California Game Law Struck Down


A California law that would have required high-visibility labeling of violent videogames and prohibited their sale to minors has been struck down as unconstitutional.

Originally passed in 2005, the law never actually went into effect because of a preliminary injunction against its enforcement that was issued soon after. In his ruling, Judge Ronald Whyte found the law to be unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds, and also questioned the link between videogame violence and real-world violent behavior. “The evidence does not establish that videogames, because of their interactive nature or otherwise, are any more harmful than violent television, movies, internet sites or other speech-related activities,” he wrote, adding, “The court, although sympathetic to what the legislature sought to do by the Act, finds that the evidence does not establish the required nexus between the legislative concerns about the well-being of minors and the restrictions on speech required by the Act.”

Leland Yee, the California state senator behind the bill, issued a press release saying he was “shocked” by the court’s decision, claiming the videogame industry is actively fighting against any sort of regulation, as well as attempting to thwart efforts to keep inappropriate games out of the hands of children. “They fought efforts to publicize their rating system because they thought it would impact sales, and now they’re again putting their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children,” he wrote, also saying, “We simply cannot trust the industry to regulate itself.”

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, saying he will “vigorously defend this law,” has has announced his intention to appeal the court’s decision. The ruling follows similar judgments in Illinois, Louisiana and Michigan, all of which had similar statutes struck down as unconstitutional.

Contrary to Senator Yee’s statement, the ESRB, which rates videogames prior to their release in North America, has been active in keeping parents abreast of its rating system. Among other initiatives, it has recently teamed with Good Housekeeping to offer parental guides to videogames, and studies have shown a high level of awareness and use of the ESRB system among parents with gamer children.

The full text of the ruling is available here. (PDF format)

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