The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled California can not restrict the sale or rental of video games that depict graphic violence to children, saying it would be a violation of their First Amendment rights.
In a Supreme Court decision that the video gaming and entertainment software industry has waited on since last November, the Justices voted 7-2 to uphold a federal appeals court decision that tossed out a California law that banned the sale and rental of video games that contained scenes of violence, portrayed maiming, dismemberment, death, murder, torture and more to anyone under the age of eighteen, reports CTV News.
The Supreme Court Justices agreed with United States Court of Appeals ruling, and said these games, as entertainment, were protected forms of expression and free speech.
The California law regulating violent video games, would have imposed strict labeling requirements for game manufacturers and would have penalized retailers, who were in violation of the act, with fines up to $1000 for each incident.
In Brown, Governor of California, et al. vs Entertainment Merchants Association, et al, [pdf], the Supreme Court said, in its 92 page decision, "This country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence. And California’s claim that “interactive” video games present special problems, in that the player participates in the violent action on screen and determines its out-come, is unpersuasive."
The court went on to say the argument by the state of California’s to overturn the Court of Appeals decision "would have fared better if the country had a history" of banning children from accessing works of literature that depicted violence.
"The court pointed out Grimm's Fairy Tales, as well as the attempted poisoning of Snow White and the fate the wicked Queen was dealt for her participation in the deed. The Queen was made to 'dance in red hot slippers until she was dead,' said the Justices opinion. Also mentioned was the portion of the story Cinderella, when 'Cinderella's evil step-sisters had their eyes pecked out by doves,' as well as Hansel and Gretal seeking revenge for their situation by baking their captor in an oven.
The Justices continued by speaking of high school literature that contained violence, but is given to teenagers to read. Their examples included 'The Odyssey,' and 'Lord of the Flies,' specifically the chapter when the boy named Piggy was 'savagely murdered by the other children.'"
The Justices said, California does not have the power to "restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed despite complaints about graphic violence," reports Associated Press. "Speech that is neither obscene as to youths, and violence is not considered obscene, nor subject to some other legitimate proscription cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them.”
When addressing "the argument that video games enable participation in the violent action," providing the player with choices where aggressive behaviour was rewarded, and the thinking that literature did not provide the same experience, the Supreme Court disagreed with the state of California and agreed with US Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner.
Posner observed, "All literature is interactive. The better it is, the more interactive. Literature when it is successful draws the reader into the story, makes him identify with the characters, invites him to judge them and quarrel with them, to experience their joys and sufferings as the reader’s own.”
Justice Scalia wrote that the books we read to children have "no shortage of gore." He also said, not all of the games that the California act would have baned children under 18 from buying were games that their parents didn't want their kids to rent or purchase. Scalia wrote, "While some of the legislation’s effect may indeed be in support of what some parents of the restricted children actually want, its entire effect is only in support of what the State thinks parents ought to want."