The court's ruling takes the onus off video stores to police who can buy violent games. It is a blow to critics who worry that they foster violent behavior and a victory for defenders of the First Amendment.
Violent video games, ones that carry the "M" rating label, are best sellers. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the California law prohibiting their sale to anyone under 18, parents are now the gatekeepers.
"I think parents have to be involved no matter what," parent Pete Perrine said. "Whether the law is there is or not, you still have to be a responsible parent and make sure you're looking at what the kids are doing."
California's law was passed in 2005, but has been tied up in the courts ever since. It would have imposed a fine of $1,000 on any store selling a violent game to a minor. Its author was State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.
"The U.S. Supreme Court decided it's going to side with corporate America and Wal-Mart against our children," Yee said.
After winning its case, the video game industry would like to see more emphasis on a voluntary rating system. All games carry such labels as "T" for teens and "M" for mature.
"The message to other states and also to California is to work with the industry on promoting the industry ESRB ratings system, making sure that parents are aware of it and feel comfortable using it," Entertainment Software Association spokesperson Michael Gallagher said.
The Supreme Court said video games should have the same First Amendment protection as movies, books and music. It dismissed arguments that children might be harmed or influenced by violence depicted in games.
That opinion did not dampen criticism.
"We see a lot of these video games are depicting law enforcement often as targets, and that's certainly not acceptable in the development of a child," San Francisco Police Deputy Chief Kevin Cashman said.
The unknown now is whether the high court's decision will make violent video games more widely available since stores will not be subject to fines.
One young person said his friends as young as fourth graders play them all the time
"I don't know if like their moms approve of it or anything, but somehow they get their hands on it," David Perrine said.
Yee hinted, but did not make a firm commitment, that a revised law might be the next step.