This time its Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who, apparently ignorant of the inability of these statutes to survive court tests elsewhere, announced legislation to:
1. Ban sales of first-person shooters to minors, and
2. Enforce restrictive display of such games in stores (i.e. on high shelves and behind glass cases)
Yee presents evidence that lots of kids get their hands on FPS games even though the games are rated mature. His website also notes that in the year 2000, every "American Academy of X" worth mentioning released a consensus statement that exposure to violence in media, especially interactive media, makes kids more violent. Yee's fact sheet heavily cites one study (literally, one) which found that FPS games involve, and reward, a heck of a lot of violence. [edit: for more, see Yee's interview by HomeLan Fed here]
Meanwhile, the IGDA and the Free Expression Policy Project have argued that those stodgy academy types are off their rocker; that there's no consistent evidence of an effect of violence in entertainment on violence in children. Gerard Jones makes an interesting point: the 1970s, he says in Killing Monsters, was the CareBear decade. No violence until Star Wars. (Certain 1970s TV shows could be construed as a particularly malicious form of violence against the mind, but leave that for another post). Yet in the late 70s and 80s, there was no sign of a drop-off in youth violence. Similarly, the generations who actually read the Iliad seem to have been no worse off from repeated exposure to lurid, affirming descriptions of spears piercing human flesh.
Two reasons I bring all this up here. First, there's been much talk about the possibility of bad legislation affecting virtual worlds. Yee's bill seems to be pretty bad legislation: banning HalfLife 2 and putting it on the shelf next to Playboy is a surefire way to ensure that every teenager will want it. Yet the theory behind it, that games are a cause of violence and obesity and backtalk, rather than merely comorbid with a large range of teenage behavior that grownups don't like, seems to be fairly popular. More than just teen behavior is at stake here; grown-up gamers are clearly being stigmatized by the stereotypes implicit in these theories and codified in this legislation.
Second, if the researchers cited in Yee's Fact Sheet had played MMORPGs, they probably would have noticed quite a bit of violence there too. Much of it is of the first-person variety; it gets rewarded; in most of these games, it can become a way of life ("A pulls the mob. B tanks the mob. C roots the mob. D nukes the mob. Continue until the mob is killed. Then repeat one hundred bazillion times.") On the other hand, I play a cleric in EQ, I can't fight my way out of a paper bag. All I do is hang around and heal the wounds of people who are fighting.
The point being that virtual world experiences are complex. Will legislation respect the subtleties? Is there enough sensible expertise out there? Judging from the efforts of Dr. Yee (PhD field: Child Psychology), we do have reason to be concerned.