Matt Lonsdale is a JD candidate at Dalhousie University
The average teenager may not pay much attention to the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, but they might want to make an exception for Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association today. The case is a challenge to a 2005 California law which prohibits the sale of violent video games to minors. Lower courts have prevented the law from going into effect, finding there was insufficient evidence on the effects of playing violent video games to justify the impairment of minors’ First Amendment rights. The case is being widely watched and 11 other states have already expressed interest in enacting a similar law in the event California’s is upheld.
The video game industry sees this as a free speech issue and feels that the voluntary rating system already in place for video games is sufficient to protect minors. Ted Price, the President of Insomniac Games Inc. referred to the “chilling effect” this law could have and noted: “we will self-restrict for fear of our games falling under the language in this law”. The Entertainment Merchants Association called the law “unnecessary, unwarranted and unconstitutional”.
Proponents of the law argue that the threat to free speech is overrated, and that this is primarily an issue of protecting children. “The First Amendment rights of minors are not coextensive with the rights of adults,” argues the state, as youngsters lack the capacity to make informed decisions regarding video games. Democrat State Senator Leland Yee, the law’s author, says, “I’m a supporter of the First Amendment. This is about not making ultra violent video games available to children.” Common Sense Media founder James Steyer is similarly unfazed, “I wouldn’t compare videogames to Shakespeare”.