Supreme Court strikes down controversial law, upholding gaming's First Amendment rights

It’s been a long road, but at last there is closure in the so-called “violent videogames” case that has been raging for years. In November of last year the EMA (a group representing gaming politically) took the State of California all the way to the Supreme Court for a 2005 law that made it illegal to sell certain games deemed too violent to children. After arguments months ago, the highest court in the USA gave its ruling of 7-2 in favor of the EMA, finding the law unconstitutional.

The argument was authored by Justice Scalia, a famously conservative judge, saying:

“The most basic principle--that government lacks the power to restrict expression because of its message, ideas, subject matter, or content--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… 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… Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply.”

So there you go, videogames are protected speech. Or if you want to look at it from a different angle, activist judges are out to destroy today’s youth. Won’t somebody think of the children?!? Seeing as how this is a gaming site, it’s hard not to take sides and view this as a victory for the medium, one that gives gaming similar validity to music and film, even if some see it as only a battle between greedy publishers out to sell questionable games to whomever they can no matter the moral cost. But what do some of the biggest dogs in this fight think?

Above: The obligatory GTA screen that goes in any article about this subject

The ESA released an email celebrating the ruling, as this has been a very long battle for them. They said, “This is a historic and complete win for the First Amendment and the creative freedom of artists and storytellers everywhere. Today, the Supreme Court affirmed what we have always known – that free speech protections apply every bit as much to video games as they do to other forms of creative expression… It is time for elected officials to stop wasting time and public funds seeking unconstitutional restrictions on video games. Instead, we invite them to join with us to raise awareness and use of the highly effective tools that already exist to help that parents choose games suitable for their children.” Somebody’s feeling pretty proud of themselves.

On the other end of the spectrum is the PTC, a group famous for denouncing the evils of the media, be they pro wrestling or videogames (games about wrestling must drive them crazy). Obviously they were less than thrilled by the ruling. From their press release: “Sadly, today’s ruling proves the United States Supreme Court heard the video game industry loud and clear, but turned a deaf ear to concerned parents. The Court has provided children with a Constitutionally-protected end-run on parental authority.” It continued, “The carefully-worded California statute would not have interfered in any way with the rights of the creators of adult games or the adults who wish to buy them; and in fact, it would not interfere with parents who wanted to purchase such a game for their children. Rather, the measure only would have prevented an unaccompanied minor child from buying or renting the product… We will continue to use all the resources within our power to call out unscrupulous retailers. If the federal courts won’t stand for parents, then we hope the court of public opinion will.”

Above: We bet the PTC really hates this video

Only a fool would think today ends the violent games debate, but this is certainly a feather in the cap of the gaming world, as it sets a legal precedent that will be a hurdle for any future legislation. What do you think of all this? Did the Supreme Court make the right choice? Will this be the last law about gaming on which millions of dollars must be spent to defeat? Are children’s morals destroyed beyond recognition?

Jun 27, 2011


Mortal Kombat


  • Peloun - June 27, 2011 5:32 p.m.

    So. that means no more people saying bullshits about video games?
  • falcon4196 - June 27, 2011 5:44 p.m.

    1st Amendment, FTW! Parents, the tolls are out there to help you keep the wrong kind of games from your kids. All it takes is a little effort. Learn the rating system. Set the parental controls on your consoles. Its not that hard. Don't expect government to do the work for you
  • CoryM1134 - June 27, 2011 5:54 p.m.

    Pfft. I just don't understand why this has been such an issue for such a long time. Most retailers already don't sell Mature rated games to minors, just like most theaters won't sell a minor a ticket to an R rated film. All of this fuss about making a law is absurd. I'm not a parent, but seriously... 1. Games ain't cheap. If my kid was dropping 60 bucks on games behind my back, I would hope to notice. 2. Games take a long time. Even if it's only a short 9 hour adventure, that's 9 hours of a mature game being played in your house, on your television. If it's only played once. With no multiplayer. Come on. 3. If you're that concerned that your little angel is ripping intestines out of things when you're not looking, check their achievements/trophies. Look at the game save data. Take any sort of active role. Oh, you're too old to understand this technology that the youngsters are into these days? Bullshit. If you're smart enough to get on the internet and bitch about making laws, you're smart enough to turn on a PS3 and dick around till you find some game saves. Dammit. Done.
  • Gob - June 27, 2011 5:56 p.m.

