In a 7-2 Decision, Supreme Court Strikes Down California Violent Video Game Law

In what is likely to be hailed as one of the greatest legal victories for the game industry, the Supreme Court struck down the controversial California law that would have criminalized the sale of violent video games to minors.

The 7 to 2 victory is a resounding win for the industry, which argued that the current voluntary ratings system created and maintained by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) was adequate protection, and in fact was more effective than the ratings in other industries, such as movies.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority opinion in the case. "As a means of assisting concerned parents it (the law) is seriously over inclusive because it abridges the First Amendment rights of young people whose parents (and aunts and uncles) think violent video games are a harmless pastime," he penned.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the minority opinion, stating, "The First Amendment does not disable government from helping parents make such a choice here — a choice not to have their children buy extremely violent, interactive games."

The California law had been challenged right from the start, and never went into effect. The new law, championed by outgoing governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, did not take the current ESRB ratings into account, but instead vaguely described a violent game as any where a human being is killed. This lead to some comical moments during oral arguments, where more tech-savvy judges like Justice Elena Kagan asked questions like "What if Vulcans are killed?" to which the lawyers for the state of California, who probably didn’t know what a Vulcan was, answered that a game where only Vulcans are killed would be okay.

The case is Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Assn. (08-1448).

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