December 22, 2005 10:11 AM PST

Judge blocks California video game law

A federal judge has blocked enforcement of a California law restricting violent video games, saying it violates the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of expression.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte ruled late Wednesday that the state law, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in October, unconstitutionally restricts minors' rights to information and granted the video game industry's request for a preliminary injunction.

"Serious questions are raised concerning (California's) ability to restrict minors' First Amendment rights in connection with exposure to violent video games, including the question of whether there is a causal connection between access to such games and psychological or other harm to children," Whyte said in a 17-page opinion (click here for PDF).

California is one of a string of states that recently have enacted similar laws restricting violent and sexually explicit video games--legislation that has been uniformly rejected by the courts. Laws in Illinois and Michigan were blocked by federal judges on First Amendment grounds in the last few weeks, and earlier laws in Indianapolis and Missouri's St. Louis County have also been shot down. The U.S. Supreme Court has not squarely addressed this topic, but it has said in other contexts that even minors have free-expression rights.

The California law said minors must be restricted from buying a "violent video game." That was defined as a game in which the player has the option of "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" in offensive ways.

The Entertainment Software Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group that filed many of the lawsuits, applauded the California decision.

"For the sixth time in five years, federal courts have now blocked or struck down these state and local laws seeking to regulate the sale of games to minors based on their content, and none have upheld such statutes," ESA president Douglas Lowenstein said in a statement.

Because Judge Whyte's decision is only preliminary, the final outcome could change after a full trial takes place. Attorneys for California are expected to cite research that claims to demonstrate a causal link between violent video games and harm to children.

26 comments

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Typo or not...
Is the last line supposed to read "casual" or "causal"? It makes a big difference....
Posted by Homer J. Simpson (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why are violent video games less harmful than sexual video games?
Isn't that backwards? Violence only gets an M rating, but sex gets an AO rating.

These laws are obviously not about protecting kids from harmful influences.
Posted by just_some_guy (231 comments )
Reply Link Flag
sex video games?
really? sex video games? why would anyone create a sex video game? does the game industry want little kids to grow up to be rapists and murderers? kids should have video games to enhance their education not to help enhance the ability to get a rap sheet!!!! there shouldn't have to be a law about whether ot not a minor can purchase these kind of video games the parent should keep enough tabs on their children so that they cannot have access to these games but yet that is a totally different issue.
Posted by val31 (37 comments )
Link Flag
RE
A rather large portion of western culture has a lot of hang ups when it comes to sex. Violence for some reason we embrass. To answer your question yes it's completely backwards. Personally, I never thought it was about protecting children. it's too inconsistant. They've never been able to find a causal link between violent media and agressive behavior. It could very well be agressive people gravitate toward violent media rather than violent media making agressive people.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
Its not the law's job
Its the parents' job. This is why the videogame idustry created the rating system.

Much like the movie rating system, it helps parents decide what their kids can or cannot play.

It is the fault of parents who don't look at what a game does or its rating before buying the kid the game to shut them up or to get them our of their hair.

Don't blame the industry for parents' mistakes! The system is clear! It even tells you the age range on the rating of the game!

E- everyone
T- For teens and up, not younger kids
M- For 17 and up, not for younger users
AO- Adults only, but there aren't many of these in mainstream stores anyway.

And no, the GTA San Andreas mod should not have been there. But, no parent should buy a 7-12 yr old a M rated game! M is for mature: 17 plus age range. And I know why the programmers hid it like they did, to get it in as a M and not an AO, which Wal-Mart will not sell.
Posted by techguy83 (295 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The ratings system is a joke
The games companies know that, look at their advertising budget to see who they're targeting and you'll find out that while they rate it M or AO they're advertising to T and younger crowd in the hope that they'll get their parents to overlook the ratings. Why do you think the FTC finally put their foot down on Joe Camel?
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
Such Ignorance
The rating system should prevent minors from purchasing these games by themselves. Parents could buy the games for their children if they want them to "express themselves". The job of the law is to give the parents the power to make the decision.

Anybody who thinks parents can or will monitor their children's activities all the time is quite ignorant. The law creates the need for parents to be involved.
Posted by jimstormy (5 comments )
Link Flag
Different Law Required
if stores don't follow the video game rating system (because they sell games to minors that are clearly marked for older buyers--that's what the injunction says stores can do), it pretty much guts the entire rating system.

so, here's a different law: make it something like the do not call list. let parent's register on this list that they do not wish their minor children to be able to buy certain levels of games (include all rating levels). and require, by law, that the seller must check this parent approval list prior to selling the game to a minor. if the minor's name is on the list, he can't purchase the game. have strict fines for violations of this list, including the acceptance of fraudulent id's.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
11 year olds have no id...
So, what ID are kids supposed to show to the video game store cashier so they can check this list?
Posted by mwa423 (78 comments )
Link Flag
That's all we need...
another stupid (non-working) list!

We know the "don't-fly" list doesn't work, I can't keep spam out
of my in-box no matter how many times I click on the opt-out
button and now you want to make it so I can't buy "Grand Theft
Auto" because my name is the same as some 10 year old in
Tampa?!?

Here's an idea... If you don't want your children to have violent/
sexual video games... DON'T BUY THEM THE GAME!!! Do some
damn parenting!

