Judge George Caram Steeh, United States District Judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, has handed down a permanent injunction halting the implementation of the new Michigan state law that would restrict video game sales to minors. This marks the sixth court in three years to rule restriction of video game sales as being unconstitutional.
In his decision, the judge dismissed the state's claim that the interactive nature of video games makes them less entitled to First Amendment protection. "The interactive, or functional aspect, in video games can be said to enhance the expressive elements even more than other media by drawing the player closer to the characters and becoming more involved in the plot of the game than by simply watching a movie or television show," Judge Steeh wrote. "It would be impossible to separate the functional aspects of a video game from the expressive, inasmuch as they are so closely intertwined and dependent on each other in creating the virtual experience."
"Judge Steeh's ruling represents a sweeping rejection of the state's claims regarding the harmful effects of violent video games and we will move immediately for reimbursement of the substantial legal fees incurred in this court fight which the state could have, and should have, never triggered," said Douglas Lowenstein, President of the ESA, the trade group representing U.S. computer and video game publishers. "It is noteworthy that Judge Steeh specifically chastised the state for not doing what we urged them to do from the start, which is to find less restrictive ways to help ensure that parents make sound choices about the games their kids play. With this wasteful litigation behind us, we hope the state will now do just that and we remain ready to work cooperatively with them."
In addition, and echoing the sentiments of researchers at the recent subcommittee hearing entitled “What’s in a Game? State Regulation of Violent Video Games and the First Amendment” regarding the difficulties in associating video game violence and real world aggression, the court said, "Dr. [Craig] Anderson's studies have not provided any evidence that the relationship between violent video games and aggressive behavior exists." It added that the evidence introduced alleging that new brain mapping studies show a link between violent games and aggressive thought is equally unpersuasive. "The research not only fails to provide concrete evidence that there is a connection between violent media and aggressive behavior, it also fails to distinguish between video games and other forms of media," the Judge wrote.
Addressing the state's claims that video games are more harmful than TV because the player controls the action, the court said there is no evidence to support such a claim, adding that "it could just as easily be said that the interactive element in video games acts as an outlet for minors to vent their violent or aggressive behavior, thereby diminishing the chance they would actually perform such acts in reality....Not only does the Act not materially advance the state's stated interest, but it appears to discriminate against a disfavored 'newcomer' in the world of entertainment media. Thus, 'singling out' the videogame industry does not advance the state's alleged goal," the Judge concluded.