Supreme Court Should Strike Down California’s Video Game Law

Washington, D.C., November 1, 2010 – Tomorrow the State of California will battle the video game industry before the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue is a 2005 California law barring the sale of violent video games to minors. California lawmakers maintain that violent video games cause “feelings of aggression” in children. Lower courts have thus far held that the law violates the First Amendment.

Earlier this year, the Competitive Enterprise Institute joined several other public interest groups in submitting an amicus brief (pdf) urging the Supreme Court to reject California’s unconstitutional statute.

“Time and time again, appellate courts have ruled that state laws barring the sale of ‘violent’ video games to minors run afoul of the First Amendment,” said Hans Bader, CEI Senior Attorney. “Hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court will affirm these lower courts and settle the matter of video game content regulation once and for all. California has not demonstrated that video game violence is a so serious a problem that it overcomes the profoundly chilling effects that California’s law would wreak on video games, a form of protected speech that millions of adult Americans enjoy.”

“Over the last two decades, even as video games have grown ubiquitous among America’s youth, violent crime has declined steadily. While safeguarding children is an important governmental function, mitigating the allegedly harmful effects of video game violence can be accomplished through means far less restrictive than California’s video game law. At a time when parents have access to more information than ever before about video game content—indeed, about all forms of entertainment content—onerous governmental mandates are hardly necessary to educate and empower parents to protect their kids,” stated Bader.

“History has illustrated that the best content ratings systems emerge and evolve in response to market forces,” said Ryan Radia, CEI Associate Director of Technology Studies. “When politicians and regulators meddle with these institutions, parents are deprived of the information they need. While the private, voluntary Entertainment Software Rating Board provides valuable information about video games and empowers parents to decide what’s best for their children, the government’s own regulatory system for radio content provides practically no useful information to parents. Ironically, allowing California’s law to stand will harm the very parents and children it purports to protect.”

“Video games deserve the same level of legal protection as other forms of artistic expression. Critics whose gaming experience consists of simplistic arcade games like Pacman or ultra-violent shooters like Postal argue that video games are devoid of artistic merit. But anybody who has played Bioshock, Myst, Oblivion, or even the maligned Grand Theft Auto series knows better. Increasingly, video games offer poignant criticism of the harsh realities of our society and insightful commentary on human nature—and their artistic depth rivals that offered by less interactive forms of media,” stated Radia.

>>For more on government-imposed rating systems in the entertainment industry, see CEI’s Issue Analysis, “Politically Determined Ratings and How to Avoid Them.”