Remember a while back when the state of California tried to pass a law that would have made it illegal to sell violent games to minors in California? It was signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and penned by a Leland Yee. The Californian courts rejected the bill on the grounds of it going against the First Amendment – freedom of speech.
That didn’t stop Arnie and co, and they appealed the matter to the ultimate legal authority in the USA: the Supreme Court. The case was accepted and heard in November last year. The decision was reached yesterday, 27 June. Games won.
Representing the gaming industry was the ESA: the Entertainment Software Association. They’re the guys who throw E3 each year so they’re kind of important. Along with the Entertainment Merchants Association, they opposed the Californian bill. Had the bill been passed, games would have been dumped into a category that’s exempt from freedom of expression – material that is illegal to sell to minors, like XXX rated porn.
The court ruled against the Californian bill on the grounds that it was too vague in its description of what constituted “violent games” and that it went against freedom of expression which had, in the past, been upheld for other forms of entertainment such as books and films. Justice Antonin Scalia (one of the nine Justices who heard the case) said, “The basic principles of freedom of speech . . . do not vary with a new and different communication medium”.
Of course, the ESA and gaming industry as a whole was relieved by the court’s decision. The head of the ESA, Michael Gallagher, had this to say:
“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 like books, movies and music.”
And what of Leland Yee, the author of the proposed bill? He was, naturally, pretty bummed out that his bill was given the finger, and he accused the Supreme Court of siding “with corporate America and Wal-Mart against our children.” It’s the corporations man! They control everything! How dramatic.
So what on Earth does this have to do with the rest of the world? Well, if the bill had been approved, it would have set a precedent. It also might have resulted in game developers imposing a sort of self-censorship in their game design simply to make their titles more commercially viable. The USA is the biggest games market in the world and as such it makes financial sense to design games that are, you know, legal to sell to the largest audience possible. We’d be getting watered-down games that skimp on the graphic violence. And playing a game without gratuitous violence is like ordering a bacon and cheese hamburger without the bacon. I know right – it just makes no sense!