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Violent video games get their day in court

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments today in a case that could have far-reaching repercussions for the entertainment industry.

In 2005, California enacted legislation to restrict the rights of minors to buy violent video games. A violent game is defined as one in which the player has the option of “killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.” The law was blocked by federal courts on First Amendment grounds and it never went into effect. It was eventually struck down as unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in February 2009.

The case has attracted passionate arguments on both sides, with a number of child advocacy groups lined up against an assorted collection of entertainment industry lobbyists and free speech advocates. California is just one of a number of states that enacted similar laws restricting the sale of violent video games – legislation that so far has been universally rejected by the courts.

 One of the biggest proponents of the legislation is Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that reviews media content on behalf of parents. Jim Steyer, president of Common Sense, calls the California law “a very fair and First Amendment-friendly effort to limit the sales of ultra-violent video games to minors.” Other supporters have quoted well-publicized research that suggests long term exposure to violent video games can result in child behavioral and learning disorders.

Opponents of the legislation have cast doubts on many of those studies and argue that a number of safeguards to protect minors are already in place. One of those safeguards is the current video game rating system administered by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. The ESRB assigns every video game a rating, much the same way as the Motion Picture Association of America does for films.

The ESRB also claims that attempts by minors to buy violent video games are far less than they used to be, with stores and parents now monitoring game selections much more closely. The legislation in question will have no impact on parents or guardians who buy violent video games with the intention of passing them on to their kids.

At the end of the day, it looks like the decision in Schwarzenegger vs. Entertainment Merchants Association will come down to First Amendment issues. If that’s the case, then a number of recent rulings suggest that the pro-free speech lobby will prevail. If not, then get set for a major overhaul of the way we buy and consume all kinds of media content and entertainment.

Do you think that the sale violent video games to minors should be restricted? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

Comment by Anon, posted 11/4/2010, 8:28 AM:

all ive got to say is this bill wont affect people in the uk but im 15 years old my mum started letting me have games that were 18 and over when i was 12-13 and it hasnt affected me one bit. people put to much blame on video games and the televsion for such a violent society but all in all the main contributing factor to a young or even old person going out and committing an act of violence is purely to do with other things
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