Supreme Court Blocks Violent Video Game Ban

The Supreme Court ruled California cannot ban the rental or sale of violent video games to children, putting more responsibility on parents as games continue to mature on mobile platforms.

The court voted seven to two against the proposed law, which would have prevented retailers from selling or renting violent games to anyone under 18. The nation’s highest court determined the law was unconstitutional because it violated free speech.

If the law had passed, it would have imposed a $1,000 fine on retailers who sold or rented a violent video game to a minor. Violent games are defined as featuring the “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexual assaulting” or a human image and “appeals to deviant or morbid behaviour.”

“Like books, plays and movies, video games communicate ideas,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, adding there was “no tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed.”

Though the law was shot down, the judges were divided five to four over whether the law could ever regulate violent media enough to protect children.

Scalia strongly supported free speech even when children are present, but said the law should limit free speech to protect children from sex and pornography, not from violence.

The decision likely pleased the video game industry because violent games are high-selling titles. But those who believe the media needs more regulation over the content it releases are undoubtedly unsatisfied.

“This ruling replaces the authority of parents with the economic interests of the video game industry,” said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council in Los Angeles. “With no fear of any consequences for violating the video games industry’s own age restriction guidelines, retailers can now openly, brazenly sell games with unspeakable violence and adult content to even the youngest of children.”

The Supreme Court’s decision now puts more responsibility in the hands of parents. More than 46 million U.S. households have at least one video game system, but millions more have smartphones and tablets, which are quickly becoming the go-to gadgets for gaming.

Today, more than ever, children have access to games, including violent ones, on their smartphones. These devices, becoming more advanced with each updated model, allow game developers to create games with increasing detail, better graphics and sometimes more violence.

Violent titles are also just a click away from Web-connected marketplaces like Apple’s app store, which has become the world’s largest video game store.

In addition, mobile games often retail for less than $5, a stark difference from console games that often carry $60 price tags. This lower cost may allow underage gamers to conveniently purchase more titles, in addition to drawing in broader audiences beyond hardcore gamers.

Whether the rise in mobile gaming leads to a corresponding scrutiny for violence remains to be seen, but the Supreme Court decision may allay possible app makers’ fears about regulating their work.

The rise in mobile gaming on smartphones has led to a decline of nearly 20 per cent in traditional handheld console sales. Consumers prefer to have one device in their pocket that can do it all, and they’re choosing smartphones capable of playing video games.

In the end, it is up to parents to monitor the games their children are bringing home or purchasing on their smartphone.

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