California videogame law overturned

Judge: State can't ban sales to minors

California has become the eighth state to see a law regulating videogames overturned, as a federal district court judge on Monday issued a permanent injunction against the a bill signed into law in late 2005.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement later in the day saying that he will appeal the ruling.

Law, written and sponsored by State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), would have banned the sale of certain videogames deemed to be “violent” to persons under 18. That would have most likely included M-rated games with violence and sexuality, such as the “Grand Theft Auto” series.

Judge Ronald Whyte of the Federal Court in San Jose previously issued a temporary injunction preventing the law from going into effect on Jan. 1, 2006, and he issued a permanent injunction on Monday.

“I am extremely disappointed by the judge’s decision to invalidate our law,” Yee told Daily Variety. “This was not about going after an industry. It was always about protecting kids.”

Vidgame retailers, however, considered the law an assault on their right to self-regulate, as the movie and TV industries do, and celebrated the ruling.

“It is now time for the California legislature to move beyond political grandstanding and accept the videogame industry’s invitation to work with them to educate the public about videogame ratings and encourage parents to utilize those ratings when selecting videogames for their families,” Bo Anderson, prexy of the Entertainment Merchants Assn., said in a statement.

Backers of the bill took some solace, however, in the fact that Whyte wrote that the state may have an interest in regulating vidgames. Other rulings have given videogames the same broad First Amendment protections as other media.

“If exposing minors to depictions of violence in videogames makes them experience feelings of aggression and exhibit violent antisocial or aggressive behavior, the state could have a compelling interest in restricting minors’ access to such material,” he wrote.

However, Whyte ultimately found that the law’s wording was vague, noting that its definition would ban some “classic literature” in videogame form and that it doesn’t differentiate between the impact of vidgame violence on older teenagers and on young children.

Whyte also found that California has not demonstrated that industry self-regulation is insufficient, nor that there is a direct causal connection between videogames and violence among minors.

New York is in the midst of trying to regular the vidgame industry. A bill passed that state’s Senate and Assembly in the spring, and Gov. Elliott Spitzer is expected to sign it.