Supreme Court Decision On Whether To Hear Violent Video Game Arguments Expected Soon

The United States Supreme Court may decide whether to hear a landmark case affecting the sale of violent video games as early as next week, the California Attorney General's office told Kotaku today.

Before the highest court in the country is the decision whether to hear arguments regarding California's legal battle against the video game industry over the sale of violent games to minor. This is a battle that has been repeatedly won by the gaming side but still may be fought once more.

The decision to carry things furthers lies with the Supreme Court.

A decision to not hear the case would affirm California's previous judicial defeats and serve as another in a long line of gaming industry victories against state authorities trying to legislate against violent games.

But a decision by the Court to hear the case could open the gaming industry up to a possible decision that would turn the tables and enable the sale of violent games to minors to be restricted under the highest authority in the country.

The Supreme Court agrees to hear a small number of the cases of highest national or legal importance.

The California fight began in late 2005 when the state's Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed into law regulations that would fine retailers of up to $US1000 against people who sell intensely violent games to minors. While no such laws exist pertaining to the sale of violent movies or DVDs, state officials argued that extremely violent games could prove harmful to minors.

"We're not talking about violent video games," California assemblyman Leland Yee had said in an interview at the time. "We're talking about ultra-violent video games." The bill singled out games whose violence causes them to "lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors" as well as those whose violence "is especially heinous, cruel or depraved in that it involves torture or serious physical abuse to the victim". Yee and others maintained that such games were harmful to minors and could compel them to emulate the actions in the games.

The gaming industry's chief lobbying group, The Entertainment Software Association, which also hosts the annual E3 event, successfully got a judge in the state to first block the law and then deem it a violation of the First Amendment. An appeals court unanimously upheld that decision. Efforts by California to prove that violent games triggered violent reactions in children did not convince the courts.

But in May of 2009, California announced that it was petitioning the Supreme Court to consider the case.

In the petition [PDF here] , the state argues that it should use decisions that recognised the harmfulness of certain sexual material to minors as a basis for restricting the sale of "extremely violent video games". It also sees this issue as one of growing concern:

This is an important issue with national implications, particularly in light of the growing evidence that these games harm minors and that the industry self-regulaton through the existing rating system has proven ineffective.

The state, citing prior decisions, also argued that it should be able to use a predictive standard regarding the effects of violent games on minors and not causality.

In July 2009, the ESA and the Entertainment Merchants Association filed their opposition, attempting to sway the Court to not re-open the case. The opposition document includes a defence of video games, describing them as "a modern form of artistic expression" and arguing that games such as Resident Evil 4 and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six parallel the themes and details of movies that are legally available to minors in California.

The gaming industry groups defend the video game ratings system, argue there is no evidence for games causing psychological harm or physical violence and deny the validity of the state's arguments that violent media could be restricted from minors in the manner that sexual material is. It attacks the California law for being too vague in its description of which kinds of games would be too violent for kids:

"The State fails to explain how to determine what constitutes prohibited violence against an "image of a human being," or why minors should be shielded from depictions of violence against an image of a human being rather than depictions of violence against a zombie, god, robot, or any other fantastical creature. The State's proposal to treat depictions of simulated violence as obscenity has no stopping point.

Should the Supreme Court be swayed by the State of California's petition, then it will hear arguments from both sides about these issues, eventually issuing a decision that would either uphold gaming industry victories or at last subject video games in America to restrictions in how they are sold to minors. Should the Court decide not to hear arguments, then the video game industry's previous win against California will stand.

The Court's choice is expected to be made clear as soon as Monday.

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Comments

    I don't see the harm in introducing fines for shops selling games with certain ratings to minors??? It's a bloody good idea.

      +1

      I think that (using Aussie ratings here);
      G-PG shouldnt require an age restriction
      M15+ = Parental consent required if the kid is under 15.
      MA15+ = The kid has to be at least 15.
      R18+ (I'm hoping here) = The person has to be at least 18.

      It's not really that hard to enforce :S

        The problem is that here in Australia the games are rated by a government body. In the US games are rated by the ESRB, which is a private organisation. Under US law it is illegal to use a private organisations guidelines to restrict sales. Ergo, there's no way to legally force retailers to stick to the ratings.

        That said, plenty of retailers in the states volunatrily refuse to sell mature games to kids.

    What's the point of games being rated if their sale isn't restricted?

    Isn't that what we're arguing for here in Australia?

    It's not really a big deal - happened here in Australia for god knows how long - including not only games but DVD's and movies as well. Makes sense if you ask me...

      If it's simply fining people for selling inappropriate materials to minors, then I'm all for it personally. There's nothing wrong with that. I wonder if there's more to it than that?

    As long as the law doesn't stop adults from buying violent video games then I'd be okay with this. I'd need to reed the petition thoroughly to understand the specifics first.

    Has Schwarzenegger ever seen his films? They're violent and lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.

    I mean, there are a metric tonne of violent games based on or inspired by franchises that Arnie has acted in. AvP anyone?

    Maybe it would be a good idea to directly name the "ultra-violent games" to avoid any confusion?

    i.e. If you sell L4D2 to a minor, you'll get fined, print it on the box or whatever and the guys at gamestop can card people at sale time (but then what about fake IDs)

    Either way it seems like if they are not opposed to violent video games, but only Ultra violent video games, they should be clear which is which?

    I'm confused though, why is the ESA ok with the selling of violent video games to minors? Maybe I'm just reading the article wrong but if what I think is true...it's no wonder the state is pushing so hard.

      It's not that they are okay with it, it's that the law is too vague to define what "ultra violent" is. They're basically using a slippery slope arguement that if this law stands it'll end up being used to ban games.

    It's funny that the article doesn't mention a restriction of the classification system to the level that the ESA already place on the covers of games.

    Why is the state chasing 'ultra violence' and not just using the ratings system against the ESA.

    As an adult gamer (whose hoping to have little kiddy gamers) selling material meant for adults to minors is inexcusable and should be restricted. But why take the tack the California Gov. has done??

    Under the Law, Super Mario Bros would be included because stomping on Gumbas causes serious physical abuse to the victim.

    Don't be fooled by the term ultra-violent, any game that included an action of violence could be included in the ban. No court of law in the US has ever upheld these laws and I don't expect the Supreme Court that just ruled animal cruelty videos were constitutionally protected.

    I forgot to add, it has two nearly impossible hurdles to even be considered passed by the Supreme Court, first proving without a shadow of a doubt, that playing violent video games are detrimental to youth, which is a very hard argument due to mixed studies.

    Second hurdle is why is this law specifically targeted at video games and not other media?, this may be easier to argue the interactivity part, but other than that? That is definitely going to go be a huge part of the debate.

    Mark my words, the decision will be.. the supreme court will not listen to these court cases only because the New World Order commands the dumbing down of America to continue.

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