US Supreme Court Strikes Down California Video Game Law

From the Associated Press:

The Supreme Court says California cannot ban the rental or sale of violent video games to children.

The high court agreed Monday with a federal court’s decision to throw out California’s ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento said the law violated minors’ rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments.

The law would have prohibited the sale or rental of violent games to anyone under 18. Retailers who violated the act would have been fined up to $1,000 for each infraction.

The court on a 7-2 vote said the law was unconstitutional.

More than 46 million American households have at least one video-game system, with the industry bringing in at least $18 billion in 2010.

I don’t play many video games these days (mostly Rock Band, or emulators running old games on my Wii, like Donkey Kong or Echo the Dolphin), but this is a decision with ramifications for the RPG industry, and I’m very pleased that the court’s decision was so clear.

Setting aside the arguments about parents having the right to make decisions about what their children can or cannot play, if California (or any state) has the power to ban or restrict video games based on violent content, they set the precident that they have the power to do so for tabletop games as well. Further, nothing would have been able to stop them at just restricting violent content; they could have, in theory, used any sort of “community standards” to do so; religious themes, nudity, etc. Today it’s Grand Theft Auto IV, tomorrow it could be Carcossa or LotFP: Grindhouse.

All in all, while this was a direct victory for the video game industry, it was an indirect victory for the RPG industry as well, and for free speech in general.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

6 thoughts on “US Supreme Court Strikes Down California Video Game Law

  1. HOORAY! The market has spoken! 🙂

    With so much freedom of expression being sniped at and curtailed, it's nice to see the almighty dollar has won the day.

    Not that I have any evidence, but it's my opinion that the video game business would not want to see their numbers drop.

    It would be nice to hope that this helps our game hobby too, but if there would ever be a need for a scapegoat it would probably be pencil & paper games. Then the courts could say, "see, we're helping America!" and pat themselves on their collective back.

    Sorry for being cynical. I should just be thankful it may be a good thing.

  2. Ah, schizophrenic America strikes again.

    Great news indeed for the video games industry, but I wonder what the ramifications for the porn biz will be from this? I mean, logically, prohibiting the sale of boobies to minors gets in the way of their first and fourteenth amendment rights too?

    Admittedly, that's not intended to be a very serious statement above, and in a remote way perhaps I don't understand because I'm too close to that side of the argument, but the massive disconnect between societal acceptability of decapitation vs nipple slips has always been a huge slice of confusion to me. This just adds to that blur.

  3. These laws have never made any sense to me when we already have a rating system that was forced on the industry by no less than our own modern Tail-Gunner Joe. Kids can't buy M-rated games at corporate game stores and even Wal-Mart started enforcing the system.

    And people wonder why the country is broke. You make a law, we fight to kill it…so you make more laws to kill.

    Next up: Gay Marriage in NY…film at 11:00.

  4. Not sure why you'd think that, Eric. It's the liberal do-gooders who want to protect us from ourselves who are usually responsible for this sort of thing. Remember Tipper Gore?

    Interestingly, the dissent came from two ends of the political spectrum. Thomas said minors had no free-speech rights. Breyer said he thought the law was constitutional as is.

    So I don't see this as a political decision at all, but one made on the legal merits.

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