Video game court battle brews

Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal Jacob Angel, 17, plays 'Call of Duty' at the Play N Trade video game store on B Street in downtown San Mateo Wednesday.

In an attempt to prevent retailers from selling ultra-violent video games to children, state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, is appealing to the federal Supreme Court to hear the case.

Yee joined the California Psychiatric Association and the California Psychological Association in submitting a brief of amicus curiae or "friend of the court” yesterday.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 1179 in 2005 that prevented the sale or rental of extremely violent video games to minors.

Yee authored the bill that was subsequently struck down in state court. Several other states also passed similar laws that were also ruled unconstitutional in court.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown is also preparing a amicus curiae for the Supreme Court, which reconvenes in September. If the court so chooses, it will then decide whether to conduct a hearing. After a hearing is conducted, the court will then decide whether to hear arguments, Yee said.

"If a parent wants to buy a violent game for their child that’s up to them. What this law does is just prevent the direct sale of extremely violent games by retailers to minors,” Yee said.

Yee’s 2005 law proposed a $1,000 fine for any retailer caught violating the law.

But the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit shot that law down in February stating that, "minors are entitled to a significant measure of First Amendment protection, and only in relatively narrow and well-defined circumstances may government bar public dissemination of protected materials to them” in the case Video Software Dealers v. Schwarzenegger, case No. 07-16620.

Orlando Mejia, owner of Play N Trade video game store on San Mateo’s B Street, sides with the court on this one.

"My position is it should be up to the parents,” Mejia said.

The store does have its own policy requiring parental permission for children who attempt to buy games rated "M” for mature.

"As adults we share responsibility. We don’t even allow for mature games to be played in the store when children are present,” Mejia said. "But it shouldn’t be mandated by the government.”

Jacob Angel, 17, was playing "Call of Duty” at the downtown San Mateo store Wednesday.

"Doesn’t the government have bigger fish to fry?” Angel said. "What’s next. Will they ban television shows now, too? Anyway, even if the law does pass kids will still get the games. They might even steal them.”

Angel said his generation has grown up with the violent games and said playing them doesn’t make him violent.

But Yee and the child psychologists groups are sitting on tons of research they are prepared to use in court that supports the notion violent games make for violent kids.

More than 3,000 peer-reviewed studies suggest playing ultra-violent video games by children, "increase aggressive thought and behavior; increase antisocial behavior and delinquency; engender poor school performance; desensitize the game player to violence; and reduce activity in the frontal lobes of the brain. Notably, extended play has been observed to depress activity in the frontal cortex of the brain which controls executive thought and function ... .”

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: silverfarb@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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