1st Amendment Tested | Violent Video Games go Before the Supreme Court

Opponents make their case on violent video games before the Supreme Court

Dean Takahashi | VentureBeat

Video game makers will likely be more cautious about the kind of games they produce, in order to avoid potential liability lawsuits.

As the nation goes to vote, the divisive issue of video game violence has finally made its way to the U. S. Supreme Court, which holds oral arguments today on whether to uphold a California law on the matter.

The case pits California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Senator Leland Yee against the game industry’s trade groups Entertainment Software Association and the Entertainment Merchants Association. Lawyers for both sides are speaking to the Supreme Court now.

The video game industry has argued that regulating video games unfairly singles out the medium of video games in contrast to other media such as movies, music or books. They say their works are just as much works of art as those in other media and should be protected under the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

Defending a 2005 state law, the opponents argue that violent games are as harmful to children as pornography or illegal drugs. They want to make it a crime to sell a violent video game to minors. The case is by far the most important legal battle in video game history, and its outcome could determine how the industry is regulated in the future and what kind of games video game creators will make. The game industry has lobbied against 230 bills and only nine laws were passed; all of those laws were struck down in the courts.

Thorough discussions of the matter have appeared in publications such as 1up.com, CNET, and Joystiq. And one of the best discussions of video game violence is contained in the film Mortal Kombat, in which I have a role. We also laid out the issues in our own story from Sunday. The oral arguments aren’t broadcast live, but we’ll catch up with the attendees and observers later today; eventually, the high court makes an audio transcript available.

Here’s the summary from our previous analysis, if you want to catch up:

The video game industry’s argument:

Beyond making the free speech argument, the Entertainment Software Association has long argued that parents are the best arbiter of what media their children consume. To aid parents, the ESA has created a voluntary industry-approved rating system that tells parents what kind of content they will find in a game. Critics have argued it’s far too easy for kids to circumvent the ratings by buying mature-rated games at retailers who don’t enforce the rating system.

The video game industry also does not concede the point that violent video games are harmful. It argues that California has failed to prove that game violence is harmful to children. This argument reflects the view that a game is just a game, or a form of play, and not a reflection of reality or a training program. It argues again that “offensive violence” can be found in all sorts of media, from Harry Potter books to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, with no ill effects.

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