The Supreme Court on Monday denied California’s bid to regulate the sale or rental of violent video games to children. By a 7-2 vote the court upheld an appeals court decision and ruled that restricting the sale of violent video games to minors violates the First Amendment.
First Amendment right to free speech & Video Games
The ruling states, “Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium,”
The ruling validates that it is not government’s responsibility to regulate the video game industry. Furthermore, the burden of proof was not met with regards to an “alleged substantial need of parents who wish to restrict their children’s access to violent videos. The video game industry’s voluntary rating system already accomplishes that to a large extent.”
California failed to make their argument according to the guidelines specified when imposing a restriction on the content of protected speech, “demonstrate that it passes strict scrutiny, i.e., it is justified by a compelling government interest and is narrowly drawn to serve that interest. ” The ruling goes on to read, “California cannot meet that standard. Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively.”
California’s law was lacking in a defined measure of violence to which the law was meant to control. Without a clear definition of what California considers violent, video game developers would have little guidance and ultimately cease development on borderline games. Retailers, who were set to be fined up to $1000 if found violating the Act, would likely err on the side of caution and ultimately lessen the sales of certain games or outright stop selling those games for fear of being fined.
What This Means Now
The ruling means video games are now protected by the First Amendment just like books, movies or other forms of art. Hopefully, it means the end of expensive court proceedings and legislation which seek to ban or otherwise regulate video game sales. It also means that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) will continue to rate video games as they have been for so many years.
Do you agree or disagree with this ruling? Was the law destined to fail or did California just make a poor argument? Let us know in the comments.