty Outlook
    Random Tower
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