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Louisiana rejects ban on violent video games

An 'invasion of First Amendment rights', judge declares

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A Louisiana judge has declared that a proposed state ban on sales of violent video games to minors "violates free speech rights and cannot be enforced", Reuters reports.

US District Judge James Brady ruled last Thursday that the state "had no right to bar distribution of materials simply because they show violent behaviour".

Brady called the ban an "invasion of First Amendment rights" of manufacturers, retailers and end-user minors, and stated: "Depictions of violence are entitled to full constitutional protection."

The law suggested a ban the sales of video games to minors "if an 'average person' would conclude that they appeal to a 'morbid interest in violence'," as well as the "sale of games to minors if the average person would conclude they depict violence that is 'patently offensive' to an adult, and the games lack artistic, political or scientific value". Retailers faced $2,000 fines, a year in prison or both for selling such material to minors.

In response to the state's claim that "video games should be treated differently from other forms of media because their interactive format can encourage violence", Judge Brady wrote: "This argument has been rejected many times," citing other judges' rulings that "movies and television also have interactive elements".

Brady further rejected the state's argument that "video games depicting extreme violence can be 'psychologically harmful' to minors". He wrote: "The state may not restrict video game expression merely because it dislikes the way that expression shapes an individual's thoughts and attitudes."

Louisiana now joins California, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota in legally rejecting the ban. Reuters notes that an Illinois judge earlier this month ordered the state to pay legal costs totalling $510,000 to three business groups - including the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) - fighting the ban locally.

ESA president Douglas Lowenstein slammed Governor Kathleen Blanco and state lawmakers for "approving the law while struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina".

He said in a statement: "In the post-Katrina era, voters should be outraged that the Legislature and governor wasted their tax dollars on this ill-fated attack on video games."

Blanco countered in a statement last Friday that she "believes violent video games harm children". She added: "I'm calling on all parents to diligently monitor the video games that their children are allowed to play. If the courts cannot protect our children, then we need to do it by rejecting the merchant of violence." ®

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