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Supreme Court rules video games protected as free speech

updated 10:40 am EDT, Mon June 27, 2011

Supreme Court says games backed by 1st Amendment

The US Supreme Court determined in a ruling (below) that video games were protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. It struck down a California law that banned renting or selling games to those under 18. Judge Scalia and four supporting judges determined that games, like books, movies, and plays, get a message across through "fammiliar literary devices" and can't be censored solely because it contained violence.

"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," the ruling says. "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."

Since the US didn't stop kids from seeing violence in movies or other formats, the state's argument that gaming was somehow different was "unpersuasive," according to the court. California's proposed law was not targeting a broad interest but instead appearing to punish a particular format. The ESRB rating system also accomplished much of what the law has been trying to enforce and was more specific; the law would ban sales even when the parents have no problems with violent games.

The ruling sets a major precedent for games of all kinds in the US that more officially puts them on the same level as art in legal disputes. No state government can now try to ban games that otherwise don't run afoul of the law. Apple, Google, and others who run online game stores may feel the consequences the most since they faced the risk of having to block sales of certain games in the App Store, Android Market, and similar stores just for those identified as coming from California.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Haroscarfel

    Joined: Dec 1969



    what you mean i have to be a responsible parent and monitor the media my kids take in as much as possible. maybe i'll have to have open communication with my kids and guide them to distinguish fantasy from reality? You mean i need to watch for warning signs that they my do something stupid inspired by something they saw in a video game. nonsense.

    seriously though, some games have gone really far but if i dont like it, i wont buy it, and i sure wont let my kids buy it.

  1. Flying Meat

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Not censored = good

    Rated for parental oversight = good

    T'were me, violence would be X, and s** would be R, but yeah.

    I agree games should not be handled any differently than other forms of entertainment.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969



    How many times are these states going to keep listening to idiot activists who think they've got the 'solution' on how to pass a ban on violent video games? Every state that has tried this has ended up wasting millions trying to defend it before it gets killed in the courts.

    Oh, and i wonder what they would do to parents who bought games and gave them as gifts? Probably lock 'em up for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.


  1. charlituna

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I agree with this ruling. So long as the games don't violate current laws against anything obscene etc then the government should stay out. Sure have a ratings system for parental guidance. Sure allow private companies to invoke 'right to refuse service' and make their own policies that they won't sell this or that to minors. But to make a law that criminalizes providing such things to minors is stepping on parental rights to control. Maybe I want my kids to look at Playboy so I can show them the objectification of women, maybe I don't think that my kids are so dumb that they would confuse a game with real life so I'm fine with them playing Duke Nukem or whatever. That's my right and it's my job. Governments should be limited in their in loco parentis moves.

  1. Inkling

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Some people are more equal than others

    Years ago I was living in Dallas during a time when police response there was dreadful. A teenaged babysitter was raped because she couldn't convince a 911 operator that a man really was trying to break into the house. And when there was no response to an auto accident report I called in for 45 minutes, I called again. The operator said that happened all the time. Calls for police response got lost in the city's computer system. She didn't even seemed concerned. After all, we were just citizens and taxpayers.

    At that same time, I briefly worked in sales for a neighborhood patrol service. One home I called on had a retried court stenographer. She said she felt no need for our service and showed me a special phone number she could call that got an immediate, no questions asked, police response.

    It's that's the special treatment a mere retired city court employee gets, you can imagine the sort of 'drop everything and with go sirens screaming and guns drawn' response that US Supreme Court Justices get. That's a big factor in decisions like this one. "Violence, what violence. I don't worry about violence. Why should you you intolerant, censorship obsessed bigot."

    As George Orwell put it in Animal Farm: "Everyone is equal. Some people are more equal than others." And in this situation, no one is 'more equal' than US Supreme Court justices. That leaves them free to posture as morally superior to the rest of us.

    All this, of course, wouldn't be so bad, if these same justices at all levels in our legal system were actually interested punishing crime rather than playing expensive games of legal charades. In the case of California and this same cadre of sheltered-from-crime Supreme Court justices, there is also a disturbing lack of interest in actually keeping convicted criminals in prison. Criminal, they tell us, must get free, high-quality, tax-paid health care. That's odd. I've yet to hear of courts demanding that same level of tax-paid care for the victims of crime.

    Ah, if I were only rich. I'd seriously look into offering every criminal released in California under that recent US Supreme Court decision, free air fare to Washington DC. I'd toss in $2000 in cold, hard cash for each one still living there one month later.

    I might add that talk of ratings systems and parental involvement misses the real point of this bit of prissy 'we must protect free expression' court folly. We don't need to lie awake wondering what kids from good homes are going to do to us. It's the ones from rotten homes with no father and an overworked or don't-care mother who create commit most of our violent crimes. Rating won't help there.

  1. prl99

    Joined: Dec 1969


    parenting, haha

    I find it hilarious to read the posts about parenting. The best parenting is to show by example and too many parents have different rules for their kids. They also expect schools and day care centers to perform the bulk of parenting. I grew up in a west coast family that didn't drink or smoke and I didn't do either until I was 18 and away at college. This was years ago and I look at kids now and what qualifies as parenting is a joke.

    I see no reason for violent games or stupid "sports" like any of the full contact fighting. That's accepted assault, something I would be jailed for if I did half the things they do. It's time to look inside ourselves and focus on being better people, accepting our neighbors (home and abroad), and find non-violent pastimes. It's also time we quit pumping up our military through advertising and simulated war games.

    We will never have peace in this world as long as we continue to push war, whether it's real or simulated.

  1. brainiac

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Good or bad

    They need to think through the basis of some of their logic. Yes, Grimm's Fairy Tales is grim, but I am not sure how many parents read that to their children or do other things that were allowed at the time such as beating children, forcing children to work, etc. I guess I disagree with any argument that is based on acts and events that are not really relevant/accepted in modern society. Overall I don't mind the ruling because I grew up with violent video games and did not become a psycho and parents should be able to parent.

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