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California Video Game Law Before U.S. Supreme Court

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

Should the U.S. Supreme Court rule that states have the right to enforce a violent video game ban, in restricting the sale of violent video games to minors? Would any such restriction be a violation of free speech under the First Amendment?

According to a poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind, fifty-seven percent of American voters think that states should be able to regulate the sale of violent video games whereas thirty-nine percent say that these decisions are best left to the parents. The telephone poll was conducted nationwide and consisted of 800 registered voters.

This question is being asked in light of a case that recently made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court from California. The case is Brown v. Entertainment Merchants. In the case, California video vendors sued the state of California over the California video game law that governed the sale of video games to people under eighteen.

In support of the positions taken by the parties, scientific evidence was introduced showing the effect of violent video games on minors. The video-game industry distinguished the restriction on violent video games from the restriction on pornography.

While pornography for minors may be generally regarded as inappropriate, did such a standard exist on the topic of violence? Or, is there just a "common sense" understanding that violence is bad for kids? And in all honesty, if video games are regulated, then what is to be said of other media where children may be exposed to violence?

Said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: "If you are supposing a category of violent materials dangerous to children, then how do you cut it off at video games? What about films? What about comic books? Grimm's Fairy Tales. Why are video games special?"

The best line in the oral arguments came, however, from Chief Justice John Roberts who gave a sharp response to the video game industry's counsel's assertion that throughout history, "violence has been a feature of works that we create for children."

Said Chief Justice Roberts:

"We do not have a tradition in this country," the Chief Justice said, "of telling children they should watch people actively hitting schoolgirls over the head with a shovel so they'll beg with mercy, being merciless and decapitating them, shooting people in the leg so they fall down .... Pour gasoline over them, set them on fire and urinate on them ... We protect children from that. We don't actively expose them to that."

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