Judge Declares California Violent Game Bill Unconstitutional, Schwarzenegger Vows Revenge (Updated)

Update: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office released a statement today saying the governor will appeal the ruling of District Judge Ronald Whyte. Whyte declared a California bill restricting the sale of violent games to minors unconstitutional in a lawsuit brought against the governor by the games industry.

"I signed this important measure to ensure that parents are involved in determining which video games are appropriate for their children. The bill I signed would require that violent video games be clearly labeled and not be sold to children under 18 years old. Many of these games are made for adults and choosing games that are appropriate for kids should be a decision made by their parents," said Schwarzenegger in a prepared statement. "I will vigorously defend this law and appeal it to the next level."

Original Story: A federal district court judge declared the 2005 California bill restricting the sale of violent games to minors unconstitutional today, effectively closing the book on the legislation. Northern California District Judge Ronald Whyte had already passed a preliminary injunction against the bill in late 2005 in response to a complaint filed by the Video Software Dealers association, now defunct, and the Entertainment Software Association.

If not for the injunction, Assembly Bill 1179--introduced by Senator Leland Yee and signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in October 2005--would have gone into effect January 1, 2006. The bill aimed to stick retailers with a $1,000 fine if they sold to minors games depicting "serious injury to human beings in a manner that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel." It also would have created a label separate from the ESRB system to designate which games contained said depictions of violence.

Judge Whyte's ruling lists many factors that contribute to making the bill unconstitutional. He says the bill's definition of violence as listed is too broad. "The definition could literally apply to some classic literature if put in the form of a video game," he writes.

Whyte also says that the evidence presented by those in support of a causal link between video game violence and real world violence--particularly the work of Iowa State University psychology professor Craig Anderson--does not justify extraneous regulations on their sale. He writes:

However, at this point, there has been no showing that violent video games as defined in the Act, in the absence of other violent media, cause injury to children.

In addition, the evidence does not establish that video games, because of their interactive nature or otherwise, are any more harmful than violent television, movies, internet sites or other speech-related exposures. Although some reputable professional individuals and organizations have expressed particular concern about the interactive nature of video games, there is no generally-accepted study that supports that concern.

There has also been no detailed study to differentiate between the effects of violent videos on minors of different ages.