Supreme Court appears skeptical of California video game law

A California law that prevents the sale of violent video games to minors may end up being struck down in the US Supreme Court as justices appeared to question its constitutionality. At issue is the First Amendment right of the video game developers, which may be infringed by the application of the law.

Justices suggested that if California was to ban violent video games, then it would also need to ban other violent forms of media. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, historically a more liberal voice on the court, may have summarized the overall sentiment of the court best by saying, "what makes video games so special?"

California's law would ban games that include the "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." Those that violate the law could be subject to fines of up to $1,000 per incident.

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California passed the measure in October 2005, and likely was helped along by the scandal surrounding sexual content in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas earlier that year.

A district judge shot down the law in December of that year, and an appeals court affirmed that decision in February of last year. Each time, First Amendment issues were cited as the reason for their decisions.

The issue of a ban could also affect the video game industry's bottom line. Games rated "M" for mature are their best selling titles, and restricting those sales could hurt the industry financially. Additionally, allowing the law to stand could lead to bans on other violent content.

Nearly every law passed by state legislatures regarding violent video games have been successfully overturned by the courts. The California case is one of the first to make it all the way to the Supreme Court, however. The state is arguing that it should be permitted to restrict sales just as the sale of sexual content is already restricted to those over the age of 18.

A ruling in the case is expected by June 2011.

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