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California Ban on Violent Video Games Declared Illegal

Published on 07/08/2011 -

California Ban on Violent Video Games Declared Illegal

A California law that banned the sale of violent video games to children has been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 7-2 decision cites free speech rights as its basis, noting that children with consenting parents shouldn't be restricted from buying or playing violent games.

The law, which never actually took effect, originally passed in 2005. It was immediately challenged by representatives of the video game industry and has just finished wending its way through the court system.

In order for a video game to qualify as "violent" under the law, it had to offer players a chance to kill, dismember, maim or sexually assault a human image.

A Violent Battle over Video Games

The fight over violence in video games has been almost as intense as some of the games themselves:

  • In 2005, when the California law was passed, supporters cited a review of 130 studies on the effects of violence in video games. The conclusion of the review was that violent games led to a number of evils, including poor school performance and antisocial behavior.
  • Those who disapproved of the law argued that eliminating violence from video games would do little but prevent children from learning about a real and inescapable part of the world, thus leaving them unprepared for adult life.
  • In the middle of the issue is the argument that video games actually benefit kids in some ways, including by helping them develop hand-eye coordination and learn and practice certain material in more interactive ways than other media allow.
How Hard Is It to Get Violent Video Games Now?

While the California law may have had good intentions, one of the strongest arguments against it seems to be that it just wasn't needed. Currently, video games are regulated much the same way movies are, with letter ratings indicating what sort of content the games have.

One study by the FTC looked at how easy it was for minors to purchase video games labeled M (for "mature" audiences, indicating violent or explicit material). The findings:

  • About 20 percent of children were able to buy violent games without an adult present.
  • 28 percent of children managed to get a ticket to an R-rated movie on their own.
  • More than half (54 percent) of underage kids were able to rent R-rated movies with no adult around.

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