April 26th, 2010
10:11 AM ET

High court accepts violent video games case

A free speech dispute over a California law banning sale of violent video games to children will go to the Supreme Court for review.

The justices Monday accepted the state's appeal and will decide whether the law is too restrictive in denying access by minors to often-graphic material. Video game makers said the ban goes too far. They say the existing nationwide industry-imposed, voluntary ratings system is an adequate screen for parents to judge the appropriateness of computer games.

The state says it has a legal obligation to protect children when the industry has failed to do so.

At issue is how far constitutional protections of free speech and expression, as well as due process, can be applied to youngsters. Critics of the law say the government would in effect be engaged in the censorship business, using "community standards" to evaluate artistic and commercial content.

Oral arguments will be held in the fall.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco tossed out the law before it took effect, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzennegger signed it in 2005.

The legislation was designed to strengthen the current rating system, and would have placed an outright ban on the sale or rental of games deemed excessively "violent" to those under 18. As defined by California, such interactive games are those in which the player is given the choice of "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" in offensive ways.

Retailers could be fined up to a thousand dollars for any violation.

The gaming industry sued in federal court and won an injunction halting enforcement of the law until the courts sort out the constitutional questions.

The motion picture industry has its own self-monitoring ratings system, imposed decades ago after complaints that some films were too explicit for the general audience in what was seen and heard. The gaming industry says its ratings system roughly follows the same self-imposed guidelines, and ratings are clearly labeled on the packaging.

The state argued it was responding to parents' complaints that too much violent material, including gruesome deaths between on-screen competitors and adversaries, was being viewed and played by minors. Officials claimed the current ratings system is not adequate in filtering out the controversial content. And they said there is a "causal connection" between access to such games and psychological or other harm to children.

Similar efforts in other states to restrict gaming content have been rejected by various courts.

The Supreme Court in recent years has thwarted repeated congressional attempts to protect children from pornography, saying legislation went to far in limiting adult access to lawful, but explicit, sexual content on the internet.

And the justices last week threw out a federal law limiting the sale of graphic videos of animal cruelty.

The court has also said in a variety of contexts that minors enjoy a variety of free-expression rights.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Silver Fang

    I hope the entertainment merchants win this battle. Kids should be able to buy any games they want. Down with ratings and censorship!

    April 26, 2010 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  2. Mary Rodriguez

    They just allowed videos of illegal abuse of animals to be distributed. Can kids buy them? Its ridiculous for the Supreme Court to be involved. Where are the PARENTS???

    April 26, 2010 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  3. wyzer

    interactive games are those in which the player is given the choice of "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" in offensive ways.

    Are they kidding? That's practically every video game out there. This law won't protect those poor children from sloppy parenting. If the parent is too dumb to check the box for a rating, maybe they were too dumb to have kids in the first place.

    April 26, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  4. Kyle Redefer

    They can ban video games but not cigarettes that kill hundreds of thousands per year.

    April 26, 2010 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. Ryan

    Wait a tic... "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" in offensive ways. As a person who has played a game or ten I well know that humans make up about 20% of all the "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting." So this law would be pretty ineffective. I mean one of the most hated games by these crusaders, Halo, would not even be effected.

    That being said, what happened to the idea of parental responsibility. I am a college student now and I had played one maybe two games with "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" in offensive ways as a kid. I know this is not necessarily a common experience but maybe that is where the emphasis should be, educating parents on the rating system not banning them.

    And my third point, as is said, the ESRB rating system is pretty good, and is getting better by the day. I know that at Target, Best Buy, Blockbuster and Gamestop you have to show ID for a game that has earned the "M" rating, equivalent to an R in the movie industry. If children under 17 are getting access to these games they are obtaining it in the same way they get to R rated movies, through parents and older friends. This law would stop nothing.

    April 26, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  6. Fef

    Parents are complaining that minors are playing these games? Well a parent has the choice to raise their child how they see fit. If you don't want them to play these games don't LET them. It's ridiculous to censor this. The ratings on the games are clear. This is another example of sloppy parenting.

    April 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Russ

    This is ridiculous. This is another attempt at laziness by society – foisting the responsibility of parenting off on yet another medium. This has happened to television in the past and will continue to happen into the future long after we are gone.

    NC-17 rated movies exist – yet we aren't carrying out court cases to try to ban their release into movie theaters and it is possible to find a way to get into an NC-17 movie if you aren't 17 or older. I know people that have done it when they were younger. The parents of the world need to step up and be parents and stop expecting everyone else to take care of their children for them. DO YOUR JOB and be a parent! If you can't, maybe you shouldn't have had kids in the first place – and don't cry about "I didn't want to have a kid but I did because I couldn't keep it in my pants!" – use condoms if you don't want kids – be responsible.

    Problems with the world exist today because no one can be responsible enough to account for their own actions or to do what is required by them as citizens of the world.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Speez

    Hmmm. Where are the parents? I was right here when my kid was sneaking his play time of the mind warping "Grand Theft Auto"! Where did he get it from? How long was he warping his mind with this outrageous virtual reality?
    Only a game?!! Get real. How do you think people learn to fly airplanes?
    These so called "games"pose a real threat that needs to be addressed.

    April 26, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Splinter48708

    Here's yet another example of "Well, parents aren't willing to do their job right, so we have to step in and legislate morality". This is just plain idiotic that states even feel a "compelling interest" in telling folks what they can or can't buy and to say that it's illegal to harm or kill the IMAGE of a human being is well, moronic.

    It's up to the parent to determine what they feel in morally correct. Yes, some parents teach their kids the "wrong things"..like how to hate minorities, for example.

    Come on, folks. I have no problem in getting a game like GTAIV or some other FPS that oddly enough, calls you to "kill" an image of a human being. Those "human beings" are nothing but game code, pixels, and the other things that make them "alive". Exit the game and they no longer "exist". Uninstall the game and, they are "dead". They have no life to begin with, so, to blow them up in the game is far better than to blow something up for real with people in it. I know that I would rather simulate killing someone because it doesn't even bother preservation of human life. Taking a gun and blowing away someone I don't like in the real world, to me, makes my skin crawl because that person has a God-given life and to take that live is abhorrent to me.

    Are we going to gives images of a human being rights like they are flesh and blood? Is that the next step?

    April 26, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dizzyd

    Isnt this where the ESRB borad is suppost to step in and say..."um havent we been doing our job??, Now if only the parents of minors can do theirs." This case is pathetic. Just goes to show you how much free time all the political buffs in America have on their hands. Sitting around thinking how they can ruin the peoples rights. Whats next...are they going to start deciding what clothes kids wear to school?

    May 21, 2010 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |