NASHVILLE, Tenn. The state of California is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the fate of a law that would prevent minors from buying or renting violent or otherwise adult-themed video games.
The bill, which was signed into law in 2005, would have fined retailers $1,000 for each time they were caught selling and renting "ultraviolent" games to minors and would have required game publishers to add more labeling for such games.
But the law never went into effect because a U.S. district court judge said it violated the First Amendment. In February, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the ruling, though they acknowledged some of the games digitally depict "what most people would agree amounts to murder, torture or mutilation."
Jerry Brown, California's attorney general, said the matter deserves the attention of the high court.
"California's children are exposed every day to video games that glamorize killing sprees, torture and sexual assault," Brown said. "In the face of this brutal violence, I am petitioning the Supreme Court to allow the state to enforce its reasonable ban on violent video game sales and rentals to minors."
The law's author, Sen. Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco, applauded the state's decision to appeal.
"California's violent video game law properly seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of excessively violent, interactive video games," Yee, a child psychologist, said. "I am hopeful that the Supreme Court which has never heard a case dealing with violent video games will accept our appeal and assist parents in keeping these harmful video games out of the hands of children.
"I believe the high court will uphold this law as constitutional," Yee said. "In fact in Roper v. Simmons, the court agreed we need to treat children differently in the eyes of the law due to brain development."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sided with parents who want to protect their children from inappropriate content.
"I signed this important measure to ensure parents are involved in determining which video games are appropriate for their children," Schwarzenegger said. "By prohibiting the sale of violent video games to children under the age of 18 and requiring these games to be clearly labeled, this law would allow parents to make better informed decisions for their kids.
"I will continue to vigorously defend this law and protect the well-being of California's kids," the governor said.
The Entertainment Software Association, the main video game industry organization, said the law is a waste of money.
"California's citizens should see this for what it is -- a complete waste of the state's time and resources," Michael Gallagher, president of the ESA, said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "California is facing a $21 billion budget shortfall coupled with high unemployment and home foreclosure rates. Rather than focus on these very real problems, Gov. Schwarzenegger has recklessly decided to pursue wasteful, misguided and pointless litigation."
The ESA said courts have ruled 12 times in the past eight years that video games are protected speech. But the Supreme Court has ruled in various instances that the law can limit minors' access to material, including pornography, alcohol, tobacco and various licenses and permits.
Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, said the California law was designed to enforce the video game industry's own guidelines not to sell video games rated mature and adults-only to minors.
"If the industry actually followed its own rules, then this law would have absolutely no financial impact whatsoever on the industry," Winter said. "But of course the industry doesn't follow its own rules, and they don't want a consequence for violating them. Video game retailers, developers and publishers actually profit when their age restriction policy is ignored. This creates an inherent and unworkable conflict of interest.
"We hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case and rule in favor of the families and children that this California law was intended to protect," Winter said.
A study by the Parents Television Council found that video game retailers sell mature-rated games to minors 36 percent of the time.