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On Monday, seven out of nine Supreme Court justices agreed that California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to minors unconstitutional. This officially sets a precedent that, like books and movies, video games fall under the protection of the First Amendment.
The court declared that video games’ use storytelling devices to tell a narrative put them on the same level as books, plays and movies. And because the United States has no history of regulating depictions of violence, the California law’s attempt to do so was “unprecedented and mistaken.” As for whether violent games pose a greater risk to society because of their interactive nature, the justices were unconvinced by existing research, none of which has found that games cause violent behavior.
The ruling doesn’t guarantee an end to regulation, though. Justice Samuel Alito, in his concurring judgment, felt that California’s law was too broad in its description of violence (“killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being”). For better or worse, Alito said, society regards violence as a suitable feature of entertainment, so any future law would have to be much narrower than what California proposed.
California is the seventh state to attempt to regulate the sale of video games. Politicians pushing for stricter regulation of video games have been criticized for pandering to misinformed “family values” voters because the video game industry already has its own rating system. Undercover shopper surveys have given video game retailers higher rating than any other entertainment retailer. Not to mention the fact that current-generation consoles have parental control options that block games with certain ratings.
States concerned about violent video games could spend their resources much more responsibly than in court battles or enforcing censorship laws. Simply reaching out to educate uninformed parents about video games would be more effective than trying to find First Amendment loopholes. But common-sense measures don’t always win elections.