On Monday, two years after the California law to make the sale of violent video games to children illegal was appealed, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 against California, with Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer dissenting. Video games, according to the ruling, must be allowed to enjoy the same rights as other media such as movies, books and music, with anything less being unconstitutional.
The ruling found that “protecting” minors from violence in video games would be an exception rather than the rule, as Justice Antonin Scalia states, “California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence, but there is none.” Examples of other forms of violent literature for children include Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Odyssey of Homer, Dante’s Inferno and Lord of the Flies.
The Justices against California went on to observe that while the state can protect children from harm “…that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed”. So long as a game is not obscene, of an explicit sexual nature, it can not be withheld from minors simply because the ideas or images it contains are deemed unsuitable by a legislative body.
The California argument that there is a link between violent video games and harm done to children was “not compelling” since the research shows only a small relationship between exposure to violent entertainment and the real-world effects on children. The effects of games on children was noted to be the same as those produced by other media, such as Looney Tunes cartoons, which California shows no intention of attempting to censor.
While this ruling does not give children permission to go out and buy games rated M, for mature audiences over the age of 17, it has successfully kept the decision of what games a child can or can not play out of the hands of lawmakers. As was the case before California attempted to step in, the choice of which games children play ultimately rests with parents, with suggestions on content being made by the ESRB and a helpful rating guide.
If you would like to read the entire 92 page ruling, you may find it here in PDF format.