Posted on June 28 2011 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
After a long and hard-fought battle, the Supreme Court has finally resolved the issue of a California law that would ban the sale of violent video games to minors. The court ruled 7-2 against the law, asserting that video games like any other media are protected by the First Amendment as free speech. What else can I say? It’s about freaking time.
For those interested about the legal mumbo-jumbo, there’s a long court document detailing the entire decision for you to weed through. I’ve tried to pick out some of the more important bits and collected them below:
The most basic principle—that government lacks the power to restrict expression because of its message, ideas, subject matter, or content, Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 535 U. S. 564, 573—is subject to a few limited exceptions for historically unprotected speech, such as obscenity, incitement, and fighting words. But a legislature cannot create new categories of unprotected speech simply by weighing the value of a particular category against its social costs and then punishing it if it fails the test. Unlike the New York law upheld in Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U. S. 629, California’s Act does not adjust the boundaries of an existing category of unprotected speech to ensure that a definition designed for adults is not uncritically applied to children. Instead, the State wishes to create a wholly new category of content-based regulation that is permissible only for speech directed at children. That is unprecedented and mistaken. This country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence. And California’s claim that “interactive” video games present special problems, in that the player participates in the violent action on screen and determines its outcome, is unpersuasive.
In plain English: there is no precedent for legal restrictions placed on depictions of violence. That scrutiny only applies to obscenity, hate speech, and pornography. You know what else this means? The fact that there is no legal precedent for restrictions on violent content is now the legal precedent.
Since California has declined to restrict those other media [that have observable effects on child behavior], e.g., Saturday morning cartoons, its video-game regulation is wildly underinclusive, raising serious doubts about whether the State is pursuing the interest it invokes or is instead disfavoring a particular speaker or viewpoint. California also cannot show that the Act’s restrictions meet the alleged substantial need of parents who wish to restrict their children’s access to violent videos. The video-game industry’s voluntary rating system already accomplishes that to a large extent. Moreover, as a means of assisting parents the Act is greatly overinclusive, since not all of the children who are prohibited from purchasing violent video games have parents who disapprove of their doing so.
This is a huge victory for parents in terms of making their own decisions on what content is appropriate for their children, but it is also a call to responsibility. I doubt there are many parents reading this site – it’s just not the big demographic – but if there are: please take the initiative when it comes to what your kids play. This applies to games in general, not just violent ones. Make sure they do not develop bad spending habits or addictions. Keep them engaged in school and in their general personal and professional development.
But this is a bigger victory for software companies – not because of the free speech issue but because every Supreme Court ruling in favor of greater freedom for video game content is a hundred or more lawsuits averted. And every dollar companies don’t have to spend in court is a dollar they can spend on giving us, their customers, what we want. Sure, there will always be people angry enough to take gaming companies to court for something or another, so this is far from over, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
Source: U.S. Supreme Court