Supreme Court Looks Set To Throw Out California Video Game Ban

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Good news for young video gamers and the companies that cater to them: the U.S. Supreme Court looks set to throw out a 2006 California law that would have banned the sale of violent video games to minors.

Oral arguments in the case took place this morning (transcript here) and justices appeared to be favouring the video game makers’ argument that the ban violates the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned whether California could also ban rap music with violent lyrics, while Justice Antonin Scalia wondered if the ban could apply to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which are also filled with violence.

The justices appeared open to the Justice Stephen Breyer’s idea that “common sense” could be used to shield children from violent media, but seemed sceptical that California’s law was the right way to go about it. Justice Ginsburg suggested that the law’s cut-off age of 18 was too blunt of an instrument: “California doesn’t make any distinctions between 17-year-olds and 4-year-olds.”

Justice Sotomayor also honed in on the law’s provision that it covers violence depicted against human beings. “So if the video producer says this is not a human being, it’s an android computer simulated person…they could sell the video game?”

Lawyers for the video game companies pointed out that most game makers and retailers honour a voluntary ratings system that restricts certain games to adults anyway, so the ban wasn’t necessary.

Major video game makers such as Microsoft and Activision have filed briefs in favour of overturning the ban.

The court is expected to make a ruling on the case, Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, later this summer.

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