US Supreme Court Knocks Out California Law Against Violent Video Games

on June 27, 2011 11:54 AM

Today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against the California lawmakers that  wanted to turn selling violent video games to minors into a crime.

The court ruled quite overwhelmingly in favor of the gaming industry with seven Justices against two, effectively delivering a knock-out blow to the unfair and unjust law that aimed to disfavor the gaming industry in comparison to other media. The act, of which you can find a full copy on the Supreme Court official website, is extremely clear in it’s content and fully condemns both the letter of the (since struck down) law and the intentions of the lawmakers. According to the Justices video games are and should be fully protected under the First Amendment.

Here are a few juicy excerpts.

The Act does not comport with the First Amendment.  Pp. 2–18. (a) 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.  And “the basic principles of freedom of speech . . . do not vary” with a new and different communication medium.

A legislature cannot create new categories of unprotected speech simply by weighing the value of a particular category against its social costs and then punishing it if it fails the test.

California’s Act does not adjust the boundaries of an existing category of unprotected speech to ensure that a definition designed for adults is not uncritically applied to children. Instead, the State wishes to create a wholly new category of content-based regulation that is permissible only for speech directed at children. That is unprecedented and mistaken. This country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions  of violence. And California’s claim that “interactive” video games present special problems, in that the player participates in the violent action on screen and determines its outcome, is unpersuasive.

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. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. Since California has declined to restrict those other media, e.g., Saturday morning cartoons, its video-game regulation is wildly underinclusive, raising serious doubts about whether the State is pursuing the interest it invokes or is instead disfavoring a particular speaker or viewpoint.

There you have it: not only the Justices clearly state that video games are equivalent to any other media in the fact that they are protected by the First Amendment, but they also firmly reject the idea that the link between violent video games and aggressiveness in minors is anywhere near proven.

Hopefully the ripples from this fair decision will extend to other countries. It’s about time to see the axe of reason fall on the many silly and inconsequential attempts to turn gaming into some sort of public enemy (attempts that quite often cost taxpayer money), redirecting attention away from the real problems.

For now, though, American gamers have another reason to be happy. Freedom is really an awesome thing.

 /  Executive News Editor
Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.