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Games win First Amendment protection in US

Supreme Court rules against law governing sales of games to minors

Today the Supreme Court ruled on the Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association case, securing games the same rights as afforded to books and films.

The Justices today voted 7-2 in favour of the Entertainment Merchant's Association, and against reinstating the 2005 law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors, introduced labelling laws for packaging and saw retailers facing fines of up to $1000 for failing to follow the regulations.

"This country has no tradition of specifically restricting children's access to depictions of violence," read the full ruling. "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."

Developers reacted with pleasure to the ruling. "Important day for gaming, gamers and freedom of expression," tweeted Bioshock creator Ken Levine. "Supreme Court does the right thing. Fist bumps to the 7, WTFs to the 2."

The ruling can be found in full here.

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Latest comments (17)

John Donnelly Quality Assurance 10 years ago
Very good news.
Looks like sense is returning to the world.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game10 years ago
I struggle to see the sense of not having legally enforced ratings for games or movies. I know I come from the perspective of someone who has grown up with legally held BBFC ratings, but I don't see how it is ok to sell a kid Dead Space (and I love that game) or a Saw DVD. The argument that it is parental responsibility falls flat, if a kid can buy a game, they can hide it from parents. If the can't buy it, they are more likely to need to go through an adult.
I also think that by not blocking the sale, every time a game with adult content come out, we have to hear US politicians moan about the effect of it on minors, without a convincing argument that it's not for kids.

What I do find sickening is that Arnold "Total Recall/Preditor/Terminator" Swartzenneger tried to pass the law for games, whilst ignoring the violent films that he got rich off, and whose industry his friends are involved in.
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Eliot Lloyd Studying Computer Games Design and Production, Northumbria University10 years ago
@Andrew Arnie's films weren't intended for children to view, so that sentiment is completely invalid. They were designed for an adult audience.
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Show all comments (17)
David Amirian Writer 10 years ago
the main aspect of the bill is that it would have created a chilling effect. its not necessarily as "dangerous" like smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, but i think Europe allows people less than 18 to do that stuff so it doesn't really correlate. this is a free speech issue, not a morality issue, and its up to the parents to take care of their children, not the government.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Amirian on 27th June 2011 7:54pm

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Jason Sartor Copy editor/Videographer, Florida Today10 years ago
@ Barrie.
It is not bad to stop an 8-year-old from playing Manhunt, but that is a decision for parents to make. Or should be, whether many choose to become informed or to remain ignorant is their responsibility.

I played Double Dragon when I was 10 using bats and whips against women, throwing dynamite at other male thugs, but I never went out with a Louisville slugger and started beating down on people. Ultimately, it comes down to the individual playing the games and the parents.

Personally, Halo being M rated is a joke to me. Blasting aliens into goo was Space Invaders, sure Halo is far more advanced in graphics, structure, etc., but it remains a bullet avatar blasting aliens. Movies Men in Black and Independence Day are PG-13 rated. Do I really worry a 14, 15 or legally driving on their own to GameStop 16-year-old can't handle Halo? No.

It's absurd to know a 16-year-old can drive 100km an hour on a highway, work in food preparation, read and and watch about wars including photos and videos of the holocaust, the World Trade Center attacks and countless other atrocities, and talk on these subjects - but he or she can't buy Halo.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game10 years ago
@Eliot, as Barrie said, the games we are talking about are intended for an adult audience, so it is absolutely the same, Arnie felt restrictions were needed on games, but funnily enough not on the industry that made him rich, and where he has friends, on like for like content.

@Barrie, pretty much agree with everything you said there.
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Jason Sartor Copy editor/Videographer, Florida Today10 years ago
@Barrie, I wasn't actually against the law penalizing those selling content to young children. I agree it would not infringe on people making adult games. But the court's ruling was very clear that violence in and of itself is protected under the First Amendment. The court cited violence specifically as protected and treats it differently than pornography. Which is why 12 and 13 year old kids can buy a read books like A Game of Thrones.

I am sure the court wanted no part in deciding the slippery slope from here to the end of time on what is too offensive or just right every time somebody had an issue with some speech. Whether that is from people who claim Harry Potter is anti-christian, Speedy Gonzalez is racist or games too violent, etc.

Also, an 8-year-old buying Manhunt should not happen, businesses will keep that as a rule not to sell to under aged kids, but how does an 8-year-old get $60 and to the store and get a copy of Manhunt in his or her hands?
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Khalid Sleiman Studying Graphic Design, Fanshawe College10 years ago
I would think it is better to have a law prevent minors from buying it. My point of view does not come from thinking that the kid will try to re-enact the games in real life but the fact that it desensitizes the kid to violence. If a person is looking at violent games when they cannot grasp what violence is, then it will effect how they see the world. When they start watching the news or what not and hear about people getting slaughtered or a genocide occuring, it will be more of a "Meh" response because they've seen it happen virtual so it is not as shocking.
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Gerald Arndt 3d Character Animator 10 years ago
I'm one of a mind that believes that the parents of the children should pay attention instead of turning a blind eye to what their children are doing and playing. There shouldn't be any, "We can't keep an eye on them 24/7," crap. You're parents's part of the job. Polotiotions should pay attention to their own kids n quit pissin on the whole gaming world because they don't understand that when they leave the game system to babysit, their kids, they are going to have problems in the home due to the lack of parents in their lives.
Instead of fixing the problem and placing the blame on bad parenting, IE themselves, they have to find the next most convenient target. Grow up guys! Don't hate the game, hate the plairs parents!

