The US Supreme Court has agreed to rule on the constitutionality of a Californian law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, according to the SCOTUS blog. The case is expected to decide whether states constitutionally can ban the supply of violent video games to under 18s. The
In a nutshell, it seems that the legal argument at issue here is whether anti-obscenity legislation/principles can be applied to the supply of violent games. More detail on that at SCOTUS.
I don’t profess to have US judicial expertise, particularl not when it comes to the Supreme Court. That said, in general terms:
- Trying to use obsenity legislation to control the dissemination of violent video games, rather than using specific video games legislation, seems like quite a legal fudge. The reason as I understnad is that previous attempts in the US to introduce bans on violent video games have been subject to constitutional challenge.
- Using specific legal doctrines like obscenity in other contexts has had a pretty mixed record elswhere. For example, in the UK there was an attempt some years ago to use old English anti-blasphemy laws to ban the publication of Salman Rushdie’s controversial book The Satanic Verses. The court gave that argument little truck: the purpose of those antiquated laws was not to control the modern consumption of literature unless Parliament was expressly to decide it should.
- Of course, the idea of any form of ban on the supply of violent video games leads quickly to the well worn debate of exactly whether and why violent video games are bad. Everyone has their own view on this, so I shan’t impose mine on you. I will say though that in Europe this is primarily a cultural debate rather than a legal debate, since most European jurisdictions already have laws regulating the supply of violent or otherwise adult games to minors. In the UK, for example, the Digital Economy Act has just amended the law on video game classification to require mandatory age ratings for games supplied to under 12s. None of which excited any constitutional controversy at all (though we have a rather different approach to civil rights in the UK).
If any US readers have greater knowledge about this case than me (which won’t be hard!), please do get in touch…