California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law legislation that restricts sales of violent video games, to protect children under 18 years of age. The law goes into effect January 1, 2006.

Drafted by Assembly Speaker pro Tem Leland Yee of San Francisco, the bill, known as AB 1179, makes it illegal to sell or rent video games that "depict serious injury to human beings in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel," according to speaker Yee's office. Retailers who violate the act can be hit for up to $1,000 in fines.

It means that children need to be old enough to join the army before they get to play some games.

No violent video games until old enough for the draft

Yee - who's also a child psychologist - says that violent video games: "Serve as learning tools that have a dramatic impact on our children." While Yee cites research and testimony from health professionals and others who share his views, his perspective is far from universal - many studies have concluded that there's no link between violent video games and violent behaviour in children.

Most games sold in US retail stores carry a rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board that determines its age-appropriateness (E for Everyone, T for Teen, M for Mature, AO for Adults Only and so on) and also notes what content might be found within - violence, drug use and strong language, for example.

Many retailers nationwide voluntarily restrict the sales of M and AO-rated games only to those customers who can produce a valid ID showing their age, but that hasn't been enough for Yee and legislators in other states, who claim that such games can still be easily purchased by minors.

Arnie makes decisions for the people

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) - the public affairs organisation representing the video game industry - hasn't taken such legislative efforts lying down. The organisation claims that such efforts to restrict the sale of video games violate consumers' first amendment rights, and cite similar legislation that's been overturned in other states on constitutional grounds. Most recently the organisation filed suit against Illinois governor Rod Blogojevich to overturn similar video game legislation that Blogojevich sponsored and signed into law.

Yee's office said this shouldn't be a problem for AB 1179: "The fact that some prior court has said there is insufficient science to suggest harm to kids becomes less relevant as time passes, as brain science and psychological data has significantly changed," said Michigan State constitutional law professor Kevin Saunders, as part of Yee's statement.