To the 7, you know what's up. To the 2, DON'T BREED!!!

That's my rantings.
Imsurprised you read all of this. =o)
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus10 years ago
I really am surprised how many people were against something which is in force in many European countries.

Is it REALLY bad to stop a minor buying Manhunt 2?

It is bad to mandate something that the industry had already self-policed. It is also bad to add criminal charges and fines to failures of regulation.

It's not just about keeping a kid from buying Manhunt 2. It's about not allowing government to choose what can and cannot be censored. The reason prior efforts to censor speech have failed is because we have a foundation that allows free speech, virtually unabated, and it is a just one. If anything, prior exceptions - even narrow ones - such as the Ginsberg ruling have been used as fodder by special interest groups to try to justify further censorship that only furthers their own narrow-minded desires. Justice Scalia said it best in his opinion: the mere fact that Justice Scalia felt that a narrower view of the California bill would pass review because of the visceral images shown in debates about this only proves that we cannot allow subjective views on what is and isn't acceptable. Those of us who feel Duke Nukem is terrible and should be banned should not be allowed to keep it from the people that think it's just fine, and before you say "that's not what this specific law was about", remember that American law is heavily based around precedent. The slippery slope argument is definitely relevant here.

I notice the Europeans, who don't necessarily have the freedom of speech, are conditioned into believing that having their government telling them in some ways what they can and cannot do with their lives, even if it hurts no one, is acceptable because the ends justify the means. I, an American, am conditioned into believing that my right to make my own independent decisions trumps the "right" of anyone telling me what I am allowed to say or do. It's a difference in upbringing, and I'm noticing it playing out here.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game10 years ago
By that argument why should porn be restricted? How can seeing the natural act of procreation that is essential to continuation be more damaging than a 9 year old seeing someone slice open a stomach and pull out the intestines. Personally I'd rather kids saw neither, but using arguments of free "speech" ( I thought speech was words, not pictures?) to avoid restricting the sale of one, whilst not applying the same arguments to the other seems hypocritical.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany10 years ago
I can only see this as a victory. We won the day today.

So... I guess the only option now for conservative parents is to... parent their children.
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Marie-Anne Soetje Community Manager, Gamigo AG10 years ago
This is great. I would hate to see the game world in NA spin out of control like it did here in Germany. Things can go downhill really fast, and the government here doesn't only restrict sales to youths, it prevented bloody violence in games altogether. No matter how old you are. No more splattered brains for the Germans. Buying games from the UK is now even being controlled. The lack of censoring laws is a good thing people. It allows us to self-censor ourselves in the way we see best. Parents can chose to allow, or not allow, their kids to play certain games, and all is good with the world. And no one can get sued over it.
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Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments10 years ago
Weird one this - I'm entirely happy with the idea of legal restrictions on what content can be sold to minors (as we have in the UK) - but since the only way to do that in the US would have required video games to lose the same status as films regarding free speech, it's not that simple.
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Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 10 years ago
Victory for creative freedom! :]
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John Donnelly Quality Assurance 10 years ago
I agree with Neil.
The US systems are very different than those in Europe.

Here in Europe you can legally prevent sales of verious items to people under a set age without restricting access to the content.
In the US however this law would have restricted access to the content because it was deemed by goverment to be not suitable and this is the crux of the issue.

Anyway like here in Europe, whats to stop the parents or another adult buying the game anyway?

As it stands, stores including Walmart already have company policies to ID people when buying games. I have seen walmart employees refuse to sell a game to someone as they where too young to buy it.

This law was a bad bad law, and went beyond trying to prevent children buying the games and this is why people are glad its been overturned and that games now have the first amendment protection.
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Jaakko Heinonen Student - Computer Science 10 years ago
What I like of the video game age rating system they use in Europe, is the fact that only 18+ must be legally restricted [Edit: I mean this as in it is the only one that must be sure of when sold, that the one who it is being sold to is above the age limit]. The others, 15+ etc. are only guidelines, and is up to either the store chain's policy, individual store's policy, or up to the seller, if they are allowed to sell them to kids that want to buy them.

And I don't see anything bad in allowing kids to play 18+ games. I mean, I played Dino Crisis and Resident Evils when I was a kid (7+), and I don't even bite people that often. Anymore.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jaakko Heinonen on 28th June 2011 2:12pm

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