A look at the debate behind the debate and what the Supreme Court's decision could mean for the future of games and beyond.
It was more than seven years ago that California Assemblyman (now Senator) Leland Yee first introduced a proposal to ban violent game sales to minors. The fight over that proposal--signed into law in 2005 but legally contested before it could take effect--is finally ready for resolution, as the US Supreme Court is set to hand down its decision on the matter in the coming weeks.
Before the court releases its decision on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (formerly Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association), it's worth taking a closer look at the factors that have helped fuel this fight for the better part of a decade, as well as stepping back for a look at the larger implications here for gaming in specific, and culture in general.
The case currently before the Court deals with the First Amendment and freedom of speech, specifically whether the government is allowed to limit that freedom to protect children from being exposed to violence, similar to the way it already does with sexual material. A major point in that debate has been whether or not the state can demonstrate a compelling interest in keeping violent games away from children, with both the government and the industry claiming the science supports their side.
That's a conflict beyond the one spelled out in the case title of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, one between a pair of academics who have spent their careers researching the effect violent games have on people and contradicting each other at every turn.
Governmental oversight of exposure to violence in video games would carry much more weight if governments were less willing to endorse violence when it suits their own agenda.
I know it's been a while since this article was published (I just followed a link to it today), but I want to thank Brendan (way to let the facts and the interviewees do the talking. Bravo!) and Gamespot for a great article. It's rare for a piece of this length and depth to appear on a gaming site, especially on a topic that's pretty far removed from the usual daily affairs of us gamers. However, before we were gamers, we were first citizens of this country or at least of this Earth. We cannot forget that what we do as gamers have tangible effects on the greater society around us, and just as important, events in that society do substantially impact our gaming. The biggest stones in the pond might be thrown by people whom we dismiss as not knowing the first thing about games. With that in mind, I thank the writer and Gamespot once again for bringing this issue and others like it to our attention. And I hope all gamers remain conscious of social welfare and exercise the rights we are granted to make our voices heard.
I'm actually slightly on the side of regulating sale of mature games to children. But I think the anti-video game "experts" naturally grate on gamer's brains, due to their lack of knowledge on the topic they claim expertise, and often-used strawmen they often develop.
@majin_lebeau Some people actually do not know the difference between what is real life and a video game.
It's disappointing to me to see that our government actually cares this much about violent video games. The only thing that will come out of this is more kids getting involved in drinking, drugs, gangs, and whole load of crap. It's funny because some of the biggest dumb asses on this website (including myself) even understand violent video games are a way for kids to occupy themselves.
enough everyone this is totally bull$#$#.Nothing is wrong with the rating system or the law.The only thing needs to be done maybe a lil bit of publicity regarding responsability on self or the parents of the kid.Ok if ur 10 and ur goin with ur parents in a shop to buy u a game..check the friggin rating if its for everyone or mature ..or etc and comply to it and that's all.And if ur over 18 or 21. Just play whatever game ! no need for further discussion! it's a waste of time and money of what they're trying to do here.
I like the idea of a newer game rating system, you would have to be at least 18 to play this game. I don't like the censorship part. They should adopt the rating system that Europe has. You have to be carded to play the game.
Really interesting article, Brendan. Perhaps the Supreme Court should restrict exposure to research on violent games, as judging by Anderson and Ferguson's comments (and the comments section) that seems to inspire a much greater level of aggression that playing violent games ever has.
Anderson's a moron. I, and every other gamer I've ever known, has seen violent video games as a stress reliever. I can't count the times I was in a blind fury, put on a violent game, and felt better after turning it off. Anecdotal evidence aside, I have to go with the obvious fact that AGGRESSION IN HUMANS IS NOTHING NEW. Used to be that if a law passed that people didn't like, they'd take to the streets raping and lynching. Do you really think we've evolved beyond that in less than a few hundred years? We're still the same exact species with the same exact minds. And guess what? More aggressive people are more attracted to more aggressive entertainment. Ever hear the phrase 'Correlation does not equal causation'? For Anderson to compare his opponents to creationists or global warming deniers is just irony in its purest.
@ whothewu What the hell are you talking about? Tipper Gore? That woman hasn't been relevant to anything concerning politics in the last fifteen years. As for California being a red state, may I remind you, this is the same state that passed, and then revoked, Gay marriage rights. If anything, California is politically schizophrenic. It's also worth pointing out that this bill is being supported by Republicans AND Democrats. And sorry, but you missed the entire point of what's going on. This is a freedom of speech issue, not property rights. The government does have the right to determine what does and doesn't require a card (read: MINIMUM AGE) on goods and services. The government has tried this before, with films and comic books. And even back during the 16-bit wars. And what has always happened is that a self-censoring body of the industry had been created (MPAA, Comics Code Authority, and the ESRB), which the government had always been fine with. The is a freedom of speech issue because a system like what this bill proposes is already in place, and would require an entirely new method of rating video games.
