Court Strikes Down California Video Game Law

Published October 1, 2007

State efforts to regulate the sale of video games took another hit late this summer when a United States District Court in California granted a permanent injunction against a state law designed to prevent the sale of violent video games to minors.

In his decision in Video Software Dealers Association & Entertainment Software Association v. Schwarzenegger, U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte wrote, “even though mere entertainment, are nonetheless protected by the First Amendment.”

Whyte ruled the state had failed to show its law would protect “the physical and psychological well-being of children” more effectively than the video industry’s existing labeling standards and the technological controls available to parents to limit the games their children play.

Parental Control

The decision makes it 11 cases of 11 so far in which courts have ruled in favor of the video industry and against the states, citing First Amendment protection.

“States are not willing to give up even though they are losing these cases and the video industry is recovering legal fees,” said Adam Thierer, a senior fellow at the Progress & Freedom Foundation in Washington, DC.

Instead of losing court cases and paying the entertainment industry’s legal costs, Thierer argues, states should use their funds to educate parents about what video game ratings mean and how to use the parental controls already built into video game consoles.

“Those controls allow parents to perfectly restrict the gaming experience,” said Thierer. Parents also have a responsibility to exercise the power of the purse and refuse to purchase games with content they find objectionable, he said.

In April, the Federal Trade Commission released a report showing “an overall positive picture of the game rating system.” About 87 percent of parents were aware of video game ratings, according to the report. Seven in 10 parents say they use the ratings when their child wants to play a game for the first time, while 75 percent of them consult the detailed content descriptors when choosing games for their children.

Parental Awareness

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch and the Entertainment Software Rating Board launched a campaign in August to raise parental awareness of the video game rating system.

“We would much rather work with states to launch public service campaigns and educate parents and community leaders about video game ratings and content descriptors than spend time fighting laws everyone knows are unconstitutional,” said Dan Hewitt, director of media relations for the Entertainment Software Association in Washington, DC.

Hewitt said campaigns similar to Rhode Island’s will soon be under way in other states.

Sharon J. Watson ([email protected]) writes from Sugar Land, Texas.