Two trade groups representing video game makers filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to overturn the recently passed California law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

The Video Software Dealers Association (search) and Entertainment Software Association (search) contend the law is unconstitutional and violates First Amendment free speech rights, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

The suit names Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), who signed the bill earlier this month, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer (search) and other local officials.

The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, bans retailers from selling or renting violent video games to those 17 and under, imposes a $1,000 fine on violators and mandates stricter product labeling. It is similar to legislation that other states passed earlier this year after hidden sex scenes were discovered in a popular game, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (search)."

Public complaints also spurred a Federal Trade Commission investigation and a new rating for the "San Andreas" game from "M" for mature to "AO" for adults only.

Schwarzenegger defended the law, saying it helped parents determine which video games were appropriate for their children.

"I believe strongly that we must give parents the tools to help them protect their children," the governor said in a statement. "I will do everything in my power to preserve this new law and I urge the attorney general to mount a vigorous defense of California's ability to prevent the sale of these games to children."

The industry groups, which have similar court cases pending in Illinois and Michigan, equated the California law to "content-based censorship" in its latest lawsuit. "Video games are a form of artistic expression much like other forms of protected expression, such as movies, books and music," the lawsuit said.

Industry representatives say they are confident the California law will fail to survive the legal challenge as federal courts have struck down similar statutes in recent years.

"It is not up to any industry or the government to set standards for what kids can see or do; that is the role of parents," said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association.