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Supreme Court strikes down California's ban on the sale of violent video games to minors

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday struck down California's ban on the sale of violent video games to minors, extending the kind of speech protected by the Constitution.

In a ruling closely watched by other states and the entertainment industry, the court ruled that California's 2005 restrictions on violent video games violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The ruling may have repercussions in Florida, which is among at least 11 other states that explicitly sided with California's efforts to restrict the video games that minors can buy.

"No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his 18-page majority opinion. "But that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed."

The ruling in Schwarzenegger vs. Entertainment Merchants Association is a defeat for Gov. Jerry Brown. As California's attorney general, he defended the law, signed by his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the onetime star of the violent Terminator movie series.

The 7-2 ruling also continues a run of cases in which the justices have struck down restrictions on violent or salacious material conveyed through a succession of media formats.

"Whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology, the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment's command, do not vary," Scalia wrote.

The trend could continue in the court's next term, when the justices review the Federal Communications Commission's rules governing indecent broadcasts.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas dissented separately on violent video games.

"The interest that California advances in support of the statute is compelling," Breyer wrote, adding that video games can end up "teaching (children) to be violently aggressive in life."

At Breyer's behest, the Supreme Court library compiled hundreds of academic studies that concluded psychological harm results from playing violent video games.

Thomas stressed his belief that courts should strictly confine themselves to the original meaning of the Constitution, stating that the Constitution's authors believed firmly that "parents have authority over their children."

While gamemakers celebrated the high court's decision, the ruling is hardly inspiring more acts of virtual brutality.

"It's business as usual," said George Rose, chief public policy officer at Activision Blizzard Inc., the Santa Monica, Calif.-based publisher of the Call of Duty franchise. "We're not in the business of making more and more terribly violent games. The number of mature-rated games has actually decreased. The landscape is changing for the industry."

"After today, I expect now you're going to see more growth, more creation and more promotion of the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board)," said Michael D. Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association, which represents the industry. "The decision today didn't create any new rights for the industry. It simply affirmed the rights that we believed we had all along."

In recent years, such kid-friendly games as the hip-shaking choreography simulator Just Dance 2 have competed atop the sales charts against realistic military shoot-'em-ups such as Call of Duty: Black Ops. Last month, four M-rated games were among the top 10 top-selling titles, according to NPD Group, which tracks the sales of games at retailers.

"I don't think this ruling will change how people make games," said Simon Carless, publisher of Game Developer magazine. "I think even the concept of video games that are all about violence is quite outdated now."

Information from McClatchy-Tribune News Service, the Washington Post and the Associated Press was used in this report.


What can

parents do?

When it comes to violent games, virtually all game publishers and retailers follow the guidelines of the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

The voluntary rating system is similar to the one used by movie studios and theaters, assigning one of eight ratings, then blocking the sale of games that are rated M for "mature" and AO for "adults only" to children.

Even if Junior somehow does get a mature or adults only game, all three current video game consoles — Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii — enable parents to create a password and decide whether to block kids from playing violent or racy games.

Supreme Court strikes down California's ban on the sale of violent video games to minors 06/27/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 27, 2011 11:25pm]
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