Ever have a kid ask you to buy them a pack of smokes? Now it's
gonna be "Excuse me sir... Could you buy me a copy of "Playboy:
The Mansion".
Posted by fear_and_loathing (82 comments )
Link Flag
RE
That would be a larger burden on retailers than the blanket ban on minors buying mature games that was struck down. If they can't get a law that requires them to card people buying mature rated games then how on earth can they expect them to not only card the person but check their name in a database. Then there is possibility for fraud, what prevents kids from registering their friends as a prank?

Here is an idea. Parents start being parents and paying attention to what their kids are doing. If they don't want junior playing mature rated games (at least in their house) they take the video game consoles out of the kid's rooms and put them in say the family room or other open room where anyone else in the family can see what's on the TV and periodicly look through their collection.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
Forget the kids...
... its the parents that should be focused on. If they do not take the time to learn about the rating system, and monitor what their kids are playing what makes you think they will take the time to register what their kids should or should not be buying.
Posted by VI Joker (231 comments )
Link Flag
Unbelievable
It is amazing to me what kind of "stuff" hides behind the first amendmant so they can get away with poor taste and bad judgement (along with social irresponsibility) just to make a few bucks. Who cares whether it is good for society or not...just make sure it makes a buck!
Posted by (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE
"It is amazing to me what kind of "stuff" hides behind the first amendmant so they can get away with poor taste and bad judgement"

That's kind of the idea of free speech. A person with something unpopular to say has just as much right as someone who has something popular to say. Having good taste and judgement aren't prerequisites excercise the 1st amendment. Unless you can get it declared obscene it's protected. As you can see from the responses people have varying opinions on just how bad or good this is.


"Who cares whether it is good for society or not...just make sure it makes a buck!"

We don't know the effect on society. Besides what people are allowed to do by law isn't necessarly always what's good for society. We're not that moralistic and utilitarian (thank god). If that's what you're after try communism
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
Brilliant..
Following the same logic, we should block all laws restricting children from porn and allow them to carry assault rifles to school..
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE
There is a difference between firearms and a video game. Firearms have demonstrable serious negative effects. As for porn our culture has always had a hang up when it comes to sex. Wasn't porn completely illegal at one time in the U.S? The jury is still out on video games. There has been no creditable causal link between violent media and agressive children established. In fact according to the U.S governments own statistics, crimes by minors are at their lowest levels in more than 30 years.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
So much for parental guidance raitings
This is the first step in getting the USA into alignment with the European concept that sexual and violent movies, reading material and other pursuits should be alright after childten enter puberty. Mostly the things we class as PG, PG-13, R, T, or M rated items are available to 12 year olds 'over there' and the X rated stuff is available at 13 or 14. Several politicians here and abroad think sexual consent should be lowered to 12. Some even think forcible rape should be a misdemeanor.

One aspect not covered in many (panic mode) discussions is the inability of younger age persons to understand that TV, Movies and games are NOT rooted in reality; thus, they tend to bring this knowledge out of their bedroom and into society. Then, they are shocked when they find out the person they killed yesterday does not magically reappear in the next game. Were the games and other entertainment, that seek reality so dearly, to also include a mandatory penalty for wrongful acts they might be more pallitable to many of us who have had to deal with the outcomes of the negative effects. The sad part is the parents do not really understand the kids don't know these things are not real. And, when the kid does something wrong, they ask, "So, what's the big deal; because he shot someone who hit him with a snowball?

The media, who often fosters the advancement in lowering access ages, skews the news we have easily available to suport their view. These discussioins have cited media stories that tout there are no real facts to show the negative effects. But, there are; and we just don't hear about them unless we dig for it.

It is an eye opener when a child tells you he committed a crime because he saw it on TV and nobody was really hurt; or cries when realizes their friend won't be playing anymore because the gun shot real bullets rather than the kind on the video game, or the girl was hurt real bad when three boys gang raped her (she liked it in the game) and so many more. These are disconnected incidents, but collectively there is a thread which is serious.

This judge is the one with no touch of reality.
Posted by GEBERWEIN (75 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Judgement was ignorant and wrong
There is no violation of Free Speech in preventing youths from buying items that their parents wouldn't want them to have. If the parents are ok with their child having the game then they can purchase the game themselves and give it to their child.

What this statute does is to help the parent do the "parenting" thing, otherwise the child who's already been denied (or who's pretty sure their parents would deny them) this game will go ahead and buy it and then play it when they get the chance outside the view of their parents.

This statute is perfectly fine as is, those who are blocking it have their own agendas and believe me, those agendas don't have the best interests of children at their heart.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I Half Way Agree
I don't really understand the freedom of speech thing either but there is still no proof that there is anything wrong with minors playing mature rated games, a lot of children play these games and there have never been any negative side effects. If someone found any negative side effects of young children playing violent and sexual video-games I would accept these laws but for now there's just no reason to have them besides some stupid goverment officials moral opinions *cough* Arnold Schwarzenagger *cough*
Posted by Thorax232 (27 comments )
Link Flag
Wrong
What this law does is help parents avoid parental responsibility.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
Link Flag
Rights?
The courtes really need to figure out what these "rights" are that a kid should have. If minors have all of these "rights", then let them drink and drive and vote at any age, just so the kid can express his freedom of speech and expression. The orginal framers of the Constitution did not let minors have a say in anything because of maturity and experience, nothing has changed with that except for the crazy California courts.
Posted by (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Interesting call
I could see both sides of the arguement.
Posted by CaptainBlueStar (2 comments )
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