Supreme Court Strikes down California Ban on Violent Video Game Sales or Rental to Kids

Video Game Law Blog

June 27, 2011

Submitted by Brigitte Lenis

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court decision to strike down a 2005 California law that would have prohibited the selling or renting of violent video games to minors, reportedly voting 7-2 that the said law violates the First Amendment.

The law was supposedly based on legislative findings that such games stimulate "feelings of aggression", reduce "activity in the frontal lobes", and "promote violent antisocial or aggressive behavior". The law therefore would have prohibited anyone under 18 from buying or renting games that give players the option of killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.

The questions dealt, inter-alia, with how far the constitutional protections of free speech and expression can be applied to children.

Video game makers and sellers appear to have argued that the existing nationwide, industry-imposed, voluntary rating system is an adequate screen for parents to judge their appropriateness, while on the other hand, the State apparently tried to defend its legal obligation to protect children from graphic interactive images, when the industry has failed to do so.

The High Court reportedly held that as far as the First Amendment goes, the viewing of violent video games is essentially the same as reading books, and explained that there is no tradition in the United States of restrictions on children's access to depictions of violence, even pointing out violence in many children's fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Snow White. Courts have seemingly refused to permit government regulation of minors' access to any form of entertainment, except in regards to sexual content and obscenity.

Coverage here , here and here.