Good news for the video-game industry: On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent games to minors, and punished those who sold them with $1,000 fines. California is the seventh state to try — and the seventh state to fail — restricting the sales of violent video games. Now, following the Supreme Court’s ruling, video game companies are essentially shielded from government efforts to regulate violent content.
In the final decision of its 2010-11 term, the court equated violent games with “protected books, plays, and movies” and stated that “video games qualify for First Amendment protection.”
“It is time for elected officials to stop wasting time and public funds seeking unconstitutional restrictions on video games. Instead, we invite them to join with us to raise awareness and use of the highly effective tools that already exist to help parents choose games suitable for their children,” Michael Gallagher, president of the Electronic Software Association told PCWorld. It was ESA attorneys who represented the gaming industry before the Supreme Court.
California’s law, which passed legislature in 2005, targeted retailers who sold or rented a video game to someone under 18 that featured the “killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexual assaulting of an image of a human.” Because the gaming industry sued, the law never went into effect.
(As for whether violent video games pose a greater risk to society because of their “interactive” nature, the justices weren’t convinced by existing research. At most, the court noted, studies show some youths feel more aggressive after playing the games, the same effect found in viewers of “Saturday morning cartoons.”)
While a decision upholding California’s law would likely have triggered laws in other states, this ruling instead serves as a powerful deterrent. It may not stop other states from trying to regulate violent games, but they’ll have to take entirely different approach.
While reps for the $10-billion-a-year video-game industry celebrated the court’s decision as a triumph over censorship, others were not at all pleased with the ruling.
“The fight is far from over,” said James Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a San Francisco nonprofit group that lobbied on behalf of the California law.
In the meantime, unhappy activists might take a look at the the parental controls on their game consoles. And then there’s the video-game industry’s own ratings system. Game ratings feature six age-based distinctions and use 30 “content descriptors” to indicate potentially objectionable material. According to a recent Federal Trade Commission study, retailer compliance is excellent.
On a related note, see if you agree with CNN’s picks for the 10 biggest violent video-game controversies here.