SACRAMENTO — Conan the Barbarian, the iconic fictional hero, catapulted bodybuilder-turned-action star Arnold Schwarzenegger toward fame and fortune. Twenty-five years later, a next-generation Conan has been unleashed on the public.

But not on film. And, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stresses, with no ties to him.

The new Conan is the sword-wielding, decapitating star of a new ultra-violent video game — "Conan" — that is drawing criticism from a Bay Area lawmaker and warnings from a watchdog group for parents to scratch the game off Christmas lists for children and teenagers.

Schwarzenegger has "no association with this game," said the governor's spokesman Aaron McLear, who did not elaborate on how the governor feels about the character becoming a video game. Schwarzenegger is fighting for a law to restrict the sale of violent video games and "Conan" would be among those regulated.

The 2005 law has never gone into effect because, following a legal challenge by the video game industry, a judge ruled it violates First Amendment free speech rights. The state has appealed the decision.

The law, authored by Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat and child psychologist, would ban retailers from selling or renting ultra-violent video games to those 17 and younger, impose a $1,000 fine for violations and require manufacturers to more clearly disclose content.

An ultra-violent game, as defined by the law, depicts cruel injury. Yee said the Conan video is one such game, intended for adults.

"About 87 percent of children between 8 and 17 years of age play video or computer games," said Yee, "and about 60 percent list their favorite games as rated "M" for Mature, which are games designed for adults."

The latest Conan game by THQ, a leading game producer based in Los Angeles, is rated "mature/age 17-plus" by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, due to "blood and gore, intense violence and nudity.

The Conan game is based on a comic-book character made famous worldwide by Universal Studios' 1982 film starring Schwarzenegger. He portrayed a child sold into slavery, who grows into a man seeking revenge against the warlord that massacred his tribe.

The film was rated R and carried a warning from the movie industry's rating board of: "Sex and nudity, violence and gore, profanity, alcohol-drugs-smoking, and frightening-intense scenes."

Critics of the video game industry's self-regulatory system said the rating assigned to Conan won't keep it out of the hands of youths.

THQ did not respond to queries about its game.

The National Institute on Media and the Family founder Davis Walsh said that "over the past 10 years, parents, national retailers and the ESRB had made substantial progress in keeping violent video games out of the hands of children, but complacency seems to be setting in."

In a 25-page report, his group warns of "a backslide in ratings awareness and enforcement among parents and retailers."

A Harris Poll, commissioned by the institute and detailed in the report, found that 49 percent of players ages 8-12 and most young teenagers (78 percent) say they have played Mature-rated video games.

The group urges parents not to buy Conan or nine other games for children or teenagers. The organization is suggesting 10 alternative games.

The institute was founded in 1996 by Walsh, a psychologist, as an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian advocacy organization based in Minneapolis.

Critics of the ESRB say the board rates a game based largely on information provided by game developers, but should instead assess the game on its entire content, including scenes that have been locked to attain a lower rating but can be accessed with downloadable software.

ESRB President Patricia Vance said critics' "opinions are out of step with those of parents, nine in 10 of which are satisfied with our rating system, according to the Federal Trade Commission."

The ESRB is a non-profit, self-regulatory body established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association, which represents the video game industry.

Contact Steve Geissinger at sgeissinger@bayareanewsgroup.com or 916-447-9302.