Attorneys-General, Legal Experts, Scientists Oppose Controversial Video Game Law


Posted September 20, 2010 - By Jake Gaskill


The Entertainment Software Association revealed today that 182 national organizations, attorneys-general, scientists, and legal scholars have announced their opposition to a controversial California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors.

“The depth, diversity and high quality of briefs submitted strengthens our position before the Court. These briefs are rooted in virtually every form of expression, commerce, social science, and constitutional jurisprudence imaginable,” said president and CEO of the ESA, Michael D. Gallagher. “It is our hope that the Court will uphold an unbroken chain of lower court rulings that affirm video games’ First Amendment protections, the rights of consumers’ access to speech, and that parents – not government – are the best arbiters in determining what is right for their children.”

The game law in question was deemed unconstitutional last year by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association/Entertainment Software Association. The state of California appealed this decision, and the case will go before the Supreme Court of the United States in November.

In addition to organizations such as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the various motion picture entities, all of which filed briefs last week, other industry groups throwing their hat in the ring include Activision Blizzard, id Software, and Microsoft. You can find the full list of supporters and their briefs at the ESA’s website.

One of the more surprising filings was submitted on behalf of attorneys general from Rhode Island, Arkansas, Georgia, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Utah and Washington, which argued:

“Quick fixes such as the California statute cause more practical and constitutional problems, in expanding unneeded regulatory activity and hindering law enforcement, than they solve. The potential negative impacts on State government and State citizens are important enough that the undersigned feel compelled to voice their concerns, notwithstanding the obvious political risk of being erroneously tagged as supporting the selling of these games to minors.”

The United States Chamber of Commerce also filed in support of the ESA, arguing that “Under strict scrutiny, the government may regulate the content of constitutionally protected speech to promote a compelling interest ‘if it chooses the least restrictive means to further the articulated interest.’ California’s video game law fails this test...California’s law fails strict scrutiny because a ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors is not the least restrictive alternative to protecting them from age-inappropriate media content.”

Representing the scientific community are 82 researchers and medical professionals, who have called into question and/or flatly rejected studies and research the state of California has used to defend the proposed ban on violent video games to minors. The group argues that while the state has cited studies that supposedly suggest a link between violent games and violent behavior, “in the court of appeals, California expressly disclaimed any interest in regulating video games sales and rentals to minors to prevent such conduct, and therefore these studies are waived because the argument was waived. The studies are of no help to California in any event because they document neither a causal connection nor a correlation between the playing of violent video games and violent, aggressive, or antisocial behavior.”

In their brief, the International Game Developers Association and Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences question California’s broader understanding of video games as a valid medium of artistic expression.

“Although the parties agree that videogames are constitutionally protected expression, the State of California nevertheless asks this Court to find that violent videogames ‘are simply not worthy of constitutional protection when sold to minors without parental participation.’ The State asks the Court to make this judgment while providing only a single example of a game it deems to be violent—and offering essentially no context regarding the expressive nature of games that could fall under the Act.”

The IGDA and AIAS go on to offer said lacking context by presenting compelling defenses for the nature of the violence portrayed in such acclaimed titles as Assassin's Creed II, BioShock, Heavy Rain, and Red Dead Redemption.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Schwarzenegger v. EMA/ESA starting on Tuesday, November 2.

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Attorneys-General, Legal Experts, Scientists Oppose Controversial Video Game Law


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