Vindication rules!

July 2nd, 2011 in .News & Events
Suds McSoapdish
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One of the biggest items of news this week for gamers all over the world was the decision on Monday, June 27 by the United States Supreme Court to strike down a California law that sought to make the sale of “violent” games to minors illegal. Officially known as Brown vs. EMA/ESA (California governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown vs. the Electronic Merchants Association/Entertainment Software Association), the case proved a watershed struggle for the legitimacy of games as a form of creative pursuit and art. It has been ongoing for over six years, starting with the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supported passing the restrictive law, as did several California and US Congress representatives.

Gamers, the SCOTUS has your back

Other states in the US have tried passing similar laws in the past, but they were never enacted and typically received a prompt shooting down as potential limiters of freedom of speech. The California case got more attention because of that state’s large market share and central location in the IT and entertainment industries. It was feared that should California be allowed to pass the law, other states would soon follow, and the effect would spill over to other countries and even other industries, such as film, music and publishing.

In effect, what the California bill (AB1179) sought to do was make it literally illegal to sell games of a violent nature to minors, putting gaming on basically equal footing with obscene materials such as pornographic content, which are legally regulated. It aimed to make the current voluntary ratings system in the US into a mandatory legal system, which the industry resisted for obvious reasons. Under the existing setup, games are voluntarily submitted to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), which assigns a rating to each game, from E (Everyone) to AO (Adults Only). However, these are advisories, and carry no legal weight. While retailers generally follow the ESRB’s rules, there is no legal penalty for failing to do so, since games have thus far been considered works of speech and art, like books and movies, which are all protected under the first amendment of the US constitution.

California AB1179 wanted to change that, and treat games differently, claiming that the interactive nature of gaming encourages violent and anti-social behavior. While technically if passed it would not prevent the production and sale of any type of game, the effect would be one of self-censorship, as developers would worry about states’ power to regulate and punish their work.

I've got gavels of steel, baby

On June 27, seven of the nine Supreme Court justices found the California bill to be unconstitutional and going against the principles of free speech. After reviewing copious evidence, the justices found games to be protected under the first amendment just like other forms of expression, and concluded that there’s no compelling evidence games indeed cause violent behavior or pose a danger to society. They further affirmed gaming’s status as art:

“Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium. And “the basic principles of freedom of speech . . . do not vary” with a new and different communication medium.”

In other words, games are the equal peers of more traditional forms of storytelling and entertainment, and therefore deserve the same protection under the ultimate law of the land. The decision has also empowered the ESRB, which was specifically mentioned as a valid and sufficient regulatory body. The Supreme Court expressed good faith in the gaming industry’s ability to regulate itself without government interference, and believes game publishers are qualified to communicate with parents and other concerned citizens regarding the content of each game. No additional “reinforcement” by government sanction was deemed necessary.

Express him! (freely, that is)

The court also said that:

“California has singled out the purveyors of video games for disfavored treatment—at least when compared to booksellers, cartoonists, and movie producers—and has given no persuasive reason why. ”

“California’s effort to regulate violent video games is the latest episode in a long series of failed attempts to censor violent entertainment for minors.”

Hopefully this puts an end to these efforts to regulate gaming and prevent its growth as a hobby and pastime that hundreds of millions of people worldwide enjoy and benefit from, for both enjoyment and employment. One can also hope this will send a signal to other jurisdictions and countries were gaming is indeed heavily regulated for no good reason. California as a state that gains so much from entertainment and freedom of speech should have known better, and I think they’ll just move on now to better things.

Crisis averted, now get on yer PC and game!

Game on, game well, and let us know what you think of all this in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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