@ Daragon2007 Schwarzenegger isn't governor anymore, so I have no idea what you're saying he'd be returning to.
I wish they could just let the people who actually purchase these games have say. Like all of us, the millions of us, just bombard them with the truth. "I have never a committed crime because I play video games." This is the sad truth about us gamers, we all know that it is just a game, the people who do not play them don't understand that.
It is a load of bollocks that violent media cause violent reactions in people. The real world is what causes violent reactions in people. In the news (where I live at least, South Africa) we are constantly bombarded with crimes that have happened, so our viewpoint of the world around us changes, we become defensive, untrusting because the news said that someone's neighbour killed him over a cell phone or something ridiculous like that, not because I kill a thousand people in a video game. If the news started reporting on the good things that are happening around us our outlook would change accordingly. It is just that simple. I am not implying that when you are young that you are not suggestable, you probably are. Although I have been playing video games all my life and have had no willingness to hurt my fellow man because of it. Am I that different from everyone else. I don't think so.
Violence in literature has been around longer than most of us have been alive. Violence in movies has been around for a long time as well. Games are no different. If their fears that violence in media caused violence in reality were founded, most of us would have died in violent crimes by now.
I understand their concern, and I agree that games can cause some people to become more violent. But it shouldn't be only about violence, they need to consider ANYTHING that makes a game M rated. They should treat it like they do movies, only a little more(since it's interactive and easier for kids to get ahold of). But, the law really isn't made right and needs re-done.
I just hope that this law wouldn't apply right before PSN gets back up, then I will assure you Schwarzenegger and the rest wouldn't be back.
Games don't cause violence if you are aware that it's just a game. And videogames are the only places that I can shoot my "friends" without getting screwed by the police. I don't think people who play mario would believe they'll grow bigger by eating a mushroom if they thought it was just a game. And if I can't play violent games, then social services, take me away! (after a fight of course) I can find way more things to ban then violent games that the goverment allows.
@spoonybard-hahs Tipper Gore is well known to be a staunch Republican, right? Also, California is a deep red state, right? Oh wait... Personally, I think this is a case where private property rights should be the focus. A place of business should decide whether or not to "card" customers buying M-rated games, not the government.
@ ptown58 First, Schwarzenegger isn't governor any more, so no, he can't sign anything into law. Second, you seem to be completely unaware of the hypocrisy that is the Republican party (there is no such thing as the Tea Party). They want less government involvement in American's lives, but want to pass laws that make sure they are in as much control as possible.
A mighty fine slippery-slope. If the Supreme Court upholds the decision, it won't be long before other states adopt these laws (several have already tried passing their own). But it won't end there. It will snowball into print, television, film, and the internet. The thing that sickens me the most is the "science" involved. The studies detailed in this article deal only with university students, not actual children. Not only that, these studies can be taken out of video games and put into any other sort of activity and will practically get the same kind of results. Plus, anti-games critics have changed their arguments constantly since the '80s. First it was it turns kids into anti-social creeps. Then it was they grew up to be murderers or rapists. Now it's "violent games has an immediate effect on kids."
This is totally unnecessary, given that the video games industry regulates itself far better than the film industry. Furthermore, the North American video game industry ratings system has no agenda, which is why the rating justifications of one game don't differ wildly from another of the same stripe. I think if there should be a law set against something that needs rating, they need to go after Hollywood, and make them follow the same practices as the North American video game industry. The ESRB is by far one of the best ratings panels in the world due to not only its objectivity, but its volunteer panels. If anything, this is most likely a backdoor attempt for the MPAA to attack the video games industry because it's eclipsing hollywood.
I live in Ireland and I'm 20 so this doesn't affect me but I will lend my support to the pro video games side because I've been playing violent games since I was 7 or 8. Abes Oddysee, GTA and now I still play them the likes of Fallout etc... and I've never assaulted anyone or even attempted or even wanted to assault anyone. Never been in a fight in my whole life(besides schoolyard scraps) so I turned out fine. I don't think you can blame games for promoting violence in individuals because people who cite games as what drove them to violence are more than likely already violently inclined people anyway.
@ shnull it will be only California for now. Then more states will adopt anti free speech in video game laws. Soon America would have censorship that would be the same as or rival that of Germany/Australia. Violent games could be outlawed or government censored by each state. Laws could be passed banning blood and gore in games, making it illegal for minors or even adults to possibly have these games. Video games would have no freedom at all in the US. If this passes violent games won't be made anymore. Only happy family friendly games and casual games. They would be a thing of the past. Maybe a violent video game black market will emerge and boot runners will be going around like in the days of prohibition.
Lol, how to detect you're on an American site ? : "some words in your post were automatically censored" because they make baby jesus cry ?
