US Supreme Court: Are Video Games Obscene?

On November 2, 2010, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants.  The case tests the constitutionality of a California law that bans the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.  The Court's ruling in this area will likely have a drastic impact on the status of First Amendment law. 

Supporters of the law provide studies that show a correlation between playing these video games and a desensitization to real violence.  They argue that this law gives parents more control over the actions of their children.  In terms of their legal support, supporters argue that these violent video games are akin to obscene sexual material, and the law prohibiting sale of these games to minors should be subject to a rational basis test, as opposed to strict scrutiny.

Opponents of the California law provide their own studies that deny any correlation between playing these games and the player's propensity to commit actual violence.  The law's opponents further argue that if violent video games are subject to this law, what would prevent states from prohibiting sales of books or movies that contain violence.  Further, what level of violence would the game need to contain for it to be regulated under the law.  Opponents argue that the California law restricts protected speech, and the law should accordingly be held to a strict scrutiny standard.

The transcript of the oral argument is linked above.  If you have the time, it provides interesting insight into how the US Supreme Court (and state supreme courts) have to deal with a number of legal precedent standards, statutes, and policy issues in each decision they make. 

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