    Videogames helped teach me morals, lol. It's just like any other media. I've wanted to be in Lyons' chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel since I played Fallout 3.
  • Spartan523 - June 27, 2011 6:02 p.m.

    Jack Thompson eat your heart out
  • NearNRiver - June 27, 2011 6:23 p.m.

    I learned about this from Steam's Banner. First Amendment FTW!
  • WarWasp - June 27, 2011 6:28 p.m.

    Finally.I agree that kids shouldn't be allowed to play shit like GoW (either of them) but ultimately it's up to their parents.Just don't make the rest of us suffer.
  • longinus518 - June 27, 2011 6:48 p.m.

    just because alcohol is damaging to minors doesn't mean companies can't make and sell alcoholic beverages. whether or not minors have access to those substances is the responsibility of their parents, not the state.
  • GoBlue811 - June 27, 2011 7:01 p.m.

    BTW, check out the 3rd footnote in the majority opinion. Apparently, Justice Thomas doesn't think that children have the "constitutional right to speak or to be spoken to without their parents' consent." LOL, American society is sooooo silly.
  • 8bitBaby - June 27, 2011 7:07 p.m.

    the war isn't over. far from it. but, this is a good foot forward in the right direction.
  • LoganDeckard - June 27, 2011 7:27 p.m.

    Well, we finally won. Now all we need is for all head members of the PTC to "mysteriously disappear" while visiting the North Korea.
  • KippDynamite - June 27, 2011 7:30 p.m.

    Great, more children to yell at me online, then. ;)
  • sharkweek - June 27, 2011 8:08 p.m.

    Finally. Now we can put the subject to the rest.
  • shadowreaper72 - June 27, 2011 9:06 p.m.

    Well, Im glad thats out of the way. Now back to gaming XD
  • ThatGuyFromTV - June 27, 2011 9:08 p.m.

    @anjaneya Kids in this country already arent technically allowed to buy them, but it's enforced by the ESRB and the game retailers outside of the federal government. If we lost this case, the government would step in and effectively "censor" mature games from minors, showing that the U.S. government does not treat video games as a form of artistic expression. The only time when the First Amendment doesn't apply is when the expression creates a "clear and present danger", and since video games don't do that according to the supreme court, they are protected under the First Amendment.
  • Gahmah - June 27, 2011 9:22 p.m.

    7-2! Wow! That's cool as hell.
  • Evilsafetyboy - June 27, 2011 10 p.m.

    As a gaming parent, my kids already know what they can and cannot play. True, I have played LFD1 and 2 and Borderlands with my 10 year old daughter, but she knows it's just a game and I am there to guide her. All I really have to do is protect them from crappy games and inticing box-art: "No! Drop that Sonic game and pick-up Portal 2 honey!"
  • majormoses117 - June 28, 2011 1:01 a.m.

    Some people are so stupid. The ruling doesn't mean that a 10 year old can walk into a Gamestop and buy GTA. You still have to be 17. People who don't know anything about videogames think that its so easy for kids to get an M rated videogame. Employees have to card anyone who even looks like they may be around the age of 17. Its still illegal for anyone under 17 to buy an M game.
  • BladedFalcon - June 28, 2011 1:30 a.m.

    Only two words to say about this: FUCKING FINALLY
  • ObliqueZombie - June 28, 2011 3:15 a.m.

    While I agree that no violent games should be restricted within their own design, I DO agree that children should be stripped from them. I mean, the argument was more about the CHILDREN not being able to purchase or play them, but there's no way to even stop that entirely. However, I wouldn't mind the 12-year-olds off my XBL sessions. But hey, that's just bad parenting, and you can't make a law against that.

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