Supreme Court OKs Violent Game Sales to Minors

Dennis Faas's picture

The Supreme Court recently reached a ruling that will be seen by many as a victory for makers of violent video games.

At least seven states have passed legislation that bans the sale of violent games, but in every case that legislation was overturned by a lower court. California, which passed such a law in 2005 and was immediately blocked from enforcing it, was the first to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The California law caused immediate controversy: while it only banned sales where the content was "patently offensive," the threshold also required prosecutors to show a game lacked "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." Critics of the law said that was an inappropriate rule as it required a court to make an artistic judgment.

Parallels with Mature Subject Matter

The state of California argued that violent video games present more risk of harm to children because they are a more interactive experience than, say, adult-related film or gory films.

The court rejected those arguments, upholding the block on the law by seven votes to two.

Judge Antonin Scalia noted that the mature movie argument didn't apply, as the case related to violence rather than explicit content, and that there are many other forms of media (such as books and cartoons) that are allowed to contain violence despite being available to, or even specifically aimed at, minors. (Source:

Choose Your Own Adventure Gets Mention

In a particularly unlikely moment in Supreme Court history, Scalia also cited the "choose your own adventure" genre of teen/children's books as an example of interactivity in media that contained violent themes.

Still, there appeared to be hope for the ban. Only five judges outright rejected it, while the remaining two judges who found against a ban said the problem was that the terms of the ban were too vague.

That means that a carefully-worded ban could find favor with the Supreme Court if only one judge changed his or her position, or if a departing judge was replaced by one with different views. (Source:

It should be noted that despite the lack of legislation, most major video game companies and retailers subscribe to a voluntary ratings system designed to limit the availability of violent games to particular age groups.

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