As Yogi Berra once said, it’s déjà vu all over again. This time, the venue is Oklahoma, where the state legislature passed HB3004 (PDF). Originally introduced as a bill further regulating the operation of "sexually oriented" businesses, it had language tacked on to it while winding its way through the state legislature that bars the sale of some video games to minors.
Bearing some striking similarities to the recently passed Louisiana law, HB3004 would ban the sale of games "harmful to minors" to those under 18. What makes a game harmful to minors? Any game containing "nudity, sexual content, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse" that the average adult "applying contemporary community standards" would find appeals to "a prurient interest in sex to minors" or contains "inappropriate violence" that is "glamorized," "gratuitous," "graphic," and "pervasive."
As might be expected, the Entertainment Software Association is not happy with the law. In a statement, ESA president Doug Lowenstein said that Oklahoma’s law will be quickly challenged in federal court on the grounds that it restricts "the First Amendment rights of Oklahoma’s citizens."
With rare exceptions, state politicians seem to have trouble grasping that video games are protected First Amendment speech, and as such, regulating their sale is very difficult from a legal standpoint. The only law that has managed to pass unchallenged by the ESA is a Maryland statute that applies the same standards used for pornographic magazines and movies to video games, prohibiting minors from purchasing such games. The ESA is in favor of such laws because they hold games to the same standards as other media.
Hopefully for the citizens of Oklahoma, the courts will quickly overturn the law, which would limit the amount of money taxpayers will have to fork over to fight a losing battle. It can get expensive—just ask the state of Illinois, which has been asked to foot the ESA’s US$644,545 legal bill for fighting that state’s unconstitutional law.