Gamers target Washington ban

Trade groups seek to overturn state's law

Video retailers and vidgame publishers filed suit Friday to overturn a just-passed Washington state law that bans sales or rentals to children of vidgames depicting violence against law enforcement officers.

Hollywood Entertainment, the Oregon parent company of the Hollywood Video chain, joined vidgame trade group the Interactive Digital Software Assn. and others in filing suit in federal court to overturn the new law on constitutional grounds.

The suit comes a week after a federal appeals court in the Midwest tossed out a more general ban in St. Louis County, Mo., on sales of violent and sexually themed vidgames to minors. In that case, the judges said vidgames were entitled to the same First Amendment protections as movies, music and books. The court also ruled that absent any sexual content, violent games could not fall under any legally recognized definition of the obscenity exception to the First Amendment.

The Washington state law is more narrowly focused on games depicting violence against police and other law-enforcement officers. Such games cannot be rented or sold to minors under the law, which was signed by Washington’s governor in the past month.

But critics have pointed out several problems with the law beyond basic constitutional questions, such as its definition of what kinds of games might actually be affected. For instance, it’s unclear whether a science-fiction game set in the distant future would come under the law’s provisions if it showed police getting attacked. Similarly, it is unclear whether games would come under the law if they depicted villains who were rogue cops that needed to be stopped from committing evil.

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