LONG BEACH, Calif. (CBS/AP) The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday about a federal court's decision to throw out California's ban on violent video games, marking the first time a case involving the interactive medium itself has gone before the Supreme Court.
It's a sign that the $20 billion-a-year video game industry, long considered to be just child's play, is now all grown up.
California's measure would have regulated games more like pornography than movies, prohibiting the sale or rental of games that give players the option of "killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" to anyone under the age of 18.
But only retailers would be punished with fines of up to $1,000 for each infraction.
Last year the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the law violated minors' constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments, and the state lacked enough evidence to prove violent games cause physical and psychological harm to minors. Courts in six other states, including Michigan and Illinois, have reached similar conclusions, striking down parallel violent game bans.
Under California's law, only adults would be able to purchase games like "Grand Theft Auto IV," the popular third-person shoot-'em-up from Rockstar Games that allows gamers to portray carjacking, gun-toting gangsters.
The average age of gamers is 34, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and many are paying close attention to the Supreme Court case. The Entertainment Consumers Association, which lobbies on behalf of gamers, is organizing a rally outside the Supreme Court building Tuesday as "a way of sending a strong message and uniting gamers."
"It's not so much a video game case as a First Amendment case," said George Rose, chief public policy officer at Activision Blizzard Inc., the Santa Monica, Calif.-based publisher of the popular "Call of Duty" and "Guitar Hero" gaming franchises. The game-maker filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing California's ban, which was never enforced.
Opponents of the ban have called the measure unnecessary because virtually all major game publishers and retailers employ a universal voluntary rating system, much like movie studios and theaters, that assigns one of eight age-specific ratings to games, then blocks the sale of games that are rated M for "mature" and AO for "adults only" to children.
The Parents Television Council, which supports California's ban on violent games, conducted its own secret shopper campaign this year with children between the ages of 12 and 16 attempting to buy M-rated games at 109 stores in 14 states. The group found 21 instances of retailers, including Target, Kmart, Sears and Best Buy, selling M-rated games to minors.