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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