U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh ruled on Friday that a state lawto anyone under 17 years of age is unconstitutional because those forms of entertainment are protected by the First Amendment's freedom of expression clause.
"Video games are a form of creative expression that are constitutionally protected under the First Amendment," Steeh ruled. "They contain original artwork, graphics, music, story lines and characters similar to movies and television shows, both of which are considered protected free speech."
The ruling (click here for PDF) represents another setback to politicians and anti-game activists who have mounted a state-by-state campaign for such restrictions. In the last few years, the 7th and 8th Circuit courts of appeal, plus federal judges in Washington, Illinois and California .
"As long as they keep losing and most of the time don't even appeal, things are unlikely to change," said Paul Smith, a partner at the Jenner and Block law firm who is representing the Entertainment Software Association and the Video Software Dealers Association in the lawsuit.
One reason for the judicial skepticism is that academic studies have not established a link between simulated violence in video games and real-world action. (Under Supreme Court precedent, such a link between simulated violence and "imminent lawless action" would be necessary to make those laws constitutional.)
Craig Anderson, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, offered testimony on behalf of Michigan, saying that simulated violence can become "automatized" with repeated exposure.
But Steeh, in a 17-page opinion, said that "despite this claim, Dr. Anderson's studies have not provided any evidence that the relationship between violent video games and aggressive behavior exists. His tests fail to prove that video games have ever caused anyone to commit a violent act, as opposed to feeling aggressive, or have caused the average level of violence to increase anywhere."
Politicians who support more laws targeting video games have, however, been trying to write large checks to researchers they hope will come up with more compelling studies. Last month, Democratic senators Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Hillary Clinton of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinoisto approve a sweeping study of the "impact of electronic media use."
Last year's news about aembedded in Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" also has . (Rockstar, a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive, has said the so-called Hot Coffee modification--which permits a player to simulate sex with a woman--was the work of hackers who performed "significant technical modifications and reverse-engineering" of the game.)