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Supreme Court Decision: 'Video Games Qualify For First Amendment Protection'

Supreme Court Decision: 'Video Games Qualify For First Amendment Protection'

June 27, 2011 | By Kris Graft

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the video game industry in a 7-2 vote on Monday morning, striking down a hotly-debated California video game law that sought to place government restrictions on the sale of violent video games to minors.

The long-awaited, landmark ruling sets a precedent for the government's role in the regulation of the video game industry, and helps place the video game industry on equal ground with other forms of media in terms of government regulation.

The Court stated that the California law "violated the First Amendment."

"Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium," the ruling states [PDF].

The Court also said that "Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media."

"Since California has declined to restrict those other media, e.g., Saturday morning cartoons, its video-game regulation is wildly underinclusive, raising serious doubts about whether the State is pursuing the interest it invokes or is instead disfavoring a particular speaker or viewpoint," according to the ruling.

The Court also said that California failed to show that the law met an "alleged substantial need of parents who wish to restrict their children's access to violent videos. The video game industry's voluntary rating system [the Entertainment Software Rating Board] already accomplishes that to a large extent."

"Moreover, as a means of assisting parents the Act is greatly overinclusive, since not all of the children who are prohibited from purchasing violent video games have parents who disapprove of their doing so," read the ruling. "The Act cannot satisfy strict scrutiny."

Gamasutra will have more on the landmark ruling later today. [UPDATE: Highlights from Scalia's lead opinion which rejected the law are now available in a separate article; supporting opinion from Justice Alito is also available, as well as dissenting opinions.]

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