Among the extensive list of decisions handed down by the Supreme Court this morning, one of the more salient decisions, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), upheld the ruling of lower courts that a California law (CA Law AB 1179) banning the sale of violent video games to minors is unconstitutional. In a 7-2 decision, with Justice Scalia delivering the opinion of the majority, the Court ruled that video games be granted First Amendment protections given that there is no proven causal relation between violent video game use and youth violence.
While the law was certainly written with good intentions, the consequences of enacting it in full would be dire. It would strip away the current game rating system, created by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), and implement a one-size-fits-all rating of 18+. The ESRB system has seven age ratings, and thirty content descriptors (eight of which describe different types of violence). Therefore, by enacting the California policy, these useful descriptors would be taken away and replaced with the vague “18+” label.
In the opinion of the majority, Justice Scalia wrote that the California law would set a terrible precedent for speech as the language of the bill has a rather vague definition of violence. Scalia questioned whether or not the descriptors of violence within the bill could be extended to classic works (Grimm’s fairy tales, The Odyssey, etc.) that contain violence as a pervasive theme. Thus, the Court’s majority saw that the California law is discriminatory solely toward the video game industry and ignores the fact that children are exposed to violence in more ways than the banned video games.
By declaring the video game ban unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has ensured that the power to raise one’s children is placed back in the hands of parents, rather than faceless bureaucrats.