Some bits i don't get still? Is this about California only or about the whole of the U.S. ? Will it ban violence in games all together or just enforce what retail already does (as the article states) for minors ? It's complete and utter bullsh*t and a waste of time and money either way. It does look like it turned into a clash of ego's somehow. I find myself more agressive after 8 hours of labour or even after watching political news for about 30 minutes so why not ban work and politics while they're at it? Another generation M -thing i guess. It's normal for people to fear what they don't understand so internet and video games must be a work of the devil since they're mostly intelligently designed ??!?
Liberty = Freedom from Govt control and/or coercion.Doing the pledge of allegiance goes against liberty and so does telling people what video games to play or not to play...stay out of Americans homes.
@ spKeeper20 games would be found to be too violent slapped with an adult rating and stores will not sell them because its the same as an AO rating also consoles won't allow the games on their system. So adults would be banned as well from playing violent games. All in the name of "protecting the childrens".
@ EliOli How many AO games are allowed to be released...oh wait NONE AT ALL. Since NO store will sell them and NO CONSOLE will allow them. This would make M and T games AO in a way and BAN THEM FROM SALE TO EVERYONE OF ADULT AGE!!!!
In other news 89 are dead from a tornado in Missouri. No word whether or not there will be a ban on tornado's.
@Ragnawind - There are actually no laws restricting sales, what you are experiencing is the industry self regulating itself, and doing a really excellent job of it.
LOL I remember being in a store once where a lady went up to the store assistant and asked him if this 18 rated game was entertaining enough for her 8 year old son who was standing right there beside her. These kind of peeps are the ones then complaining about violence and all that! Some people just don't think. You don't just walk blindly into a movie screening of some horror film going, "I hate all horror movies!" then walk out thinking I am going to sue that producer for making such a shocking film!!
this law will do nothing since its the parents that normaly buy children adult games...... a bad moment of this was when a mum got L.A noire and then handed it to a young boy who was with her. i also dont believe mature games would turn a nice person bad.....
@X-7: There are already laws in most states at least that make it a requirement to have an ID confirming that you are over 17, so that you can purchase a Rated M game, which I last n=knew to be ages 17+. Every time I buy a Rated M game, I have to have my ID, when in a store, at least. They can't really confirm your age online, though. Also, violence and sexual material in media do NOT do what people claim it does. Most people that I have known to gone violent, at least, did it on their own without prior contact with violence in the media. Most of the time, if not all, it is brought on by what you see in public when you are younger. For Example, if your parents fight when you are younger, there is a higher probability of the child becoming violent as they grow up. There is no real solid evidence that media impacts violent behavior.
@keech Did you read the law? I did. It doesn't say anything about limiting free speech, in fact it goes to great length to avoid impinging free speech. What it DOES say is that any vendor who sells a video game to an underage consumer is subject to a fine. Period. No part of the law tells developers to censor themselves. The developers, and not the government, are the ones saying that they'll have to censor THEMSELVES, but heres the thing: They don't have to. They can continue to develop the games that they want to and let the middleman assume the responsibility for any 'wrongful' distribution. Unless, of course, the developers and publishers are thinking, "We're counting on the twelve to sixteen year-old demographic to help us meet our bottom-line, so even though the game is rated M we know they'll be able to buy it." But that's a far cry from government censorship. In fact it's an affront to the ESRB. I may not be able to change your mind on this matter, and I can live with that. I just hope that I was at least able to illustrate that it's the developers and not the government that will be doing the censoring.
Honestly I think that this law should pass as well as laws for other forms of media including comics, literature, and movies. I think all forms of media should have a "reccomended" age stamped on them and that anything rated 18+ (or M for games) should not be sold to minors. However, if a parent deems their child mature enough then they can buy the said piece of media for their child. But, if a store sells a said piece of media then the store should face hefty fines. Now, do I belive that all violent and sexually explicit media turns people into sociopaths. Not necessarily. Most people will be fine and this will do very little in the way of damage in sales but could POTENTIALLY keep a vulnerable child from obtaining media that may set them off.
I hope that this does not kill or seriously hurt the gaming industry. My current job will be impacted as well as my future job that i am seeking. I have written a paper for my Law class in College about this case i hope this turns out for the best.
The government is controlling everything now.... It's actually kind of getting ridiculous. The fact that they can take the away the right to buy a video game that's m rated from a little kid is disgusting. I don't care how old they are, how are the aloud to say what we can and cant play or watch. Forget that. First it's with adult material(I'm not saying that kids should be watching it, i'm just saying they have the right to.), then kids cant watch R movies, and now... Play M games. What a great place this is!
@psycho75 That's why they don't want people playing violent video games! LOL. But seriously. You're not helping them to see that people who play violent games aren't violent. The way you're acting is helping their case.