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States do a delicate dance with gamers

They lure the industry with incentives, while cracking down on adult content.

By Chris Gaylord and Kathryn PerryReporters for The Christian Science Monitor / February 27, 2009

Local ‘Band’: Bryn Bennet (left) and Ben Currier (top, sitting) of Harmonix, makers of the popular music video game ‘Rock Band,’ challenge fans at a Best Buy store in Boston. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has tried to woo more game companies to his state.

Ann Hermes

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For some politicians, video games have been a wonderful target. More than a few lawmakers have burnished their family-values credential by speaking out against the medium as a peddler of smut and gore.

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In the past few years, state legislators in California, Louisiana, and Massachusetts submitted or passed bills outlawing the sale or rental of mature games to children. Judges have consistently thrown out such measures as unconstitutional. Just last Friday, a California appeals court struck down such a law. It ruled that targeting violent or sexual video games, while not expanding the law to cover R-rated movies or suggestive books, unfairly singled out the free speech rights of a particular industry. California lawmakers vow to continue the appeals process.

Yet some signs indicate that the relationship between politicians and the industry is getting a bit cozier. About a dozen states are now wooing video-game companies to their cities. Enchanted by gamemakers’ big budgets, high-skilled jobs, and purported resistance to recessions, state lawmakers are backing legislation that aims to attract a bigger slice of the $22 billion industry.

“Games are still a little challenging [for some politicians],” says Dennis McCauley, editor of the blog GamePolitics.com. But “at the state level, politicians are really sitting up and taking notice of what video games can do for their economies.”

During a recent trip to the West Coast, Gov. Deval Patrick (D) of Massachusetts pitched his state as the East Coast hub of gaming technology. Canadian officials have actively courted video-game designers and publishers with tax incentives of up to 40 percent and 37 percent salary subsidies.

“The entertainment-software industry has become a recognized part of our cultural landscape, as nearly two-thirds of our nation’s households include someone who plays computer or video games,” wrote Gov. Rick Perry (R) of Texas in his message declaring Feb. 3 “Entertainment Software Day.” In 2007, Texas directed $20 million to film, television, and video-game incentives. Governor Perry wants to triple the program in the next budget.

A big driver behind this push to get chummy with the industry: money. As traditional manufacturing jobs erode, some point to the young medium as a flourishing high-tech industry.

In 2006, the growth rate of Texas’ video-game industry was nearly quadruple that of the state, according to the Entertainment Software Association, an industry group in Washington.

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