You heard, I’m sure – SCOTUS ruled today that video games are protected as free speech and that the California law that made it illegal to sell “ultraviolent” video games to minors (and laws like it) have been struck down.
I don’t think the decision comes as any real surprise. There’s no precedent of violent content being restricted (for minors or otherwise), and it seemed incredibly unlikely that the court would go out of its way to say that in fact some violent speech isn’t free. So. Not surprising.
I’ve seen some people saying that violent games should be banned for sale to minors and not understanding how free speech is related. As I understand it (as a 21-year old Biology major with an interest in the Court), the best way to look at it is to look at other media. The ruling simply says that a law to ban the sale of certain games because of content would be equal to trying to ban the sale of certain (non-pornographic) books: an unjustifiable restriction of the content-makers’ speech.
It’s also worth noting that the R rating on movies is not government-mandated or enforced – it’s actually self-policing, in the same way that the ESRB’s M (and AO) ratings are enforced by the industry via GameStop or Wal-Mart, rather than by unnecessary government involvement. When the government steps in to regulate something, it is censorship (for better or for worse). Industry-regulation by the industry through, say, the ESRB is not unnecessary government action, and so it’s not really censorship (though the AO rating might as well be de facto censorship if you plan a retail release of your game). Thus, the freedom of expression is not infringed.
Now, I saw the news on Google News… So, here’s some fun links for you.
[Blatant] Anti-Games Bias & Spin in the News Media:
The LA Times – “Five justices rule that under no circumstances can the government be allowed to protect children by limiting violence in the media.”
Politico – “Minors can now buy violent video games…”
The Register – “Urinating on virtual burning cops deemed free speech”
I’m sure there are a bunch more out there, but those are the ones I saw on first glance. Enjoy!