The Supreme Court is getting set to revisit a proposed California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors, a process that sees a major milestone today as the state submits its written argument in favor of the measure.
It's spearheaded by California Senator Leland Yee, the original author of the law, whose support -- along with that of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger -- has brought it again to the court's attention, despite the fact that such measures have repeatedly been ruled unconstitutional on free speech grounds.
Using for reference a Court decision that refused to ban media depicting cruelty to animals (United States v. Stevens), Yee says it was a lack of focus, not a lack of constitutionality, that stymied the law.
"Clearly, the justices want to look specifically at our narrowly tailored law that simply limits sales of ultra-violent games to kids without prohibiting speech," he said, according to a GamePolitics report
"We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder," he said. "The video game industry should not be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children."
Courts have pointed to a lack of concrete evidence that video games directly cause violent behavior in children. The game industry has long argued in favor of self-regulation, with the Entertainment Software Association undertaking numerous national educational initiatives about ratings labels to enforce the widespread understanding that games rated M are not intended for minor audiences. Retailers have long been partners in the industry's voluntary self-regulation -- most currently decline to sell M titles to minors, but the measure would add a legal penalty, such as a fine, for any who do so.
Industry executives have also recently expressed concern
about the law, which in their view could strain relationships with major retailers like Walmart -- the retailers could stop carrying mature titles if M-rated games are deemed suitable only for legal adults.
Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello also fears the establishment of "state level bureaucracies that define what’s marketable in 50 different jurisdictions across the U.S.," a development that he recently said would "screw us up in a real way."
But despite increasing industry-led advocacy in recent years for a strong, visible rating system and accompanying education to help parents determine what content is appropriate for their child, excerpts from the California measure show that the law's proponents don't think it's enough: "California has a vital interest in supporting parental supervision over the amount of offensively violent material minors consume. The Act ensures that parents – who have primary responsibility for the well-being of minors – have an opportunity to involve themselves in deciding what level of video game violence is suitable for a particular minor," it reads.
The crux of the law's argument is that violence in games is extreme enough to constitute obscenity, the same way that sexual depictions in pornography are: "Sexually explicit material that would be otherwise protected for distribution to adults can be considered obscene given the violent nature of its depiction. No rational justification exists for treating violent material so vastly different than sexual material under the First Amendment when reviewing restrictions on distribution to minors."