The game seems to be over for those seeking to ban the sale or rental of violent video games to children after the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the government doesn't have the authority to "restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed."
Gamemakers celebrated the high court's decision, as did Grapevine-based GameStop, the world's largest video game retailer. One local parent decried violent games but said it's her role as a parent to police what her children view.
The high court voted 7-2 to reject California's 2005 law covering games sold or rented to those under 18, calling it an unconstitutional violation of free-speech rights. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said, "Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply."
Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision, with Breyer saying it makes no sense to legally block children's access to pornography yet allow them to buy or rent brutally violent video games.
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More than 46 million American households have at least one video game system, and the industry brought in at least $18 billion last year. The industry has set up its own rating system using the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, similar to the one used by movie studios and theaters. ESRB assigns one of eight ratings, then blocks the sale to children of games rated M for "mature" and AO for "adults only."
The California law, which never went into effect, would have prohibited anyone under 18 from buying or renting games that give players the option of "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." Retailers who sold those games directly to minors would have faced fines of up to $1,000 for each game.
"We are pleased with today's decision," GameStop said in a statement. "As the leading retailer in ESRB ratings compliance, GameStop continues to believe that the video game industry's voluntary ratings system and our committed associates, not legislation, are the best ways to ensure age-appropriate video games make it into the hands of our younger customers." GameStop operates 6,670 stores in about 20 countries.
Kyleen Wright, a Mansfield mother of four sons, said she doesn't like violent video games but realizes that they're part of growing up.
"Boys have always been fascinated with war, and cops and robbers, and some of this is a modern-day version of that," she said.
Wright, whose sons are 16, 18, 19 and 21, sets limits on profanity, makes sure the games do not degrade women and does not allow games that police come out against, especially those that may encourage crime. She has an arrangement with Blockbuster and other rental stores to call her if one of her sons wants a game that is over a certain rating.
"It's up to me to approve it or not," said Wright, president of the Texans for Life Coalition. "You've got to give parents the information and let them decide what is going on.
"Even some of the strictest parents let their kids play the games. They wear you down at some point."
Michael D. Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association, which represents the industry, said that "after today, I expect now you're going to see ... more promotion of the ESRB." He said the court decision didn't create new rights for the industry," but "affirmed the rights that we believed we had all along."
In recent years, such kid-friendly games as choreography simulator Just Dance 2 competed atop the sales charts against military shoot-'em-ups like Call of Duty: Black Ops. Last month, four M-rated games were among the 10 top-selling titles, according to NPD Group, which tracks the sales of games at retailers.
"I don't think this ruling will change how people make games," said Simon Carless, publisher of Game Developer magazine. "There are obviously many games about war, but there are plenty of other games about puzzles. I think games will continue to diversify. I think even the concept of video games that are all about violence is quite outdated now."
But the battle may not be over.
Leland Yee, a child psychologist and California state senator who wrote the video game ban, said Monday that he was reading the dissents, looking for a way to rewrite the law to make it constitutional.
"It's disappointing the court didn't understand just how violent these games are," Yee told the AP.
Staff writers Anna M. Tinsley and Scott Nishimura contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.