Does the First Amendment bar a state from restricting the sale of violent video games to minors? That’s the question now before the Supreme Court in a case that will be argued next fall.
In Schwarzenegger v. Video Software Dealers Association, the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit overturned a California statute that would impose fines for selling violent video games to minors. Just last week the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects violent images depicting cruelty to animals. What’s different in this case? The main difference is that California defends the law on the grounds that it protects minors. The Court of Appeals, like many other courts before it, held that there is no evidence that playing such games causes any actual harms to minors.
This is a familiar debate. In 1948, the Supreme Court rejected the claim that graphic crime stories and reports corrupt minors and contribute to juvenile crime and anti-social behavior. The Court reasoned that the First Amendment doesn’t only apply to “worthy” material or to “the exposition of ideas,” because the “line between the informing and the entertaining is too elusive for the protection of that basic right.”
This hasn’t stopped states from repeatedly trying to restrict video game sales to minors – providing numerous opportunities for NCAC to argue that video games are entitled to full First Amendment protection. So far, that argument has carried the day. Let’s hope it prevails, again, in the Supreme Court.