The U.S. Supreme Court signaled last month that there may be a future for California’s overturned law banning the sale of violent video games to minors.
In 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that would allow the state to prohibit sales of violent video games to minors. The law defines a violent video game as one in which “the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.”
The law was immediately challenged in court by video game developers, who claimed that it violated their First Amendment right to free speech. Federal judges agreed with the developers and overturned the law.
The Supreme Court is right to review this decision. The court’s final opinion will set an important precedent in an area of the law that is murky, according to legal scholars.
Though the proceedings won’t begin until later this fall, the arguments against California’s ban are worth revisiting.
According to statistics from the Entertainment Software Association, 92 percent of game purchases are made in the presence of a parent. Moreover, almost every major retailer – including GameStop, Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy – already has a policy in place to prevent the sale of violent video games to minors. In light of this information the ban seems rather superfluous; kids aren’t buying these games for themselves anyway.
There certainly is a body of evidence showing a causal link between violent video game exposure and increased aggressive behavior among school children. A two-year study showed that elementary school boys who regularly play violent video games are more likely to get in trouble for fighting and other aggressive behavior at school. This evidence has not, however, sought to explain other causes of youth violence, which are more likely to be factors such as poverty, family instability and exposure to actual, real life violence.
In short, this law is the wrong approach to resolving the issue of youth violence. While the state has an interest in finding ways to reduce violence, the link between violent video games and youth violence is nowhere near strong enough to merit a breach of one of our most precious constitutional protections. The U.S. Supreme Court will have an opportunity to make that definitive in its decision next fall.