Showbiz calls for end to vidgame ban

Orgs file brief with Supreme Court in challenge to law

A slew of entertainment industry orgs have joined together to file a brief with the Supreme Court in support of the vidgame biz’s efforts to overturn California’s ban on the sale or rental of violent vidgames to minors.

The biz’s concern is that the law restricting the sale of vidgames because of their content could have far-reaching First Amendment implications. The issue at stake in the challenge to the law isn’t whether publishers can make violent games, but whether states can impose sales restrictions on those titles — effectively declaring them to be on the same level as pornography and therefore able to legally limit their sale to adults.

But some worry that the case could be a threat to developers’ First Amendment rights, along with the industry’s overall financial health. The case pressed by the Entertainment Software Assn. is skedded for oral arguments before the high court on Nov. 2.

Most of the biz’s prominent trade orgs and guilds signed on to the amicus brief, including the MPAA, National Assn. of Theater Owners, Independent Film and TV Alliance, DGA, WGA West, PGA, SAG and AFTRA.

“While parents have an undoubted interest in making informed judgments concerning the suitability of exposing their children to potentially objectionable content, (California has) failed to show that the government’s assistance is necessary to serve that interest,” the orgs wrote. “And the fundamental lesson of the motion picture industry is that self-regulation can sufficiently enable parents to exercise their right to make informed judgments concerning movie content.”

The coalition says it believes if the California law were to stand, it would have a “dramatic chilling effect on the motion picture industry.”

In 2005, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the controversial law, which prohibited the sale or rental of violent video games to minors and imposed a strict labeling requirement on games. The video game industry immediately appealed — and a series of courts sided with game publishers, saying the state did not have the right to regulate sales of titles because it did not produce sufficient evidence that the games cause physical or psychological harm to minors.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the law.

Action games, as a category, make up 20% of all video games sold, according to the Entertainment Software Assn. They’re also quite often the ones that bring in the most money. New “Grand Theft Auto 4” and “Halo” launches are full-scale entertainment events.

The just released “Halo: Reach,” for example, took in $200 million in its first 24 hours. And last year’s “Modern Warfare 2” set a record as the most successful entertainment launch of all time, taking in $401 million in its first 24 hours.

While the videogame industry self regulates, much like film, it’s not a foolproof system. Teens are frequent players of the games. The California law imposes fines of up to $1,000 for anyone who sells a violent game to minors.

The industry doesn’t argue that children should be playing these games, but it fears regulation could lead to further court rulings that would restrict the First Amendment rights of developers.