California law on video games struck down

The First Amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  On June 27th 2011, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that currently bans the sale of violent video games to minors.  The winning argument in this case was on the basis that the game impedes on the First amendment rights of minors.  In my opinion the court made the right decision because it is not the responsibility of the government to impose a law restricting the sale of the video games to minors.  I believe that the video industry is doing their part by rating their games, but parents need to take an active role also.  It is also important to realize that the two sides of the argument are arguing about two different things, and I want to focus on whether the courts made the right decision based on the argument of First Amendment rights.

The law in question was adopted in 2005 by the state of California, but according to MSNBC “has never taken effect because of the legal challenge.”  The law says that video game retailers are not allowed to sell or rent a violent video game to a minor, with the risk of a $1,000 fine for not complying.  A violent video game in this case is one that depicts “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.”  The law would also impose strict video-game labeling requirements.  Video game publishers, distributors and sellers brought this case to the Supreme Court where they won in a 7-2 vote. The Supreme Court held up the decision previously made by the Ninth Circuit court of appeals.   Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority saying that “the governments did not have the authority to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”  This Justice argument is unique because not only does the public have an opinion on this case but the Justices in the 7-2 vote also have strong differing opinions

Those in the Video game industry are obviously pleased with the outcome of the courts and are able to return to business as usual.   Vince Desi is the CEO of Running with Scissors and was especially pleased with the court ruling since, his game “Postal 2” was singled out during the case.  His opinion is that although developers do have a responsibility for the violence in video games so do parents and the rating board.  He makes a good point in that parents “should determine whether their children are ‘intelligent and mature,’ and buy or skip certain titles accordingly.”  This theory is similar to that of going to a rated-R movie because it is not illegal to go to an R movie underage it is a regulation imposed by the movie rating industry.  Justice Samuel Alito defends the decision by saying that the law “is unconstitutionally vague,” because the standards of acceptable violence may differ from one community to the next.  An argument that stands out also is that movies, like video games also are given ratings but those regulations are implemented the rating companies themselves.  This is how the two instances differ because it is not “illegal” to sell  tickets to an R-rated movie to a minor, it is however a violation of the regulations of the rating commity.

Justices Breyer and Thomas are on the other side of the argument as they do not support striking down the California Ban.  They believe the First Amendment does not stretch far enough to cover video games.  Justice Thomas says that “the freedom of speech as or originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.”  Like other supporters he believes that parents need to be consulted with what is available for their children to purchase and play because of the influence it may have on them.  But according to the Entertainment Software Association 9 of 10 parents are present when games are purchased or rented.  Another argument is the fact that we need to protect our children from the violence in the video games for fear of constant use and the repercussions in the future.  Video games have long been singled out for the fact that continued use increases the chances for a child to become aggressive and violent as they get older.  However there are studies that both support and disprove this point, since it is hard to prove that video games alone would be responsible for leading to the negative future behavior.

In the end this case needs to be seen at face value which is whether or not the California Ban imposed on the publics/minors first amendment rights.  I believe that the court made the right decision in overturning the 2005 ban.  It leaves the government and retailers in charge or making sure that children don’t get their hands on overly violent video games for their age, when in fact it is a combined effort with parents.  This lawsuit has nothing to do with whether or not video game violence leads children to become violent in the future but more who needs to take responsibility for monitoring the use of the games.  I think once that is realized it will make the ruling more sensible.




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