Calif. Game Sales Law Goes to the Supreme Court

By  |  Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 4:19 pm

gavelNot content with a state appeals court decision and a trail of failed legislation in other states, California state Sen. Leland Yee is getting his wish: His fight for government regulation of violent video game sales to minors will go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The irony is beautiful when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he’s heard the “loud and clear” message to reduce deficits through budget cuts and on the same day endorses a legal pursuit that will waste taxpayer money. But here we are once more, chasing the spectre of evil, killer video games, trying to hide them with censorship so they don’t corrupt California’s precious children.

To recap, the law would ban the sale of violent video games to anyone under the age of 18. Any game that contains “especially heinous, cruel, or depraved” violence would include a 2-inch by 2-inch sticker with the number “18” on it. If a store owner is caught selling these games to minors, the retailer is fined $1,000.  Upon hearing a complaint from the games industry, a judge blocked the law, and an appeals judge agreed with the decision. Yee still isn’t giving up.

Because the state would essentially be throwing the Entertainment Software Ratings Board out the window — it’s a voluntary system by the video game industry, after all — a new, government-run system would need to be put into place. I doubt the costs of running such a system would be covered entirely by fines, especially if store owners start taking drastic measures to keep violent games out of the wrong hands, such as putting certain games behind closed doors or not selling them entirely.

So now we get to the point I’ve argued previously: Game fans of a mature age may find their favorite games behind the glass, so to speak, regardless of the games’ artistic or cultural merits. Why don’t movies and music receive the same scrutiny, even though minors are having more success buying them? Because, Yee and the state of California argue, they’re not interactive. This issue of how games affect players will likely be the focus of the debate if the Supreme moves the case forward.

There’s a sentiment among readers of GamePolitics, where I first read this story, that the Supreme Court needs to hear this case. Presumably, our top justices have nothing to gain politically from these laws, and will therefore put them to bed for good because they’re unconstitutional.

I agree with that notion. We may never be able to save the children — there are far too many other factors playing into that — but at least no more tax dollars will go to waste.



3 Comments For This Post

  1. NanoGeek Says:

    I strongly disagree with your view on the subject. You say that “the state would essentially be throwing the Entertainment Software Ratings Board out the window.” Why? From what your article says, all this will do is put an “18” sticker on the box. It will not mess with anything the ESRB is doing. You also said “Why don’t movies and music receive the same scrutiny.” Movies in the theater do, but I agree with you that they should be treated the same way as videogames. I believe that the parent should decide what the child can and can’t do, and I think that this system will allow that. If the parent wants the child to play the game, then the parent can go out and buy it. However, if the parent does not want him to, then he won’t be able to.

  2. Jason Says:

    So, um, an 18 sticker instead of the ESRB’s M (Mature 17+) label. Redundant, costly, stupid, and an effective way to increase demand for a game.

  3. Jared Newman Says:


    Excellent, then we can debate.

    Why would the state essentially throw out the ESRB? Because the proposed law is a vote of no confidence in the existing system. Even if the ESRB keeps putting its labels on games, this government system would undermine the ESRB by making its own decisions on what is too violent for minors.

    To put it another way, the government would be deciding on a game-by-game basis what content is appropriate for America’s children. Does that raise any of your free speech flags?

    I should clarify tht when I said movies and music aren’t scrutinized the same way, I meant by the government. It is not illegal for a minor to buy or see an R-rated movie; the industry enforces that voluntarily, just as the games industry does.