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Free speech trumps violence in California ruling

by Kelly MacNeil on June 28, 2011

In a victory for the video game industry but a loss for many parent advocacy groups, the Supreme Court recently overturned a California law that had banned the sale of violent video games to minors. 

The ruling was decided by the First Amendment, which The Sydney Morning Herald points out has been used to defend a diverse array of questionable material – from animal cruelty videos to political speech by businesses.

Judge Antonin Scalia wrote that the court had never allowed governments to regulate minors' ''access to any forms of entertainment except on obscenity grounds'' and didn't have power over the ideas to which children were exposed.

Some of the most compelling evidence for the opposition was that there have been some studies linking increased aggression to kids who play violent video games. However, Scalia cited one of the experts who said that there has been a similar association found in children who watch cartoons showing characters like Bugs Bunny.

He also used fairy tale violence as an example of long-standing depictions of gruesome content geared toward children.

Two Justices voted against the verdict, making for a final ruling of 7-2.

Dissenting judge Stephen Brayer said, "What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?"

Defenders of the video game industry on a NeoGaf.net forum have argued that Brayer isn't necessarily citing an actual game, but is creating a hypothetical scenario and trying to apply it to existing video games.

"The average episode of Game of Thrones has more questionable content than the entirety of the worst M-rated games," writes one user on the thread, writing that HBO makes violence more accessible to kids than video games do.

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