Read 8th Circuit Court Ruling on Minnesota Video Game Law... A Win, But a Close One

March 22, 2008 -

As reported by GamePolitics last week, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court  affirmed a July, 2006 U.S. District Court ruling that Minnesota's "fine the buyer" video game violence law is unconstitutional.

Now we've gotten our hands on a copy of the three-judge panel's decision. Download it here (8-page PDF). Here's a sample:

We accept as a given that the State has a compelling interest in the psychological well-being of its minor citizens. Likewise, we believe that the State’s evidence provides substantial support for its contention that violent video games have a deleterious effect upon the psychological well-being of minors. Nevertheless, in light of the heightened standard of proof that [the precedent-setting] Interactive Digital [decision] says must be applied, we conclude that the evidence falls short of establishing the statistical certainty of causation demanded thereby.

In so holding, we are not as dismissive of that evidence as have been some of the courts that have found similar evidence to be inadequate to establish the causal link between exposure to violent video games and subsequent behavior.

GP: This decision might not have gone so well for the game industry had the 8th Circuit not been faced with a precedent-setting decision in the IDSA vs. St. Louis case.


I knew way back that the St. Louis case would be critical to any future ones, as it set the tone for all the federal courts to overturn their laws.

Politicians have gotten more crafty, too. Notice how the St. Louis ordinance talked about preventing violence by minors, whereas this one tries to be broader by talking about "psychological harm", while not clearly saying what that harm would be.

"Likewise, we believe that the State’s evidence provides substantial support for its contention that violent video games have a deleterious effect upon the psychological well-being of minors"

worrying.... considering i thought there was just as much evidence to show the contrary


Yeah, one state wasted 1 million dollars in tax payer's money trying to get a video game law passed.

Well, we won, but it's getting closer now. I'm afraid the next judge/panel of judges will put their heart before the Constitution...

That's a bit unnerving, but it's also reassuring to see the judicial system do the right thing regardless of what their own personal feelings on the matter might be. Too bad politicians and a certain wannabe litigator can't do the same.

What's our record now, 10 - 0?

So...they didn't bother looking into actual requirements of scientific research before claiming merit in the "state's evidence"?

Because we've all seen the research--and biased though we may be, even if we supported Nanny State policies, that doesn't change the reality that the studies quoted by the state don't possess any scientific merit. None whatsoever. For the 8th District Court to find otherwise doesn't bode well for their understanding of scientific process (not to mention, it's kind of annoying as a gamer).

Hopefully, the rest of the courts looking at this issue won't prove themselves so ignorant in that matter. While in the long run, it's not an issue, because a review of the data given the appropriate grounding in scientific requirements for "evidence" will always disprove the merit of the state's arguments, it's troubling that such a judgment was ever made.

Considering the "evidence", it's fairly obvious gaming laws are dubious at best. The ESRB knows it's limits and has done the most it can based on it's own findings.

What bothers me is that this implies that the court might have upheld the state's law to fine children for purchasing games that a nongovernmental agency advised against them playing. This law would would of been like fining a dog because the neighbor thought that they shouldn't eat puppy chow. The ESRB ratings are mere recommendations and do NOT hold the force of law! They CAN NOT be used as a basis for a law.

How enforceable would this law be? If the mother gives little Johnny money to buy "Bloody Bikini Zombie Slayers IV" because she thinks the M rating stands for "Math", who gets fined? Can you fine a child for buying something right in front of their parent? Let's say the child uses his own money to buy the game while mommy is boozing it up at the local pub, how do you justify fining a child? How does punishing him "protect teh childrenz"?

I'm sure others have brought up similar points before, but I just had to vent!

I'm happy that the judges followed proper procedure and citing previous examples required the evidence to prove causal harm. But it worries me that they didn't examine the evidence more thoroughly (or that the opposition didn't point out the weak evidence, for that matter). It really worries me that without such strong precedent, the justices just might have made the wrong decision and potentially started us down a frightening and slippery slope. This is a victory, but it doesn't seem like a very strong one.

Hmm, I wouldn't say this was close to going the other way. By saying they weren't dismissive of the evidence means that they did consider it, but still felt it probably wouldn't be enough even if true. At least that's what I got out of it.

On a side note, comparing video games to the Bible on page 7 is a nice bonus. Be sure to bookmark that one in your brain. Then the next time someone suggest banning video games, quote Judge Wollman and ask them if they really want to open that door..

GP: illy, if you listen to the oral arguments in this case (and we've got those on GP somewhere) you'll hear that the judges were pretty sympathetic to the state's argument. I've been told by a reliable legal source who follows this field that their hands were pretty much tied by the earlier decision in the same judicial ciruit. In fact the judge writing the opinion pretty much says so...

