The Supreme Court agreed last week to review a challenge to California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to minors.
A federal judge blocked the state law from taking effect, and the Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of the case during the next term, which begins in October.
AB 1179, which would have banned the sale of violent video games to minors, was authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and signed into law in 2005. Though it was scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2006, the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA) filed a lawsuit claiming that the law would violate the first amendment.
“I think that video games are like a movie, book, poem or song,” said Chris Charla, Vice President of Business Development at Backbone Entertainment, a video game developer in Emeryville, CA. “They should be treated with the same free speech protections.”
In 2007 a federal judge agreed with the EMA’s claim and ordered a permanent injunction, barring enforcement of the video game law.
The law could potentially violate the first amendment; on the other hand, many believe violent video games contribute to delinquent tendencies in children.
“The medical data clearly indicates that these ultra-violent video games have harmful effects on kids, and thus we have a state interest to protect them,” said Yee, who is also a child psychologist, in a press release. “In addition, this law does not ban the development, the distribution or the sale of any video games; it only limits the sales of the most violent games to minors. This is simply a tool to help parents raise healthy kids.”
Video games are subjected to an extensive rating system, which is another reason some believe this law is unnecessary. In addition, many video game retailers such as Gamestop have instated their own policies preventing the sale of violent video games to minors.
“There are already regulations in place and the best rating system for entertainment software in existence,” said Charla. “I think they’re trying to solve a problem that didn’t exist.”
Not every video game retailer restricts the sale of certain video games to minors, however. Dan Urazandi, owner of Davis comic book and video game store Bizarro World, said there are already “too many stupid laws.”
“If it looks like they have an interest in it, they have an interest,” Urazandi said. “Video games are the latest in a long line of things that are scapegoated when parents don’t like their children’s behavior. Comic books in the 1950s didn’t turn kids homicidal; kids will play video games, and they will not turn homicidal.”
Many are nonetheless worried about the effect violent video games may have on children’s psyches, especially as more recent games like Grand Theft Auto have featured such acts as the killing of police officers and running over pedestrians.
Stuart Miller, a junior mechanical engineering & aerospace engineering double major at UCD and president of the Davis Roleplaying Activities and Gaming Organizational Network (DRAGON) club at UCD, disagrees with this philosophy.
“I firmly believe that video games have had zero negative effect on my childhood,” Miller said, who says he has been playing video games his entire life. “I have learned a great deal about electronics and computers because of my involvement with gaming and I think it would be very hard to obtain that knowledge otherwise. If anything, I think they are beneficial as a means of relieving stress.”
The Entertainment Software Association has promised to “vigorously defend the works of our industry’s creators, storytellers and innovators.”
“In the end I would say that video games are inanimate objects,” Miller said. “They are only capable of doing what you enable them to do. Even if video games provide a negative violent influence, which I strongly disagree with, the parents need to pay attention to what their kids are doing, that is their primary responsibility.”
Ultimately, it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide whether the law is unconstitutional or a necessary act to protect children.
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.