Video game industry to Supreme Court: Games, like movies, are art


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The video game industry on Friday filed its brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, outlining its best arguments against a 2005 California law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

The law, which has not gone into effect, was ruled unconstitutional by a lower federal circuit court but was appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case Nov. 2. The case pits the 1st Amendment rights of children against parents’ rights, through the state, to regulate their kids’ media diet.


The 78-page document can be boiled down to four main points:

1) Video games should be considered an art form, alongside movies, books and music. As such, it should enjoy the same 1st Amendment protections against censorship. Although the California law doesn’t forbid companies from making violent content, it singles out certain games based on their content. ‘The Act restricts this protected speech based on its content,’ wrote the Entertainment Software Assn., which represents game companies, and the Entertainment Merchants Assn., representing game retailers.

2) The law is a solution in search of a problem. Parents have little trouble moderating what their kids can play, given that the vast majority of games have ratings that indicate whether they contain violence. Here’s an excerpt: ‘The State ignores the industry’s successful self-regulatory efforts, parents’ level of involvement in game-purchasing decisions, and the availability of technological parental controls, all of which achieve the State’s purported goals without government interference.’

3) Violent games are not necessarily harmful. The industry argues that the state has failed to prove video game violence is harmful to children. In addition, ‘offensive’ violence can be found in all sorts of media, from ‘Harry Potter’ movies to ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales,’ the brief argued. ‘California has not shown that the Act materially addresses a specific harm that the State has a legitimate interest in targeting,’ wrote the ESA and the EMA.

4) The law’s definition of violence is vague. The law defines violence as ‘killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.’ This, argues the brief, is not straightforward when it comes to a ‘fanciful medium.’ ‘Games often include zombies, aliens, demi-gods, or cartoonish characters like Super Mario, all of whom may appear human but then transform into other beings,’ the brief noted.

The Supreme Court has set a hearing where both sides can defend their arguments Nov. 2, when no doubt there will be enough action for an epic game of legal chess.

-- Alex Pham