Tuesday, June 28, 2011

High Court Lets Parents Decide on Violent Video Games

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a controversial case that revolves around selling violent video Relevant Products/Services games to minors. The high court ruled California's video-game restriction law is unconstitutional.

Practically speaking, that means anyone under 18 can purchase or rent games that portray the "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting of an image of a human being."

The court ruled that "a legislature cannot create new categories of unprotected speech simply by weighing the value of a particular category against its social costs and then punishing it if it fails the test."

A Long Battle

The battle started in October 2005 when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a California bill imposing a civil fine of $1,000 on anyone who sold a violent video game without a label marking it as appropriate for people 18 and over. The law covered the sale and rental of violent video games.

The Supreme Court ruled that California was attempting "to create a wholly new category of content-based regulation that is permissible only for speech directed at children. That is unprecedented and mistaken." The court also said the law raises "serious doubts about whether the state is pursuing the interest it invokes or is instead disfavoring a particular speaker or viewpoint."

"It seems like common sense has taken hold here. The responsibility is still going to be on parents to make sure their kids are playing appropriate games for their age. This is probably something the government shouldn't get involved in. This is a point that game makers have been making for some time," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner Relevant Products/Services.

"There are few kids who have the ability to get in the car, go to the store, buy a violent video game, drive home, play the game, and do this all without some sort of parental supervision if they are underage."

Video-Game Industry Applauds

The Entertainment Merchants Association applauded the decision. Bo Andersen, president and CEO of the EMA, said his group is gratified that its position that the law violates the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of expression has been vindicated. Now, he said, there can be no argument whether video games are entitled to the same protection as books, movies, music and other expressive entertainment.

"While we appreciate this victory in the court of law, it does not obviate the concern that parents may have about the appropriateness of some video games for their children," Andersen said. "But, as the Court noted, the ESRB rating system for video games 'does much to ensure that minors cannot purchase seriously violent games on their own, and that parents who care about the matter can readily evaluate the games their children bring home.'"

As Andersen sees it, video-game retailers understand that they have a responsibility to help parents make informed decisions about the video games they buy for their children and to ensure that children are not able to purchase mature-rated games without their parents' permission.

"EMA-member retailers have a high level of ratings education and enforcement and, in fact, in an undercover shopper investigation released in April of this year, the Federal Trade Commission found that video-game retailers turned down minors that attempted to purchase mature-rated video games 87 percent of the time," Andersen said. "Video-game retailers remain committed to maintaining what the Federal Trade Commission termed their 'vigorous' enforcement of the video-game ratings."

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