Violent Video Game Debate May Elevate to High Court

October 2, 2009 Written by Steven Garcia

Fueled by the agendas of various parental groups and public officials, the regulation of violent video game sales to minors has long been the center of debate between those that support legislation and the Entertainment Software Association. This past Tuesday, however, the United States Supreme Court met to decided whether it would hear arguments on an appeal of a California law that would prohibit minors from purchasing such games.

The law in question, which restricted sales to anyone under 18 and required a nice 2″x2″ label with “18” written on it to be prominently displayed on the packaging of violent games, was first signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger back in 2005. Citing the First Amendment, the law was ruled unconstitutional a few years later in 2007 after the ESA sued the state. After an appeal by the state in 2009, it was decided by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the law violated the rights of minors outlined in the First and 14th Amendments. Despite not exactly having extra money to throw around, the state of California appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court in May.

Historically, the notion that video games fall under the protection of free speech has largely contributed to the courts rejection of proposed legislation. California, however, argues that the correlation between violence found in video games and violence pertaining to real-world events is concrete. In contrast, the video game industry firmly states that studies which aim to prove such a link do little to achieve their goal.

The logic behind California’s push for legislation in the video game industry is made clear in this statement made by Gov. Schwarzenegger:

“By prohibiting the sale of violent video games to children under the age of 18 and requiring these games to be clearly labeled, this law would allow parents to make better informed decisions for their kids”.

The foundation of reasoning on which this law is based is fundamentally flawed (alliteration FTW!). If anything, it’s a limitless template for whatever a state might want to regulate on any given day. Considering the potential future implications this law may have, it’s nice to know we’re not the only ones who feel this way. After overturning the law in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court, Judge Alex Kozinski asked the state:

“Is there anything out of limits for the legislature to prohibit to minors? What about games where people eat unhealthy foods and get fat? … Why not a law targeting games that teach children bad living habits, such as eating unhealthy food or using plastic bags?”

We couldn’t have said it any better ourselves. In any case (no pun intended), the Supreme Court’s decision to either hear oral arguments from both sides or allow the previous ruling to stand has not been released, but we’ll let you know of any details as soon as they surface.