Hawaii has joined a growing list of states supporting a contested California law to ban the sale of violent video games to minors.
Along with top legal officials from 10 other states, the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office said it filed a brief Monday backing California’s right to regulate the objectionable material—which is being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court in October.
"California has the right to do what it did in its regulation to protect children," said state Attorney General Mark Bennett. "What California was trying to do was constitutional."
The high court hearing comes five years after the California legislature passed the video game law, which was struck down by a U.S. District Court in 2005 and by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year.
The other states joining in the legal brief to the high court are Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia.
The law outlawed sale to minors of video games depicting "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." The law was meant to target violent video games like the "Grand Theft Auto" series, which let players rape, rob and kill their way across virtual cities.
According to the appeals court ruling, California officials did not offer sufficient scientific evidence linking violence on screen with violence in the real world. The San Francisco-based appeals court said the law also restricted minors’ First Amendment rights.
Reflecting the national debate on the issue, gamers in Hawaii seem to have mixed feelings about the attorney general’s position.
"Sometimes the kids are just interested in action," said Jared Spiker, an employee at Toys n’ Joys in Kaimuki. "Other times it could draw them to be coming violent."
Like most stores in Hawaii, the toy retailer restricts the sale of video games rated "mature" by the Entertainment Software Rating Board—the video game industry’s internal regulatory body—to customers over 18 years old. According to Spiker, most minors understand the store’s policy and bring their parents in to buy the games for them. As more and more of the hottest titles earn "mature" ratings, however, some young gamers are going away disappointed.
"Sometimes, they understand," he said. "Sometimes, they get a little upset."
Jeff Young, commissioner of the Hawaii Gaming League, which hosts events for gamers of all ages, said the video games do not promote violence among children and the California law will do little to keep questionable material out of their reach. Instead, parents should educate their children on the hazards of virtual violence, Young said.