That means that children would have needed an adult to get games like "Postal 2," the first-person shooter by developer Running With Scissors that features the ability to light unarmed bystanders on fire. It would also apply to the popular "Grand Theft Auto IV," a third-person shoot-'em-up from Rockstar Games that allows gamers to portray carjacking, gun-toting gangsters.
The California law never took effect. Lower courts have said the law violates minors' constitutional rights, and that California lacked enough evidence to prove that violent games cause physical and psychological harm to minors. Courts in six other states, including Michigan and Illinois, reached similar conclusions, striking down similar bans.
Unlike depictions of "sexual conduct," Scalia said, there is no tradition in the United States of restricting children's access to depictions of violence, pointing out the violence in the original depiction of many popular children's fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Snow White.
Hansel and Gretel kill their captor by baking her in an oven, Cinderella's evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves and the evil queen in Snow White is forced to wear red hot slippers and dance until she is dead, Scalia said.
"Certainly the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — contain no shortage of gore," Scalia added.
And there is no definitive proof that violent video games cause harm to children, or any more harm than another other form of entertainment, he said.
One doctor "admits that the same effects have been found when children watch cartoons starring Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner or when they play video games like Sonic the Hedgehog that are rated 'E' or even when they 'view a picture of a gun," Scalia said. "Of course, California has (wisely) declined to restrict Saturday morning cartoon, the sale of games rated for young children, or the distribution of pictures of guns."
Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, said the decision created "a constitutional authorized end-run on parental authority."
"I wonder what other First Amendment right does a child have against their parents' wishes?" he said. "Does a child now have a constitutional right to bear arms if their parent doesn't want them to buy a gun? How far does this extend? It's certainly concerning to us that something as simple as requiring a parental oversight to purchase an adult product has been undermined by the court."
The case is Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 08-1448.
Associated Press Writer Paul Elias and Derrik J. Lang contributed to this story.
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