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The US games industry is gearing up to challenge a Californian law limiting children’s access to violent video games, after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the new legislation into law on Friday.

The new measure – known as AB 1179 – is designed to end the underage sale and rental of violent video games that depict serious injury to human beings in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.

Retailers will be fined up to $1,000 for each violation of the law, which is due to come into force on 1 January.

“Unlike movies where you passively watch violence, in a video game, you are the active participant and making decisions on who to stab, maim, burn or kill,” said Assembly Speaker pro tem Leland Yee, author of the legislation and also a child psychologist. “As a result, these games serve as learning tools that have a dramatic impact on our children.”

But industry group the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has vowed to fight the measure. It has already filed lawsuits against similar laws in Illinois and Michigan, arguing that the laws violate the First Amendment right to free speech.

“We are disappointed that politicians of both parties chose to toss overboard the First Amendment and free artistic and creative expression in favour of political expediency," said ESA President Douglas Lowenstein, according to the LA Times.

Courts in Indianapolis, St. Louis County in Missouri and Washington state have already overturned laws restricting the sale of violent video games because they violated First Amendment rights.

On Friday the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) announced that it would join with the ESA in mounting the challenge.

"Not only is AB 1179 a clear violation of the First Amendment, but it provides no meaningful standards to know which materials are covered," declared VSDA President Bo Andersen.

"Instead of passing laws that are destined to be overturned by the courts, the state of California should be encouraging parents to use the existing video game ratings and content descriptors to make informed choices about whether to bring a particular video game into their home," he added.

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