Supreme Court ruling could affect video game industry 

A closely watched U.S. Supreme Court decision on the fate of a California law that would bar minors from buying or renting “ultraviolent” video games could come as soon as today.

Both the video game industry and free-speech groups oppose the ban, which was authored by state Sen. Leland Yee and signed into law in 2005 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was later struck down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, was hopeful about the outcome Sunday, saying the law could become a national model.

“My sense of it is that the Supreme Court will in fact either rule in our favor or at least provide a direction as to what it would take to have a legally defensible video game bill, so that not only my state but other states ... will have a pathway as to how to protect our children,” he said.

Yee, a child psychologist, said studies show a link between playing violent video games and an increase in aggressive or antisocial behavior.

In one of the games that could be covered by the law, “Postal 2,” players can shoot both police officers and unarmed people, decapitate schoolgirls with a shovel and pour gasoline on injured victims and then urinate on them, according to proponents of the ban.

Attorneys for the industry have argued that video games are no different from art, literature or movies that depict violence, and they are protected by the First Amendment.

The California law “is the latest in a long history of overreactions to new expressive media,” industry lawyers wrote in court filings, arguing that “there is no evidence of any real problem in need of government intervention.”
But Yee said that unlike books or movies, video games are interactive and thus different.

“So there is then this brain connection that is developed, that you caused this sort of behavior,” he said.

The case appears to have split the high court along unusual philosophical lines.

In arguments before the court in November, Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin said, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and liberal San Franciscan Justice Stephen Breyer “seemed very much in our corner,” while conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg “seemed very much against us.”

States, and Puerto Rico, have differed on the subject. Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia submitted briefs in favor of the law, while Georgia, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah and Washington opposed it.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

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Ari Burack

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