Supreme Court to hear violent video game case TuesdayLONG BEACH, Calif. - Before picking up any Wii games or downloading apps on her iPhone for her two daughters, Lillian Quintero does her homework. She’ll first read reviews online and in magazines, then try them out for herself. If she thinks the games are engaging and educational enough, 4-year-old Isabella and 2-year-old Sophia are free to play.
“I know there’s going to be a point where they get these things on their own,” said the 35-year-old mother from Long Beach, Calif. “We’re not going to be there to monitor everything. That’s why the most important thing is communication, instilling morals and values in them and helping them to understand certain boundaries. There’s only so much you can do.”
Quintero and her husband, Jorge, are some of the parents who support a California law that seeks to ban the sale and rental of violent games to children. The law, which has bounced around the legal system like a game of “Pong” since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger first signed it in 2005, was declared unconstitutional last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday about the federal court’s decision to throw out California’s ban on violent games, marking the first time a case involving the interactive medium itself has gone before the Supreme Court.
It’s another sign that the $20 billion-a-year industry, long considered to be just child’s play, is now all grown up.
California’s measure would have regulated games more like pornography than movies, prohibiting the sale or rental of games that give players the option of “killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being” to anyone under the age of 18. Only retailers would be punished with fines of up to $1,000 for each infraction.
The federal court said the law violated minors’ constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the state lacked enough evidence to prove violent games cause physical and psychological harm to minors. Courts in six other states, including Michigan and Illinois, have reached similar conclusions, striking down parallel violent game bans.
Under California’s law, only adults would be able to purchase games like “Postal 2,” the first-person shooter by developer Running With Scissors that features the ability to light unarmed bystanders on fire, and “Grand Theft Auto IV,” the popular third-person sandbox game from developer Rockstar that allows gamers to portray a carjacking, gun-toting gangster.
The Quinteros, like most supporters, believe the law will protect children from buying such violent titles, while gamers and free speech advocates think California’s ban could lead to strict federal regulation on the content of games and other media. All agree, however, that the graphically rich medium has come a long way from 8-bit tennis matches.
The average age of gamers is 34, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and many are paying close attention to the Supreme Court case. The Entertainment Consumers Association, which lobbies on behalf of gamers, is organizing a rally outside the Supreme Court building Tuesday as “a way of sending a strong message and uniting gamers.”