I'm not worried much at all. All this would have meant is that the case would have gone a level higher, and the law would have been slapped back down anyway. The judges get smarter the higher up you go.

Well, at least the law didn't make it. I'm fairly positive of this ruling, even if I think it wouldn't take much to have gone the other way. At least they asked for better proof.

How many court wins do we need to unlock the bonus round?

@Simon Roberts


Sorry, you're only 2/3 of the way there.

I don't want us to win by a sliver, I want us to decimate the opposition!! Next time someone tries this, all opposing bodies of "research" should be criticized and destroyed!!!

Did the same three judges that ruled on IDSA v. St. Louis rule on this case?

That might explain the closeness of this victory.

I have played violent games since I was nine.... doom, quake, turok, etc.


No scientific studies with concrete methodology exist, that show that games cause psychological damage in the form of increased aggression.

These "studies" in the past were used not only to create ridiculous legal cases such as suing Judas Priest, but to justify legislation of or voluntary comic censorship in the 50's, movie & tv censorship, music censorship, and attempts to censor porn under Nixon.

Wheres the societal impact of the above now?

Really discomforting to know the reasonings behind the fact that this was a close win...

Nevertheless, It really wouldn't matter anyway. Because our sweet, sweet constitution says otherwise.

Is there anyway we can the people can introduce unbiased and actually scientific studies into these legal trails? I am sick and tired of judges, politicians and your average Joe being wooed by bullshit pop-psychology which tarnishes our games and our reputations as decent, law abiding citizens.

Once again, I ask: Do any of these "vidja games are bad, m'kay?" studies EVER do follow up to see if these proposed effects are permanent? NO! The damn things are so flawed by logical fallacies and terrible research techniques that they don't mean shit!

One of my favorite movies since I was 'bout seven was Fist of the North Star (the anime one, not the shitty live action one), which is essentially just 2 hours of heads exploding, and alas, you'll never see me going on a massacre. WONDER WHY NOT?

Yes!!! Common sense prevails yet again!!!

All it takes is just one misinformed judge to slip and those politicians would win...

This is the real reason why the ESRB and the big Console manufactures can't allow an AO rated game on their consoles even if it does not have any real psychological harm and no matter how big the rating is on the box, there will always be stupid people who try to control everything...

A bit unnerving but i would not be to worried... afterall, the industry could appeal and bring the issue to higher court if necessary... and as we've seen, the courts tend to side with Game industry on this issue. Frankly, i find that concluding statements to show how little the court understands those studies... it's pretty damn obvious how flawed those studies are and how weak the evidence is to support regulation. Really, saying that the violent games will damage a minors mind is more assumption than common sense... common sense tells us that if violent video games were making people violent we would have A LOT more violence in this country(not a gradual decrease since the early 1990's), and that showing off a dozen people who played video games and did something horrible means NOTHING when compared to the millions of others that go undamaged; especially when you take into account that dozen of people they could name have about a dozen other things wrong with their lives that were more likely the cause of their horrible acts...

Really, its good that the court is up to the job of holding up the laws, but its seems that its full understanding of the evidence is lacking compared to other courts... and their common sense is terribly off if they can't see that the youth violence would be a MUCH bigger problem if games really did have a such damaging effects

I'd call it a victory for the justice system... they did this ruling purely by the book... they did not give a judgment based upon their feeligns but by the evidence presented (or lack there of), and the laws that say that those studies did not show enough evidence...

If this was a case of common sense winning, the victory would have been more one sided and been more of reflection of previous judgments, as those studies would have been reconized as being very erroneous and that the state failed to prove their point... cause really, we've seen those studies and other courts have seen them, and in the end, they all fall flat hard... in fact, if you read the PDF, the final paragragh says that "common sense" says that the law should have passed...

Unlikely... the only way an accurate study could be done on this matter is if it's done over a very long period of time; a study that spans out like 5-10 years or something like that. Problem being ofcourse, The people that want these kinds of studies done are horribly impatiant and don't want to wait more than a few months to get a answer... to they commission short term studies that can't prove anything... The massive bit of irony, had they commissioned a long term study back when the issue of video game violence first started to really spark, the long term study would be just about done and we would get a damn good scientific answer on this whole issue...

