In California, Violent Video Game Law Goes Down

In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court shot down a California law, which bans the sale of violent video games to minors.
by | June 28, 2011 AT 3:00 PM

In its first ruling in a video game case, the Supreme Court shot down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors.

The state law, adopted in 2005, defines a violent video game as one that depicts "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." It was enacted to prevent retailers from selling or renting such games to minors or they would face fines.

The 7-2 high court vote upholds a U.S. appeals court ruling declaring that violent video games should be protected under the right to free speech, just like books, plays and movies, Reuters reports.This news, needless to say, makes retailers very happy.

The Entertainment Software Association – which includes Disney Interactive Studios, Electronic Arts, Microsoft Corp. and Sony Computer Entertainment America -- hailed the decision as a win for "the creative freedom of artists and storytellers everywhere." Michael Gallagher, president of the trade association, said in a statement that “the Supreme Court affirmed what we have always known -- that free speech protections apply every bit as much to video games as they do to other forms of creative expression like books, movies and music.”

The high court has struck down similar laws in six other states. But this recent ruling, according to Reuters, marks the first time the Supreme Court has considered the parallel between violent video games sold to children and sexually explicit material. Parents, not the government, should be the ones to decide what video games children play, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the high court’s majority opinion. He also rejected the claims by California lawmakers linking violent video games to crime.

“Time and again, from the early days of radio and television, to 10-cent comic books and now to video games, lawmakers have tried to limit speech for what they believe to be the public good,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish said in a statement. “And each time, they have lost because the First Amendment will not tolerate such wholesale limitations on expression merely because someone has created a new mode of communication.”

No surprise that the decision didn’t sit well with the Parents Television Council.  "This ruling replaces the authority of parents with the economic interests of the video game industry," Tim Winter, the president, said in a statement. "Retailers can now openly, brazenly sell games with unspeakable violence and adult content even to the youngest of children."

And according to a poll published earlier this month by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s opinion research center, PublicMind, most American voters (57%) believe states should be able to regulate the sale of violent video games to minors, putting it in the same arena as cigarettes, alcohol and pornography. This national telephone poll of 800 registered voters found that only 39 percent side with the high court. Bruce Peabody, professor of political science at FDU, said in the release that the divergence of opinion puts the public on a “collision course” with the Supreme Court.

Should states have the right to ban violent video games to minors? Or is that decision best left in the hands of the parents? Let me know in the comments.