What i find idiotic is how the same exact flaws pop up in a lot of studies... For one, they are all short term studies; you're gonna need a long term study to prove something is truly damaging... second, they look at ONLY videogames; even they proved somekind of problem with video games, that knowledge is worthless if the same amount of damage can be seen in other forms of media... if the study does not take other media into account, then video games can not automatically be singled out since other media could be just as bad, if not worst; Hell, it was a study conducted by the BBFC that gave the suggestion that Movies may be worse than video games... the third major flaw is the one you pointed out, that the people behind the studies approach these studies with a clear bias or agenda... they conduct these studies not to "see what the effects of violent games are on the mind" but to "prove that violent video games are damaging"... when you approach a study with such a bias, the results WILL become scewed in your favor, and we end up with a study that is unreliable; i recall that being one of the conclusions of that guy who analyzed all of the previous game studies.


Meh, leave AO games to the torrents and PC crowd. Half the games cited as reasons for these for these laws are indie games distributed over the net anyway (Or, as accurately predicted about a day before it happened, a 26 year old game not readily available anymore!) and therefore not subject to these wannabe-crusader-for-votes laws.

@ Hans Moleman

An important qualifier in those "studies" is that they refer to increased aggression. Aggression IS NOT violence. As a matter of fact, aggression can be a good thing. You don't want your defense attorney to be passive. In a life and death situation, you don't want to take a wait and see attitude. You don't want to ignore that cute girl at the bar. Aggression can be a very good thing, and some people seem to forget that.


Yep. Unless you live in a communist society or something, aggression can be downright essential.


Honestly dont these States have to pay some sort of fee to the person who won the case??

If so...damn i feel sorry for those taxpayers..

@ Hans

Don't take it personally (which makes me a hypocrite, but, eh). I say this only because it will get your blood pressure up and waste your time. And an individual's experiences won't in any way sway "them" from the view that videogames are the source of all evil and are programming our idiotically-incapable-of-understanding-reality children to murder with all the realistic weapons usage involved in pressing X.

Unfortunately, neither does the fact that youth crimes have plummeted as violent videogame play has increased. Or that billions of gamers--not all hardcore gamers who would go for the nonexistent "ultraviolent" games, but there's a healthy percentage of us--are all around the world, even in higher percentages in much less violent nations, and it's nearly impossible to find a teen who HASN'T played such games.

Nor do they care that junk science is what sparks their fears. That all the videogame violence experts don't do any actual resource before spouting their "professional opinions" and don't know what "scientific process" is, let alone statistical significance, sample size, or controls. That the "evidence" for most of their asinine claims is that some person said that some person said that Jack Thompson said that he's an expert on videogames and KNOWS that every high-profile multiple murderer was taught on Doom or Counterstrike or BOTH and that he has hallucinations that studies which have never existed prove his ideas and everyone is against him, the harried Chosen Prophet of Our Lord. Or that every politician uses the same lines which have no basis in fact.

If "they" don't care that 99.9999999999998% of avid violent-videogame players (up from around a just-as-randomly-chosen and unfounded 93.8% of non-gamers) are perfectly normal, they certainly don't care that you're another one.

@Hans Moleman

If I may add to what you said...

I might be a case worth listening to. My family has a history of schizophrenia, heart attacks, seizures, and possibly bipolar disorder. My brother is autistic. I was medicated for ADD/asperger's. I'm naturally aggressive as well. By all means, if I can't be pushed over the edge, who can?

@ Elalonna

LOL, the Politicians! They're the only ones with such malleable ethics that they can be turned to evil by the mere actions of donors, let alone some mildly violent vidya-thingamajigs!

And some lawyers.

In real life, nobody, but these people don't live in the real world. Nor in any viable virtual world, or they would know better.


How true. Aggression merely amplifies a personal quality or emotion, it does not make the person abuse it to "evil" ends.

Throw all the crackpot studies they only takes one sane gamer to disprove their Modus Tollens on the violent game connection.

I'm sure this has been pointed out before, but shielding us poor kids from sex and violence could potentially be a hundred times worse on a child then being a gamer. Imagine if a kid never knew these things until 18, and was suddenly exposed to everything?

You guys are right about what aggression means but these people only see aggression as equal to violence. It's sad when supposedly educated peoplefail to use there education properly.

JustChris: You are exactly right, that's why knowledgeable scientists don't claim theories as absolute fact. Theories are mainly hypotheses to be proven true. Nothing in the world is absolute as it constantly changes due to everything we do

[...] I could go on forever about this shit, but I’m going to wrap things up here. I’d like to say that I think it’s great to see prominent figures like Stephen King speak out about things like this. Unless you bring the idiocy of these kinds of things to the forefront, states like: Massachusetts, Arizona, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, Utah, Kansas and California, are just going to slip them into law without true opposition. And since no one really takes the gaming community seriously, it’s even better to have a non-gamer speak up and say “Hey - I think this is bullshit too”. [...]
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